Friday, November 20, 2015

An Immigrant's Daughter

It's a fact I often forget.  I was born and raised in the U.S., and my dad has lived in the US for the majority of his life, but the reality is that my father is an immigrant.  He could never be president, he taught his mother english, and as much as we sometimes forget, this is not his native land.

My dad was born in 1950 in post-war Germany.  My Baba (grandmother) had been taken from her home in Ukraine during WWII to work as slave labor.  I know very little details about her time there, because she refused to talk about it.  The only things I do know are that the farm she was put on was owned by a family that was relatively kind to her, and she had an acid burn across her chest.  How it got there, one can only guess.

In 1946 my aunt was born.  I don't know the story of her birth or how my grandparents met, but from what I understand she was born out of wedlock.  Four years later, now married, my grandparents were attempting to immigrate to America.  My Baba had a cousin who lived in Philly, and that was helping to speed up the process, because this cousin was able to vouch for this little family.  As it's been told to me, just before everything was finalized, my dad was born, and now they had to wait even longer so they could obtain the proper documents for him.

At 6 months old, my dad was finally granted access to the US along with my Baba, my Papa Joe, and my Aunt Irena.  Baba wasn't extremely educated.  While she was an extraordinary gardener, she only had the equivalent of a 4th grade education, and while she could speak about 10 slavic languages and some German, she didn't speak English.  She had cousins in Philly, but her mother was in Ukraine along with many of her siblings.  Her brother had gone to Australia.  The move certainly could not have been easy for her, especially not with two young children.

So, one must ask why did she moved here?  The answer is simple.  She had no other options.  Germany was broken, and Baba couldn't tolerate living there anyway.  While I never heard her utter one thing against the Germans, she also made it clear she wished to never return.  After the war some of the family returned to Ukraine, but this was during the Stalin era.  Many of these people were lost forever.  Baba went wherever she could get a foothold.  She didn't see her mother or any of the rest of her family for nearly 30 years.

After a while Baba and Papa Joe moved from Philly down to Richmond, where Papa Joe set up shop as a barber and Baba set to raising her children.  When the marriage didn't work out, Baba found a factory job.  My father and my aunt would bring home school work to help her learn english.  My dad remembers helping his mom understand his kindergarten homework.  She worked hard, she pinched pennies, and after 10 years she bought a house- her pride and joy and where she lived until she died.

My father attended college, and when I was born he (and my mom) made sure I was well-cared for and provided for.  It was often difficult, but he made sure I attended some of the finest schools in the area because he recognized the importance of a good education as well as decent connections.  I attended and completed college upon my parents' persistence.  It didn't matter what the degree was in just so long as I had one.  Now, I have my own business, I employ others, and I'm looking to expand. 

Personally, I feel my immigrant family has been a plus to American society.  I may not be Steve Jobs (another child of an immigrant), but I'd like to think we've had a positive influence.  And so, I have to think about something.  What if, as my grandparents were applying for refugee status in the US, someone had said, "No.  They're living in Germany.  They could be Nazis."  What if they'd had to stay in Europe simply because someone saw where they were from and thought they might pose a threat?  How would that have changed life?  What sort of conditions would my aunt and dad have lived in?  Would they have lived at all?

I don't claim to be an expert on world politics.  There's a lot that I wish I knew more about.  One thing I do know, though, is that the immigration policy is not easy.  It's not an open door to anyone.  People work hard to get in, and it's a huge achievement when they do.  And once they're here they have to start their lives all over again, oftentimes without the support of family.  When I think of the Syrian refugees that so many politicians are trying to ban I just think of that mother with two children under the age of 5.  What will she do?  What will happen to her?  What will happen to her children?

It's just something to think about.

No comments:

Post a Comment