I read to my children at lunch today about Washington crossing the Delaware. That was an exciting time in the Revolutionary War, the dark eve before the glorious Christmas battle of Trenton. The turning point in the hearts and minds of the weary soldiers. The saving grace for General Washington’s career. The first winning battle, but the first of many. The beginning of true hope of victory.
And our grandfather was there.
Grandpa Graham crossed the Delaware with Washington along with 2 thousand other soldiers and helped win that decisive victory for our country. I am proud of that. I’m proud of him because, as I told my children at the lunch table today, it was those beleaguered men who first enlisted who were the most brave. You see, many other men were willing to join the fight after they saw the Continental Army begin winning battles. But it takes true visionaries of liberty to fight for the principles themselves, to fight for what is right. Grandpa Graham from Pennsylvania enlisted and served 5 years in the Continental Army when it was hard, so he felt the frigid Delaware ice, he pulled the heavy cannons onto the flimsy boats, he worked all night Christmas eve to surprise attack that morning, and he helped fire the Hessian cannons into the enemy soldiers themselves. He was rewarded by taking part in the greatest victory of the fight for independence.
Grandpa Graham was born in Pennsylvania, but his parents immigrated from Scotland. It is rumored that his mother, Janet Caldwell, gave up a large inheritance when she married John Graham, Sr. She didn’t do badly for herself, though, because they came to the New World and helped start a colony in what we know as Penn’s land.
I have another Grandpa, Joseph Barnett, who fought in the Pennsylvania militia during the Revolution (the troops were divided into Army, which was for offense; and militia, which defended the colony itself; but these purposes overlapped). Grandpa Barnett was the son of Irish immigrants, and both of his parents died early in his childhood.
After the Revolution, Grandpa Barnet and Grandpa Graham became friends and business partners. The two families were close and together explored and settled western areas of Pennsylvania. They made maps, established postal communication, founded churches, and encouraged business. Elijah Graham married Sarah Ann Barnet, and they had a slew of children. Sarah Ann was known far and wide for her wisdom and skill in home-making; you can find her name mentioned in Pennsylvania history books for her remarkable life of faith.
At least three of the Barnett-Graham boys fought to preserve the Union in the Civil War. Corporal Milton Graham was in the 211st PA regiment, part of the Army of the Potomac. Private Thomas Graham was wounded while fighting with the 40th PA regiment at the battle of Wilderness. My own grandfather, Joseph B. Graham, was a private in the 6th infantry.
Joseph Graham had a daughter, Sophronia. She married Samuel Clayton Ewing and had 7 children. She died giving birth to the last one. Her sister, Josephine, began helping out with the family, and soon she and Samuel fell in love. They had 6 more children. ( I think that is such a sweet love story! Sad, but sweet.) I have a photo of Grandma Josephine and Grandpa Samuel Ewing and 11 of the children. I think that is about all the children that survived. The youngest 2 boys look like my uncles.
Anyway, the second youngest boy, Joseph Emerson, is the one who moved to Indiana. I have seen the house where he rented a room with his wife, Evelyn Shoemaker. Their daughter, Janice (my maternal grandmother), married Robert Pullen (my maternal grandfather), who fought in the Korean War. Grandma and Grandpa Pullen’s daughter was my Mom, who of course married my Dad. My Dad’s father (James Bess) was also patriotic; he worked on a classified government project involving codes and radios in the California desert during WWII.
Then there’s me, the firstborn daughter of the Graham-Barnett-Ewing-Pullen-Bess line. I haven’t fought in any wars or founded any colonies. You won’t find my name in any history books. I was just born here.
But I married an immigrant. He was from Peru. He had only been here about half-dozen years when I met him. He was not a citizen then. He did not even have a green card. That didn’t bother me. I never asked him for “papers.” Nor he, me. We married for other reasons.
