An Immigration Story

For reasons that will be more readily apparent in my next “Exploring Seattle” blog entry, my maternal grandmother has been on my mind a great deal today. I’m staring at her copper pot that has been passed down to me and is one of my most prized possessions. It must have been one of hers, too, because she hauled it all the way from Denmark when she came here.

Other things that I know she carried with her on that long ocean voyage included an oil painting of pansies that my sister now has, a bible, family photographs, some Danish Silver and a Danish/English dictionary. She traveled alone, her first time at sea, to meet her husband who had gone before her. That must have been terrifying. On the journey she taught herself English by using that dictionary and deciphering an issue of the Saturday Evening Post. Needless to say, this did not make her completely fluent, and she never quite got there, but I admire her attempt.

She was fortunate enough not to travel steerage class, so her trip was not nearly as miserable as it could have been. She did go through Ellis Island, but was not subject to the horrible button hook eye inspection or the long lines with the “great unwashed.” But still, she was a young girl all alone after weeks on a cold unforgiving ocean, greeted by the familiar Statue of Liberty, then subjected to nothing familiar except her husband ever again. Ever again. I can’t emphasize that enough.

Having just moved 3000 miles to a place I’ve never been, where I know no one, I am starting to have an ever so slight sense of how she must have felt. Lonely. An outsider. Never quite comfortable. At least I know the language, and with the internet and widespread telephones I can keep in touch with my loved ones. It’s quite likely that my grandmother never heard from or saw many people ever again. Ever again.

But she did it. All my grandparents did. That’s how badly they wanted to improve their qualities of life. I totally relate.

As I gaze upon grandma’s copper pot, I can do nothing but admire her for what she did for future generations. And because of that, I can’t begrudge anyone’s attempt to become an immigrant. I can’t judge one immigrant over another based on their country of origin or their skin color. I can’t look at them as an evil “them” that becomes a threat to “us”. Every human being has hopes and dreams and family to support. Borders are artificial constructs. If you go far enough back in anyone’s family tree, you’re going to find an immigrant. Even the Native Americans crossed the great land bridge once upon a time.

No one is born with some golden ticket of privilege that makes them superior to others who, by simple misfortune, came to be born on a point on this little tiny planet in this vast universe that just happened to be a few degrees north, south, east, or west of opportunity. So you may or may not like our American president, but when I heard this speech, I cheered. For all of us. Everywhere.


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