Only want to be free
We huddle close
Hanging on to a dream
“America” sung by Neil Diamond
I know many of you are both mentally and emotionally exhausted from the constant barrage of “noise” over the last couple of weeks. It’s been hard – even harder than I expected it to be.
Out of all of the “noise”, the immigration ban has brought me to tears numerous times. I am so deeply saddened that America has been forced to shut its doors to people seeking a brighter future here. To suspend immigration is un-American to me. To ban refugees is against everything I believe in.
But while I am sad, I refuse to wallow, because wallowing would be living in my “privilege”. What right do I have to wallow when thousands of people’s lives have been thrown into sudden chaos? Yet, I also refuse to ignore the ban and to pretend I am not affected in some way by it. If each one of us took the time, we would find that we do indeed know someone in our community, in our circles, in our friendships, workplace – somewhere, someone you know is suffering from this ban.
So – what do I do?
Well, I decided to channel some of this energy, and do a little research on my own immigration story. Like each and every one of you that is not Native American, my ancestors came from somewhere else. All of my life, I have proudly said that all eight of my great grand-parents emigrated from Italy. They were not refugees in the way that Merriam-Webster defines it as “a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution.” I imagine that all of them did what so many others did in the early 1900’s by coming to America to pursue the American dream – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Using the research my dad has done on our family tree, I subscribed to ancestry.com to see what I could find. It didn’t take me too long to find ship manifests that contained the names of five of my eight great-grandparents.
First is my dad’s maternal grandfather, Salvatore Raffaele, who left from Naples and arrived in New York City on the SS Britannia in 1893 at the age of 21. I am not sure when he married Maria Valenti, my great-grandmother, or when she moved to America. I do know that they had seven children, their fifth being my grandmother who was born in Stamford, CT in 1911.
Next, my dad’s paternal grandmother, Amelia Maria Lamazzo was only 15 when she sailed from Naples to New York on the SS Lombardia in August, 1903. She married Francesco (Frank) Sessa sometime around those years, lived in Stamford, CT and had her first child (of 10!) in 1906 and then had Samuel (my grandfather) in 1907. According to the 1930 census, my great-grandfather Francesco (Frank) emigrated from Italy in 1900. I found a ship manifest with Francesco Sessa’s name on it from 1909 – so my guess he returned to Italy to visit and came back to CT – because he and Amelia had eight more children after that.
On my mother’s side, her paternal grandfather, Arcangelo Martino, was 19 years old when he sailed on the SS Romanic from Naples to Boston in 1911.
My mother’s maternal grandfather, Raffaele Ronzio, was also 19 years old when he left from Havre and arrived in New York City in 1913 on the SS Niagara. He was from a small town in Italy called S. Apollinaire – so I am not sure how France is part of his story. I do know that he married my great-grandmother Maria Valente before they moved to the US because my great-Aunt Lucy (Lucia) was born in S. Apollinaire, and then they had 2 more children (including my grandmother) in North Providence, RI.
My family history may be a bit boring to anyone outside my family. What I hope happens to all of you reading this is for you to reflect and think about your own family’s emigration/immigration story. Because we are (almost) all alike in that we have one. If you think that immigration has not affected you in some positive way, I ask you to consider where you came from and why you are here.
And if you don’t think immigration affects your community today – well, maybe you are not looking hard enough. This article was posted today called “Meet the Last Refugees to Arrive in Charleston Before the President’s Ban”. The Mufuta family luckily arrived 24 hours before the ban went into effect. If you read this article, you will learn that Bakemayi Mufuta lived in refugee camps since he was seven (he is now 30 years old) when he fled his hometown in the Congo. He met his wife Rose in a refugee camp in Zambia (she also had fled the Congo). They have two children, 6 year-old Promise, and 3 year-old Georgina. They spent 4 years on the resettlement process that led here to Charleston a few weeks ago with the help of Lutheran Services Carolina. I am sure that nothing about that process was easy.
Before the ban, Lutheran Services Carolina had just begun to resettle refugees in our area – four families have come since January. Of course, the refugee program is now at a stand-still.
I have contacted Lutheran Services Carolina to see what these families could use and how to get supplies to them. I am happy to pass along my findings to anyone interested. You can also follow the SC for Refugee Justice Facebook page if you are interested in learning more.
While sometimes I feel helpless, I won’t give up hope – because again, then I go back to living in my privilege because I CAN go about my business if I choose to. While I pledge to myself to speak up and take action, I will try not to add to the “noise” because it’s hard to hear through the noise.
I will continue to write about my feelings because if it helps even one person feel better or inspire them to take some kind of positive action – it’s 100% worth my time and effort.
I will continue to plea with people to practice empathy – to find what you have in common with the immigrants and refugees that are impacted by the ban. To ask those everyone to do the best you can to act from love and not fear. To rise about the political fray and realize this is a HUMAN issue – not a political one.
I will practice gratitude for my great-grandparents who were brave enough to move across an ocean at their young ages in order to pursue the American dream. I will practice gratitude that they were lucky enough to be allowed to do so.
I will continue to pray for the people who are frightened and confused, who are trying to find a better life for their families, and who are stuck somewhere other than here. I will pray that we remember who we are, where we came from, and what the American values are that we sometimes take for granted.
I will do what I can to help the refugees who do live in my community.
I will continue to follow the “real” news and will not be afraid to read the truth, or to share the truth. I will not remain silent or indifferent.