Monday, May 17, 2010

Let Me In

You know me - I’m one of the least political people in the world. I think I was born under a huge “Make Love, Not War” banner. Okay, so I was born before that came about and my parents wouldn’t have been caught dead anywhere near such a thing (try to imagine Donna Reed and William Demerest at a peace rally), but the times they were a-changin’ and I stormed right into that gallimaufry. I don’t like conflict. Whenever there are signs of turbulence, I tend to disappear, and anything political has much the same effect.

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.
It reads:
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?


  1. Barb,
    I am so with you on this, I never like to talk politics, but my grandparents came thru Ellis Island form Palermo, Sicily on my moms side and my fathers came from Mexico. Yes I get very upset when I hear the comments people make. I just don't understand how they don't get it. America is a melting pot for many, none of us can say we don't have older generations that didn't come from somehwere else. It absolutely makes no sense to me how they just choose to ignore it.
    Thanks for this, much love,

  2. Thanks, Becka. I guess, rather than being enraged, I'm always more surprised at just how dense people can be. As you say, "they don't get it."

  3. Well written & nicely thought out Barb & I love the cup.


  4. Hence the words, "they worked hard and earned it". That says it all. Like my ancestors, they, too, came to America and worked hard to become citizens, pay taxes, fight for this country, learn the language, and not take for granted the 'freedom' this country promotes. The law in AZ is to create some sort of balance that is currently WAY OUT OF BALANCE across the borders of all states. Illegal Immigrants come to America and immediately get free food, free health care, free everything (costing the hard-working taxpayers in so many ways), when born and raised Americans struggle everyday to just survive - who make too much for any sort of aide.

    Did you know that a hard-working American with health insurance, who goes to the hospital, is seen AFTER those with Medicaid who are not legal?

    Oh, don't get me started on politics....I am all about a better America and doing things the right, LEGAL way.

    When we step outside of our country, we are required to show LEGAL documentation that we are American, so why is it any different to stop ILLEGAL Immigrants from crossing the border without showing their proper documentation?

    So, come on in and 'earn' your freedom!

  5. I hear you. I agree. The cup is lovely.


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