I don’t know much about my father’s life before he married my mother. I know his parents came from Stanislav, Ukraine and that he was the only child of three born on American soil. They lived in tenement housing with multiple family members who never spoke English while his father worked in the steel mills along the Monongahela River in southwest PA. I don’t know what they were escaping when they emigrated to the US but life certainly wasn’t easy once they got here. His mother died when he was three and his father when he was eleven. There was a shuffling between a stepmother and assorted aunts or friends; by the time he was a senior in high school he was working at a filling station and living out of his car.
By the time he was 20, he owned that filling station and when remnants of untreated rheumatic fever he had as a child kept him out of the armed services during WWII, he received training to become an electrical tester at Westinghouse. He was a strong and steady provider despite a troubled childhood and a bad heart. He lacked having a role model of what a good father should be but he tried, I think, to parent so that his children would grow up strong and healthy and achieve more than he. My father was a proud American citizen who rose out the deplorable conditions of his immigrant parents to have a steady job, own a home and send a daughter and a son to college. He loved his family, his church and his country.
It is not lost on me that I am a native born American because of an immigrant’s son. Or that I have achieved more in my life than he did in his because of opportunities available to me that he did not have. But I can tell you this, I am ever so grateful that the grandparents I never met were accepted into this country, that their struggle for survival gave way for their progeny to have a better life and that all of us together have made America great.
It is no wonder that all of this has come to mind in the wake of Trumpp’s [sic] zero tolerance immigration policy. It is no wonder that images of children in cages separated from their parents have led me to ruminate on the plight of those fleeing horrible and terrifying conditions in their homeland. And while it is true that my father’s folks came through Ellis Island and were “processed” legally, I can almost imagine the uncertainty of their world, their fear of being separated or rejected, and their wondering if their newly adopted home would afford them some kindness.
Despite what Trumpp [sic] tells his base, I know of no “liberal” that want open borders. Immigration is complicated but it does not need to be inhumane. This president is cruel and fails to acknowledge that the talents and loyalty of welcomed immigrants make America strong, not weak. I recently read about Madeleine Albright’s life as a refugee after fleeing Czechoslovakia as a child. The Albright family fled Nazi Germany to Great Britain where they were greeted with open arms. Welcome, they said. We are so sorry about your home, they said. We’ll take care of you until it is safe to return, they said. And that is what happened. England helped them get home again. Unfortunately, after their return, communist rule loomed and they were forced to flee again, this time to America. Welcome, America said. We are so sorry about your home, America said. We’ll help you become citizens, America said. And they did. Can you think of a more outstanding American than Madeleine Albright? We are a nation of immigrants—and I am a firm believer that is our strength.
Papa was an immigrant’s baby and this immigrant’s granddaughter wishes she could tell him thanks. This immigrant’s granddaughter wishes our president was less cruel in his thinking and more humane in his actions toward immigrants desperate for a new life. And this immigrant’s granddaughter cares deeply for this imperfect nation—perhaps it would be a more perfect union if more of us remembered our immigrant ancestors and worked together in their honor.