“Look behind you! We’re in section 3, row 69, midway down. Wave!” My mother set off my cell phone during the procession portion of my recent college graduation ceremony. I looked up towards the stands. They were all there, stomping on the bleachers, waving like lunatics. My divorced parents, divorced paternal grandparents, their current spouses, my widowed maternal grandmother, my two brothers, and my two sisters. I squinted, half expecting to find my dogs barking right up there with them.
This is a round about way to set up the statement: I believe in immigration. Not because it is the cause celebre, but simply because without it I would not be here. No, I did not steal across the border in the black of the night, nor did I escape persecution from some evil regime in some far away land. I am almost ashamed to admit that I was born in Japan, spent my first ten years living the privileged life of an expatriate child and crossed the Pacific kicking and screaming when my father’s company decided to send us back to the home office.
My abuelita never visited us in Japan, yet there she was among those beaming proudly last Saturday. She was married to my grandfather for nearly 40 years. They met in a strawberry field in California, she a 16 year old from Puerto Rico, he a 57 year old Filipino. Age, cultural, and language barriers meant nothing to them. With their four children (my mother among them), they spent their lives toiling in other people’s fields. They put food not only on their own table, but literally on the tables of countless families across the country. However noble that may sound, my mom decided that “inhaling tiny flies and pesticides” was not for her, so she went off to college, got a good job, and started a family.
My Papaw can trace his roots (my roots!) back to the Mayflower and Grandma Ann’s mother is from Sweden. Pictures of her show a towering Nordic beauty with the lightest colored eyes that I have ever seen. In sharp contrast to my mother’s side, my father’s kin are well educated ministers, professors, and the like. Every once in a while I goggle their names and am amazed at what turns up.
All of these amazing people and their equally amazing histories made up my cheering section —- not just at the graduation, but throughout every step of my life. Because of them, I did not have to come from afar to get where I am. They were the ones with the courage to leave the familiar for the unknown. They were the ones who did all of the hard work. They were the ones who brought me here. And they are the ones that I will continue to carry with me wherever I go.
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