Remembering My Immigrants
I’m a family history nerd. (Shameless plug for KevinMDoyle.com)
I recently completed a project where I tracked all of my mom’s ancestral lines back to the immigrant ancestors. The closest immigrants to me are still three generations removed. My great-grandfather came over from Croatia around 1910. The furthest generation of immigrants is six generations removed from me. My great-great-great-great-grandparents Martin Kohl and Barbara Shitz immigrated from Germany sometime around 1830.
I think about them a lot.
I think how terrifying it must have been for them to leave their villages, cities, and towns. I think of the courage that they showed to leave everything they ever knew to come to a new home in a new place, far away from friends and family and often among strangers.
I think about them when I watch the news or see the latest anti-immigrant rhetoric or policy from politicians in the West. I see my own immigrant ancestors in the faces of the refugees and immigrants I see in the news.
I think of how horrible it must be to be forced to flee your home because of war or threats of violence. How traumatic it must be to see a country you love – everything you’ve ever known – reduced to ruins and know that your only hope of survival comes from running.
I think of the anti-immigrant sentiments my ancestors faced. Anti-Irish feelings were strong in the United States. Eastern Europeans were often viewed as an alien force. All of my immigrants on my mom’s side were, to my knowledge, Catholics. They faced prejudice because of their religion.
I think about the anti-immigrant rhetoric being spewed now. Some politicians compare immigrants and refugees to rapists or vermin. Some policies are designed to strip them at the border of any wealth they’ve managed to hold onto. They too face prejudice because of their religion.
I think of how blessed I am that my ancestors got out before these poor people. I think of how blessed I am that they went through the struggle these people are going through now so that I didn’t have to.
And I think about how easy it would be for me to be in their position.
Let’s face it. I didn’t do anything at all to be born where I was. Talent didn’t get me here. Neither was it connections or hard work.
No. It was dumb luck. Credit can only go to fate that led to me being born in a middle-class town in the middle of the richest country to ever grace their face of the planet.
So, I refuse to greet these people with the hostility others greeted my own immigrant ancestors with. I refuse to support the policies and politicians that use the misery of these poor people as a distraction from or reasons for the economic stagnation and other problems that face our countries.
I hope that I am never put in a situation where I have to flee from war or violence or economic hopelessness. But, I hope that if I do, I am treated with more compassionate policies and words than those these people face right now.