This I Believe

sonya - vancouver, Washington
Entered on May 17, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: immigrant

This I believe

During all this current controversy over immigration, I believe it might be useful for all us to recall what it took for our own particular families to set down roots here in America.

It all came home to me as I was helping my elderly mother downsize for her move from her home to an apartment for senior citizens. I found a yellowing envelope wedged in the corner of the top drawer of a bedroom bureau. The postmark was July, 1954, more than half a century ago.

Inside, there were several letters in the shaky, spidery handwriting of my Polish grandfather Jan Isidor Romejko, John Romer as he was known after immigrating in the early 1900s to the United States. He had written to my mother after our family had moved away from his home city of Seattle to Kenosha, Wisconsin, my other grandparents’ hometown. My father, in need of a job, went to work in their neighborhood tavern.

My mother and I sat down to read the letters, welcoming the reprieve from days of trying to winnow through her belongings. My grandfather wrote of his concern that our new life in the Midwest was not going smoothly.

“My dearest daughter, my darling grandchildren, I love you and you must know you can always come back here to our open arms. If you need, we will find a place, for all five of you. All we have is yours.”

Such generosity. He always ended on this sacrificial note: “Your mother and I are lonely but we understand, you must do what is best for you.”

This from a man who had wandered the world to find what he believed to be the perfect place, Seattle, where he had hoped his own family would set down roots and thrive.

Somehow, my folks worked out their difficulties and we stayed in the Midwest. Soon, my grandmother died. We only had infrequent visits from my grandfather, who braved his first plane ride to see us. He died in 1962.

On reading the letters, all I could think was what anguish he had suffered. First, he had been forced by circumstance to forsake his family of origin. There was no job for him in Poland.

He worked hard in his own small businesses and was a success in America, so proud of his citizenship papers that he hung them on his wall. But, then even his new family had to disperse for economic reasons.

Still, he wrote: “This is the greatest place in the world. I am satisfied that I have given my children and grandchildren that.”

I realize nothing has changed. Just like my grandfather, today’s new immigrants, too, are sacrificing so much to be here because of their faith in this country and the hopes it represents for their children.