Opinion | Susan Knopf: Grateful to be alive
For the Record
Every Thanksgiving, I think how grateful I am to be here, to be alive. My maternal grandmother was the only one of my grandparents born in the United States. The rest arrived as immigrants in the early part of the last century. They were all sponsored by cousins. If they tried to get here under the current immigration rules, we would not be allowed in. I probably wouldn’t be alive. My children wouldn’t have been born.
President Donald Trump chants stop chain migration, but his wife’s parents arrived here by chain migration. For the record, Melania Trump, is widely regarded as a person who came here and began working illegally.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her opening remarks of her U.S. Senate confirmation hearing July 20, 1993, said her parents could not afford a college education. She said her grandparents had “the foresight to leave the old country when Jewish ancestry and faith meant exposure to pogroms and denigration of one’s human worth. What has become of me could only happen in America. Like so many others, I owe so much to the entry this nation afforded to people yearning to breathe free.”
Like me, RGB came from a family in which education was viewed as a luxury, secondary to putting food on the table. Both my grandfathers were fresh off the boat, scrappy and became successful. They hadn’t needed an education to get there.
My mothers’ parents told my father’s parents they would contribute a couple hundred bucks a month to our household, so dad could finish college at UCLA. Mom says Dad’s parents balked but were persuaded to contribute to his undergraduate education.
He was going to college on the GI Bill. Just about everyone served in the military in those days. My father was no exception. There were distinct benefits: my parents’ first mortgage and my dad’s tuition were obtained through the GI Bill. My father says his class fees at UCLA were ridiculously low back then. One website says local residents paid no tuition.
My father’s first job, out of college, was working for my maternal grandfather in his mannequin manufacturing business. It was the late 1950s, and the economy was expanding rapidly, fueled by the baby boom.
It’s pretty typical and, in retrospect, an idyllic scenario.
Under new immigration rules proposed by the Trump administration, my family would not have any hope of becoming Americans because nobody had a education, and we had no money. Everything we are, everything my family has become, is the result of the opportunity we were extended, the open door.
I have so many friends who say, “I’m in favor of immigration, legal immigration.” The only thing that makes today’s immigrants “illegal” is our more restrictive laws. We can’t change the law because our country has been polarized by politicians and strategists bent on appeasing the base, doing nothing and collecting a pay check for merely posturing.
More of my family might have been saved from the gas chambers of the Holocaust. Just as Hitler’s race laws were enacted, the U.S. implemented tougher immigration laws. The same xenophobia we see today contributed to shutting our doors. In a post Great Depression America, people thought the immigrant would be a burden on the state and steal jobs. Then as now, the immigrant was the catalyst driving the economy forward, with hungry, ambitious souls risking everything for future success.
We can continue to make the same mistakes, or we can learn from past successes. Ellis Island was a port of entry dedicated to state-of-the-art processing of immigrants with thousands arriving daily, processed and sent on their way to make their fortunes. We can create modern day ports of entry and welcome immigrants who will stimulate our economy by working, renting homes and buying life’s domestic necessities.
When some of our earliest immigrants arrived here on the Mayflower, the local Native Americans welcomed them and showed them how to plant, harvest and successfully hunt in this new land. We rewarded their kindness and generosity by massacring them, failing to distinguish which tribes were peaceful and which tribes bore risks to settlers.
Can we be more like those early Native Americans who welcomed immigrants? Can we live up to the words of Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty?
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Susan Knopf’s column “For The Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf has worn many hats in her career, including working as an award-winning journalist and certified ski instructor. She moved to Silverthorne in 2013 after vacationing in Summit County since the 1970s. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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