This is my Great Great Grandpa Petterson (Peterson) holding my Grandmother on his lap. He and his future wife came to the United States from Sweden in 1884 and married about a year after their arrival. They lived in a Swede settlement in Kansas and near/in Beattie, KS for 40 years. According to my Grandmother, they were “hard working, poor, but respected. Grandpa was a stone-cutter by trade.” They went on to have four children, one of which was my Great Grandmother, Ida. Ida married Jess and they had my Grandmother. My Grandmother married Gordon Ensley in 1938 and had four boys, one of which is my Father.
I only know all of this because my Grandmother made it a point to write all of this down and give it to all of the grandchildren. I am lucky. I know at least some of my history and I cannot forget it because it stares back at me in black and white images and yellowed pages with painstakingly typed text. And I have tears streaming down my face as I write this because people are being turned away from our country for no reason other than ignorance, fear, and blind hatred. How quickly we forget when it is not happening to us in the present moment. How quickly we forget that, unless we are Native American, we are ALL immigrants, the children of immigrants, descendants of immigrants. The news today is littered with stories of perfectly legal U.S. citizens being turned away, refugees seeking safety being told they cannot come in, of Jews during World War II being sent from our borders only to be murdered by the Nazis. So maybe, for some, there’s a convenient, privileged disconnect there, some distance that is allowing our leaders and those on the side of inhumanity to keep this from sinking in, but I am asking you, go back through your own lineage, trace your own family path and realize, yes, Virginia, you are the daughter, granddaughter, great granddaughter, of an immigrant. You might not be here today if not for the once-welcoming lamp beside the golden door. Lady Liberty is also the Mother of Exiles.
Never forget. Never let them forget, most of us enjoying the relatively intact freedoms today are here because this country was once open to the possibility of goodness. Share your story, because most of us have one.