In Our Ancestors’ Shoes

January 28, 2017 at 1:26 pm (Essay, Making a Difference, Rants) ()

The S.S. Coronia

My grandfather arrived on the SS Coronia with his 5-year-old son. His wife was able to follow four months later with their second son.

This week, Donald Trump signed orders that attempt to close the doors on immigration, to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, to bar green card holders from returning to the U.S., to bar immigrants for seven predominantly-Muslim countries, and one meant to punish sanctuary cities. He is also threatening a Muslim registry. How many other actions will he try to put into place before he makes the U.S., not one of the more respected countries in the world, but one of the most reviled?

Most of us who live in the U.S., unless we are 100% Native American, are of immigrant stock. On my father’s side, I can trace my heritage back to the Mayflower. On my mother’s side, my great grandmother came from Germany. Her daughter married my grandfather, an English immigrant. Through Ellis Island records I was able to discover that he came to the U.S. in 1906 from England aboard the S.S. Coronia, with my uncle Ernie, then 5.  Four months later, his wife came aboard the S.S. Umbria with my uncle Les, age 11 months. My grandfather married my grandmother after his first wife’s death. I never learned what brought him here, but I’m sure it was not the ravages of war taking place across the world today that drive many to seek asylum in the U.S.

The fact that we are trying to close our doors to immigrants now has little, if anything to do with economics or fear of terrorism. In 2013, there were 406,496 deaths caused by gun violence and 3,380 deaths caused by terrorism. In either case, one is too many, but which do YOU think is the greater threat?  With regard to concerns over economics, immigrants generally hold different jobs than American workers, so they are thereby strengthening the economy, rather than putting a strain on it.

I am happy to say that I and my family live in what is considered a sanctuary city. Our city welcomes refugees from other nations, recognizing the value they contribute in terms of economics, cultural awareness and diversity, the Arts and more. I believe it is a win-win for this community.

I thank my daughters, immigrants in their own rights who came here as adoptees at 9 months of age, for giving me the opportunity to meet some of these refugees first-hand. As volunteers through invitation by their French teacher, they began tutoring refugees to assist them in improving their English and building math skills in order for them to go to college. One evening, additional tutors were needed, so I jumped in and began working with an ambitious young man, known to his friends as Dino. Dino is probably in his early 30’s, he stands about 5’8″ and he has sparkling brown eyes, an infectious smile and a very funny sense of humor. He is married, with four children. He works all day in construction, then goes each night, Monday through Friday, to the refugee center for two hours of tutoring so that he can start studies at Monroe Community College in the Fall. The online study program serves up a menu of some very challenging questions for someone whose native language is not English. When he correctly answers one of those difficult questions, we celebrate with a fist-bump or a high five.

Dino spent eight years in a refugee camp before he and his family were selected to come here. He doesn’t like working outside in the cold weather, but he doesn’t complain. He is happy to be earning money to support his family. This past week, he excitedly shared that next month, he will celebrate his first year anniversary of being in the U.S. His goal is to become a social worker, as he was in his own country and in the refugee camp, so that he can help others. I am impressed at how well he already speaks English, after less than a year here.  I tell him he’ll be a great social worker because he’s so wonderful with people. His already-radiant smile somehow brightens.

I look across the room on Monday evening. Each computer is occupied by an adult or student tutor alongside one or more refugees working hard to acquire the necessary skills for success here in the U.S. In each of them, I see the hope, perseverance and determination it must have taken our own ancestors who sought to come here, with few resources, a different way of life and possibly, limited English language skills.

I wish every person had this first-hand opportunity to work with these wonderful, warmhearted, ambitious people and experience, to some degree, what it must have been like for their ancestors to come here as refugees. Get to know these people, and it is easy to understand that the way to stem the tide on terrorism is not to close the doors and push people away, but to welcome them and help them become loyal, appreciated citizens and contributing members of society…like each of our ancestors.

Although the particular program my family is involved in focuses on tutoring adults, there are ample opportunities to assist through working with children, “adopting” families, donating clothing, furniture, appliances, money or time, and myriad other ways. If you want to get involved, search on “refugee services” and the name of your city.

It is a gift that gives back in so many ways.

 

Permalink Leave a Comment