A green card is useful for immigrants. After we were married and he was no longer a student, my husband needed one. It was harder than we expected to get one. It took us 2 years and a lot of scrimping and saving. We ate ramen noodles. We went into debt. We talked to lawyers. We considered leaving the country for a while.
I remember the day we finally had our final interview for approval with INS. We lived in South Florida, so we traveled to the large, dingy building in Miami for our appointment. We were on time for our appointment, but we waited for over an hour in a small, over-crowded room stuffed with folding chairs. There was not enough seating, and it was hot and stuffy. No one was speaking, but the children and babies were fussing. I felt like I was in a foreign country. Did America really work this way? The floor was dirty, the people were curt, the lights were glaring, and the process was intimidating. The DMV seemed like 6 Disney World in comparison.
Finally, our turn came. Our oldest child, Gian, was only 6 weeks old, and he was so fussy! I was a nervous wreck for this interview, which perhaps added to Baby Gian’s angst. I knew that a wrong answer could deny my husband his permanent residency; suspicions could get him deported. I desperately wanted everything to go just perfectly and to go home. We had studied our questions carefully before coming. “What is your shoe size, honey?” “What side of the bed do you sleep on? Is that your right, or my right?” “Why exactly is this the wrong way to squeeze toothpaste, again?” Can two people really know each other under such scrutiny? (As an aside, I dare anyone to go up against us in “The Newlywed Game.” We never lose.)
We were ushered into an office the size of my tiny apartment closet. The closet office held a desk and two chairs. The baby’s wails became louder as my husband’s desperate looks in my direction became more earnest. The interviewer opened my husband’s file and began the questions; we literally could not hear over the child’s screams. I bounced the baby on my lap nervously, harder and harder, mentally willing him to be quiet now of all times. Suddenly, he was. He let out a gigantic, never-before-nor-ever-since-seen diaper blow-out that completely covered himself, me, the floor, and part of the interviewer’s desk in yellow baby poo.
And all the parent’s out there know the smell of yellow baby poo.
Without missing a breath in that poo-intoxicated office, my husband calmly took the baby from my limp arms, knelt down in supplicatory pose, bared Baby Gian naked before the interviewer, and commenced to clean the baby with diaper wipes and tissues while answering the last question. The astonished INS worker and poo-covered wife just stared in amazement until he was done. He finished both about the same time, at which the interviewer closed the file, stood up, and ushered us all out the door with assurances that we would be receiving his green card soon.
It took 10 more years and a lot more money to get his citizenship. By then we lived in Texas and had just had our fourth child. He did not poop at the ceremony.
I am writing all of this because I had some interesting discussions with some friends after a statement I made on facebook recently. It made me realize how much our background really does influence how we see immigration.
Having been to INS several times, with my husband and with his family members, has opened my eyes to what kind of place it is and how we are treated there. I say we, because I know how I as an American citizen was treated there, too.
Having close friends who immigrated, having a husband who is a naturalized citizen, and having trusted neighbors who are immigrants has taught me much about the immigrant culture with its richness, its challenges, its blessings, and its burdens.
The most hurtful changes to America’s greatness will come from those who do not clearly understand the problem. I realize many people don’t have friends and family members who are immigrants. It would behove us to find first-hand sources, like we would in any other research we do, rather than rely on what the media and those looking for power are feeding us. They have an agenda; they want something from me. My Mexican friend across the street doesn’t.
Pundits and Politicians far removed from the reality of real life struggles of this country’s new largest minority are only damaging their relationships with the people at whose will they serve. The cycle of history proves that a disenchanted generation and a scorned populace will rise up to restore the balance of power. I hope when that day comes soon, the process will happen speedily and without violence, and that liberty will be re-established in our land.
I am proud that my children are the descendents of Irish, Scotch, and English immigrants who have fought in nearly every major American battle and have been instrumental in nearly every great chapter of America’s rich Christian history.
I’m also proud that they sons of a Peruvian immigrant – birthright Americans, born free in the U.S.A.