You’re supposed to do a “I give thanks for __” blog on Thanksgiving, but I’m going to do something different. Seems like everyone is debating refugees right now. Should Americans allow Syrian refugees to enter our country?
It’s a silly question. Most of us in the United States came here from someplace else. Refugees, immigrants, lost souls, fortune hunters, or whatever they may have been, they all came here from some other country.
It got me thinking about my own ancestors. I have a bunch who lived in the United States – some who even lived here before there was a United States, back in the days of the Colonies, or even earlier. But why did they come here? For the most part, I don’t know.
My family has been in the United States for a long time. I have stories for three of my ancestors. My great-great-grandfather’s wife had died, leaving him with seven children. Russian Poland in the late 19th century was not the greatest place to live. Poor farmland and too many people didn’t make a good life, so Great-Great-Grandpa Kiesel took four of his oldest children and moved to the United States, hoping to provide a better life for his children. I understand he had an uncle or a cousin who already lived here, which must have made it a little easier. Once he was settled, he sent for my great-grandmother who had stayed behind with the two youngest. with help from her grandparents, she sold off what was left of the family farm and the three of them sailed across the Atlantic to be reunited with the rest of her family.
Two earlier ancestors, Basse and Knight, came together. They came from England, looking for silver and gold and tobacco. They helped to settle Jamestown colony, hoping to get rich quick. They took advantage of the natives and several of them were killed in return. They built plantations before there were slaves in America, using indentured servants, but eventually they bought slaves to work their land. Those families have been here a long, long time, at least in terms of the United States.
But that only accounts for three of my ancestral lines. What about the others? Why did the Andersons leave Sweden in the 1890s? History says there were crop failures in Sweden at the time, so I imagine they came for the same reason as the Kiesels. Why did the Ardery family leave Bannbridge, (Northern) Ireland in the mid 1700s? I don’t have an answer. And what about the ones I don’t have dates for? What about Eberts, Scherfler, Kuntzman, and Wagner? Or the Campbell family? Or the others – Mayo, Sherrod, Hendricks, Williams, van Meter, Llewellyn, Burton, Dillon… I could fill a whole page, listing surnames. Where did they come from? Why did they leave? Why did they come here?
I may never know. All I know for sure is they got here. Somehow. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. But that’s what the United States is: a place where everyone comes from someplace else. My daughter carries a tiny bit of native American DNA. They’ve certainly been here longer than anyone else, but even they came from someplace else, thousands of years ago. In fact, if you live anywhere other than Africa, your ancestors surely moved at some point.
Americans are just like everyone else on the planet. We’re no better and no worse. All societies have abusers, psychopaths, terrorists, pedophiles. All societies have good Samaritans, humanitarians, and ‘helpers’. What does make a difference is our attitude. What will we accept? What will we stand for? What do we want to be known for? The United States began as a place for refugees and immigrants and people in search of a home. If we change that, we should also change our name. If we start turning people away, especially out of fear, then we no longer will be United anything.
United we stand, divided we’re nothing.