Margit's Note
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Margit’s Note: Yearning to Breathe Free

(Photo: Petr Kratochvil/PublicDomain)

(Photo: Petr Kratochvil/PublicDomain)

We were going to do an issue called Love for obvious (Happy Valentine’s Day!) reasons. But then, as the news about the Muslim ban, immigrants — both legal and illegal — being detained or deported, refugees trying to find a home here in the U.S. started pouring in, we felt we had to do an issue about Immigrants. Plus, embracing those that just want a chance at a better life? Now that’s love.

As Americans, every one of us has an origin tale, how our ancestors came to live in America and the struggles they endured — whether it was last week or hundreds of years ago; whether it was native-born, by boat or by force.  It’s not always a joyous story; more often than not dire circumstance brought us here.

Thanks to my genealogist mother, I’m lucky enough to know a bit about the first folks in my bloodline who made their way to America, with the sole intention of eventually creating me. Ok, ok, they had other reasons too. There was Mennonite Jacob Detweiler, who was sick of being persecuted by the Swiss government for his religion, so, in 1720, he hightailed it to Pennsylvania. Or Johannes Daniel Staudt, who came to Philadelphia in 1738 from the Palatinate, a whole bunch of little territories that eventually became Germany. We imagine he was happy to settle in the land of eventual cheesesteaks, despite the fact that Philadelphians didn’t really want him there. (Ben Franklin sneered down through his spectacles to call them “swarthy Germans” and a whole lot of other not nice stuff.)

My mom’s side encompasses the first and last relatives in our family to arrive to America  — Thomas Judd left England for Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1634, and my great-grandparents, the Persson’s (who changed their name to Pearson), came from Landskrona, Sweden in 1903.  I asked my mom if she had any stories from her grandparents.

“Just one,” she said, “My grandmother said that if she wanted to buy food, she just held out her hand with American coins in it; she always assumed they would take the right amount of change. She used to like to say proudly, ‘They never cheated me!’ She loved America.”

Their hardships are glossed over. All of them were looking for a better life, a fresh start, a new beginning. One hundred or so years after my last ancestor came to the U.S., I’m grateful they did. In remembering how and why my people came here — and that it wasn’t ever easy — we support those that want to live here. We embrace them. The differences, skills and unique perspectives they bring make our country a better place and us a better people.

This week, we’re charting all kinds of paths to and from the United States — from immigrants to refugees, from those that desperately want to get in and those that are now, in a Trumpian America, thinking of emigrating back:

With love for our huddled masses,

Margit

 

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