Grandma: The Immigrant

I’ve been wanting to write this post and its companion (see Thursday’s) for a few weeks now. I didn’t feel like I could do it justice. Funny. Immigration policy and justice are one of the nation’s hottest topics right now, and in a few weeks we’ll be celebrating our annual “making a statement of rebellious independence.” It’s what we’re built on: freedom from & freedom to.

While many emigrants flee and hope to immigrate here, I can empathize more and more. One side of my family has been in the States for hundreds (?) of years. I’ll have to check on that; I never paid enough attention.  On the other side, I’m only two generations removed. Both paternal grandparents arrived long about the Great Depression. My dad came along as a late surprise, and I’m a late product as well. At this present time, most Americans in their mid-30’s can’t lay claim to Great Depression-Era immigrant grandparents. When I was growing up in rural, white Wisconsin (“I  saw a black person in Wal-Mart today! They must be from over in [town name] and made the drive.” ~ a true & now embarrassing story), it was a novelty that our family cared about, but no one else did. So what? It was an easy answer to 4th grade’s ancestry assignment … proof of a melting pot– or as anther of my teachers put it: a tossed salad.

But now in suburbia with last year’s first ever Refugee Olympic Team and this year’s talk of building a wall, I feel more importance to being only slightly removed from my daring, ocean-crossing ancestors. I like to hike and be adventurous and tent camp in the wilderness on my own terms, but when slow, unreliable mail was the only means of communication, traveling solo in steerage, and you-might-never-see-your-parents-again at age 16 come into play, I don’t even compare.

My dad used to talk about life as the son of immigrants. Two stories I recall in particular were:

  1. When his parents didn’t want him to know what they were talking about, they would discuss the topic in their native language. His siblings knew some of what was being spoken and had traveled to the mother land for a trip. But Dad was so much younger that they were grown up and married by the time he was the only remaining child at home.
  2. Dad couldn’t pronounce certain English words correctly, having heard his parents speak broken English, so he went to — what we would call in today’s terms– speech therapy. He’s not around anymore for me to ask, but I think he said it had some old school name like Talking Class.

This comes into light because my mom unearthed a diary of my grandma’s and asked if I had any interest in reading it? Sure! Knowing it came from her later years and not sure what I would find, I began reading. As someone quite keen on accurate grammar, one of the aspects I admirably regarded was her misspellings. She liked to crochet. That nasty French word. For a foreigner (not from France) in her late 80’s, how do you write past tense? ‘Croched’. It looks somewhat like it sounds, right? I mean, the tricky ‘ch’ is even in there. And she attempted keeping off weight gain by walking the halls of her nursing home and going upstairs to use the stationary bike for some ‘exersize’. Gotta love it. For coming to a new world, leading an entirely new way of life, taking on a new culture while keeping homeland traditions, and –another funny story– seeing strange foods for the first time (a pineapple~ she phoned her sister to explain the item and ask what you do with it?!), that is amazing. Misspellings as such can be overlooked. She may not have ever gotten a driver’s license, but she learned a new language. And that is more than I’ve accomplished. Every time I hear my Spanish-speaking neighbors, I think how every American should be bi-lingual in any tongue. …Which is why my language-learning side hobby may be strange to some folks, but there is extreme national pride AND AWARENESS in taking on such an endeavor.

I may support the military (a ‘red’ issue), but I love welcoming immigrants (a ‘blue’ issue) as a mostly European (a ‘white’ matter) American.

I love our constitutional democracy which forms a republic, while being quite mindful of the social needs we are facing. I work to promote AND LIVE a lifestyle not of self-absorption, but of volunteering within the community to give back as a contributing citizen. People helping people. That’s what we should be about~ collectively caring & collectively investing. Can we stop being Republican and Democrat and just be involved Americans?

What makes this country great isn’t the leader, it’s the people. If WE want a great country, WE should do something about it. Less yelling, less fighting, less shootings, less taking political sides, and more rolling up sleeves getting tired from giving than staying up late sitting in front of a screen. That’s the America we should strive for.


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