I sat in the back, listening to the presenter tell story after story of her work with genealogy. She’s traced her own history, her husband’s history and even friend with Norwegian heritage. She thought she was mostly German, about her DNA test revealed there her background was actually more British, with a wee bit of Middle Eastern and Asian roots. She told of unknown family stories discovered and lost relatives reconnected. As she finished, members of the audience told their stories as well.
Adoptees finding biological siblings.
Biological families discovering children given up for adoption.
Secretive stories emerging in funeral records, newspaper accounts and anecdotal stories.
Anecdotes of strangers reaching out for information and family puzzles being solved.
Behind all of the branches on the family tree, known and unknown, lay the stories of the human heart. Stories of quest and adventure, escape and survival, family loved and family lost. Beneath the points on a map where distant relatives ‘landed’ are places from which they came. Some came out of curiosity. Some were forced out or brought here against there will. Some came to escape violence or poverty. Beneath the trajectory of their journeys on a map lies the story of migration and love. Opportunity and hope. Desire, persistence, rejection, welcome.
I couldn’t help but realize that all of these stories existed because someone welcomed them to a new country, and new plot of farmland, or a new tenement house. The welcome wasn’t perfect by any means. But, I couldn’t help but realize that the make up our families, our communities, our places of work, education, and worship exists because there has been the freedom of movement. However hard, however treacherous, and despite the loss of millions to disease, drowning, violence or starvation – the land and the era provided enough open space in the heart, and room to roam for the feet.
Immigration is not about others coming to take our jobs or our state benefits. Immigration is our story, then and now. Immigration is who we have been, and who we are. It shapes our understanding of family and it defines our religious faith; it shapes our schools and our streets. It is our coming and our going; indeed it is the place on which we stand in the present.
Immigrants are not “them.” They are “us.” What differs is the name of our old country or countries; but we all have one. What differs are our surnames and our family’s native languages, but again, we all have them. History asks us if we will seek to continue that welcome, and in so doing, honor who we are as members of an ever moving human family.