Dear Great Grandmother, Help me know the story of a refugee….
Dear Great Grandmother,
I have been watching stories on the news about children being torn away from their mothers and fathers. Little babies, who are still nursing, toddlers, preschoolers wearing sparkly shoes and pigtails, young adolescents who have been torn away from their homes, from their friends, schools, families, and from their parents in a strange land that was supposed to be the promise of a better life. I can hardly stand to focus on my easy life, knowing that I am living in a country where people believe that it is fine and good to tear women and children apart.
What can you tell me about these times, great grandmother? How can we help people remember that most of us came from families fleeing violence, poverty, and oppression?
I did not want to leave my home. It was beautiful there, living in the mountains of Alsace Lorraine when I was fifteen. I did not want to leave my family, friends, teachers, church, and my land. I loved the climate and the beauty of my home. I loved being in our little house, cooking over the fire, baking bread, picking berries for our breakfast. I never thought I would have to leave. Then, one day, when my father came to me and told me that there was no more money to buy food, that our small piece of land was not producing enough to feed us all. He told me that he had heard from relatives living in this new, large country called the United States of America, where one could find large parcels of land to farm and one could find ways to earn enough money to buy food, a place to live, and cloth to make clothes. I said “no, Papa, please don’t make me leave my home. Who will take care of my chickens? Who will take care of my berry patch? Who will take care of my grandmother, my aunts, my cousins? “
It was still dark, when I was told to get out of my warm, cozy bed. I was to quickly gather a few things, clothes, a coat, some bread, and my bible…. I felt tears streaming down my face as we bumped along in a horse drawn wagon. It was a very long journey to the port of Bremen, where we boarded a large ship and followed streams of grieving people to the decks below. I couldn’t stop myself from gasping and choking as I tried to hold back the tears that wanted to gush from my eyes. I knew I would never see my home again. The hole that formed in my heart that day never was healed.
I hope that all of you living in America will remember that most of you came from families like mine. Your ancestors did not want to live the homes that they knew and loved. They had to leave because they could not survive there any longer. You are living in this country now because your ancestors, like me, had to take the heart breaking journey to a strange land. Please have mercy on the poor children and parents who are devastated because they have lost their homes, and now they are losing the reasons that they made the perilous journey to the border: their precious children. Please send them love and prayers. Please remember that your ancestors were just as vulnerable and scared, and that you are one with them.
Have we, as Americans, forgotten that our own ancestors were mothers and fathers just like these families? They left the homes and lands that they loved because they were hungry, or oppressed, or afraid of the violence that surrounded them. Our ancestors did not want to leave all that they knew and loved to come to a strange place where there were no promises of success. People leave oppression and violence and poverty in the hopes of finding a better life for their children. No one wants to leave home, leave the land and people that they have always known, leave the familiar faces and ways of their culture. People only leave because they can see no other way to offer a better life for their children. We are those children.