Migration in America

Peter Biddle recounts the stories of his migrant ancestors and their journey to America, making the point that you can't escape your fate by staying put.

My own grandparents fraudulently entered Canada as refugees after WWII. My father's mother and father were Red Army deserters who burned their papers in order to qualify as displaced people; they narrowly escaped a pogrom in Poland on their way to Hamburg and the DP boat to Canada. My father's stepfather -- one of two survivors of his entire Polish-Jewish family -- entered Canada on black-market papers, and had two birthdays for the rest of his life (his actual birthday, and the birthday on his papers).

My mother's family entered Canada and the US legally, because they came a generation earlier, when there were essentially no formalities to entering those countries. It's unlikely that they could have passed under the current regime.

I am a migrant to the UK. I have held a variety of US work-visas. Without my unearned privilege -- thanks, in large part, to the familial fortunes that changed due to my undocumented immigrant ancestors' migration -- I couldn't have afforded the titanic sums that the law firms who secured my visas and helped with my UK naturalisation charged. Even with their help, it was a process that was four-fifths Kafka, one-fifth Orwell. I have only the faintest inkling of how difficult it must be for people who don't have the advantages I had, and what it must be like to be fleeing the terror and privation my grandparents raced away from and to be confronted with both the stony-faced, impossible bureaucracy, and the NOT OUR CHILDREN/NOT OUR PROBLEM sign-bearers.

So they left. They got on a ship with what little they had and departed for a new beginning. They were refugees, fleeing oppression and religious persecution, casting their lot into an unknown that simply had to better than what they had known so far.

Together they went to America. A few generations after arriving, a grandson grew up to not be a shoemaker, nor a rural peasant: he became the president of a national bank. A few generations after that another family son created this blog.

Who do we think we are trying to keep out of this wonderful country?


(Image: Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, Luigi Crespo, CC-BY)