However, I have a real problem with immigration laws. I know they’re necessary, at least some of them. I know that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and I know we need to do our best to keep out the riffraff. But there needs to be some kind of balance. This country was founded on people searching for a better life. I have a problem when I hear people say, “Why are we letting anyone in?!” Curiously, none of the people saying that are Native Americans. Savvy? Really, where would we be today if the Native Americans had said, “Get lost. This is our country. Go back where you came from. You don’t even speak our language!”
I would not be writing this today were it not for immigrants. Four or more generations ago, my dad’s family came from France, Ireland, and Wales. My mother’s parents both came from Hungary in the early 1920’s. They didn’t know each other at the time, so had they not both made their way to the states, they’d never have met. My grandfather came over somewhat illegally. There was a price out on his head (he was trying to get communism into Hungary at a time when it was absolutely unwelcome), so he assumed a different name and fled the country.
My grandmother, my hero, was a Hungarian peasant with, at best, a third grade education. She saw a chance at something better. She had a dream of life without constant dirt, toil, and little reward. She had nothing when she left Hungary. Somehow, she scraped up fare for the boat. She came here with about ten dollars, one change of clothing, my great grandmother’s shawl, a knife and fork, and a tin enamel cup. She was one of the many who came through Ellis Island. She once told me that she sobbed when she saw the Statue of Liberty.
Neither of my mother’s parents spoke English when they first arrived here, but they learned. They worked hard, probably harder than some. They did everything they could to establish that “better life.” The same holds true of my father’s family. For generations they were poor farmers in Pennsylvania, but they worked hard, constantly believing.
I am sure, generations ago in my dad’s family, and when my mom’s parents came over on the boat, they weren’t thinking down the road and thinking they’d be an antecedent to a woman named Barbara Ann. I don’t think they particularly considered what legacy they might be passing along to my generation. I’m thankful for those ancestors who worked their fingers to the bone, who didn’t take no for an answer, who withstood untold hardships, who, quite simply, wanted better.
I and my siblings, and my siblings’ children are that “better.” We are what they unsuspectingly fought for. We are why they came here. How could any of us not strive to be our very best? How could any of us deny any other person on earth the same opportunity that we were given, because it was first given to our forebears? Not me. I was not raised to be a hypocrite. I can’t say, it’s good enough for mine, but not for yours.
Emma Lazarus's poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty does not read:
Give me your rich, your pretty, your talented few.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
I have my Grandma’s cup, now at least 100 years old. It is my favorite possession. Whenever I’ve moved, it’s always been the first thing I’ve unpacked. It sits, well in view, on my desk. It is my daily reminder that someone took a chance and made a better life - a better life for herself, her children, her children’s children, and so on. I have a beautiful life. Who am I to deny anyone else possibility of the same?