Wednesday, July 20, 2016

a granddaughter of immigrants speaks up

In 1949, my Oma and Opa were among the first European immigrants to fly to the Americas after WWII. They left behind a country ravaged by war, where the land had been raped and pillaged by years of fear and poverty. They determined to put as many miles as possible between themselves and the memory of war. They were not well educated. They were not highly skilled workers. They were young farmers, newly married, who hated farming and wanted to begin a new life. They were not "white"; they were Dutch, and their only ticket to Canada was (ironically) through the sponsorship of a Canadian farmer who gave them work. The little English they spoke was hampered by a thick brogue. They brought little wealth to contribute to the economy. Just two pair of calloused hands and a willingness to try again to build a better life for themselves and the son they would bear.

They looked no different than Germans. I wonder whether their accents ever aroused suspicion among their new neighbors. They had been victims of war brutality, risking life and limb to subvert the German advance, but only a thin border separated them from Nazi headquarters. With the same light skin and big noses, did people wonder? Did all Europeans look the same? After all, they shared a religion with Nazi Germany — Protestant Christianity.

How soon we forget.

My father crossed the Canadian border into the United States to attend Calvin College. He met and married my mother in Grand Rapids, Michigan, beginning life as a U.S. Citizen.

That makes me the granddaughter of immigrants — immigrants who fled a war-torn country to make a new beginning. They followed their married son to Colorado so they could watch me grow up. I was nurtured and raised in a close-knit Denver community whose shared origins defined us (even today, the children of my Dutch cousins and Dutch classmates are dropping off their children at Calvin Camp, the same camp we attended almost 30 years ago, and my other grandparents are living out the remainder of their years in a retirement home populated mostly by people of Dutch descent). My community successfully integrated. No one my age that I know of actually spoke Dutch. We were Americans.

But roll back the clock just a few generations and most of our families were not in the United States.

How grateful I am that my grandparents were allowed to move here — that they were not turned back at the border on the outside chance that they were Nazi sympathizers.

I'd like to extend that opportunity to others fleeing war-torn lands.
Every human being deserves a place to live and raise a family without fear for their safety.
Let's work together to make it happen.
There's a sea of refugees out there who are just as afraid of ISIS as we are.
We can start by opening our hearts to them.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, Carmen! Great post. Thanks for writing and sharing.