Thursday, June 21, 2018

Coming to America

My Bubba wasn't the person chosen to come to America.  Her older sister, Dora, was the one who was supposed to make the trip, to meet family in New York, to become an American.  But Dora was too scared to leave home, so Ida went in her stead.

Everyone who knows the details is long dead.  Piecing things together from randomly remembered bits of family history, it seems that my maternal grandmother, an accomplished seamstress, looked quite elegant when the steamship arrived at Ellis Island.  They lifted her eyelids with a button hook, checking for she knew not what.  They asked her name, and wrote a semblance of what she said in a big book, then sent her across the harbor on a ferry to meet her distant cousin, the one who sponsored Dora-now-Ida.

That was chain migration at the turn of the 20th century.  There wasn't a lot of vetting for terror suspects, unless you were an Asian immigrant held on Angel Island off the coast of San Francisco.  There had to be an anchor person on shore, someone who would guarantee to the authorities that the new arrival would have a place to sleep and a job to hold.  Without those two pieces in place, you couldn't come over.

Families sent the oldest, the strongest, the most resilient members to brave the new frontier.  Once established, they'd send for more cousins.  My paternal great-grandparents had 9 children; the oldest accompanied their parents,they brought the rest over, slowly but surely.  He sent my grandmother and her younger sister to London, but they refused to stay with those cousins.  Frustrated with their behavior, the unknown English cousins put the two little girls on a boat in the care of a stranger; they floated to America, 8 and 10 years old, alone.

There were quotas and there must have been paperwork, but that side of things is lost to history.  Titanic showed how Leo took the ticket he won and jumped on the ship without any vetting at all.  Somehow, our nation survived.

Then came World War II, and Roosevelt sending the St. Louis and her refugees back to Europe and certain death.  If my relatives could have swum across the ocean, they'd have fled the Nazis and begged for asylum.  There was no walking to safety for them.  They died because of American immigration policy.

But it is possible to walk from Central America to our southern border, and fear has a way of making the impossible possible. Can you imagine the strength it takes to bring a toddler across thousands of miles?  Can you imagine the hope and the longing for safety that impels young parents to undertake that journey with nothing but an image of a shining city on a hill at the end? 

What I can't imagine is the Border Patrol agents sending people away from the designated safe crossings.  What I can't imagine is officials referring people to stations they know will break up families.  What I can't imagine is how those people sleep at night. 

A worker in a detention facility was told not to hug the crying children.  Parents are being deported while their children are held here; I can't imagine how they will ever reconnect.  Where are the girls and the babies?  DJT says that Ivanka told him that this was not a great policy; I can't imagine believing him.

Friends went to represent me at Senator Flake's D. C. office.  They were treated with disdain.  I can't imagine a rude Congressional staffer; didn't he realize that he was talking to his employer? 

Coming to America means something different these days, whether it's on the border or in the halls of Congress, it seems.  It makes me very sad.


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