Comments 17

Where Did We Come From?

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.


  1. Vaughn says

    and as long, difficult, and frustrating as it was for your husband to get his green card and eventually citizenship, honestly, he had it easy compared to many people who want to come to the U.S. For a non-skilled worker with no family in the U.S. (citizens) it is almost impossible to legally immigrate to the U.S. We have quotas based on country of origin and job skills (only a certain number of computer programmers are allowed from India per year for example), but for the unskilled laborer there is no category they will fit in. Yes, we have a problem with illegal immigration, but maybe if we made it easier to legally immigrate there wouldn’t be as much of a problem! People want to live in the U.S., why wouldn’t they? And if we aren’t willing to make it feasible for them to do it legally, they will just do it illegally, because even the risk is better than not trying at all.


    • I felt like I had already run too long in this post, so I didn’t touch on that side of the issue like I should have. Thank you for pointing it out. As I mentioned in the facebook debate, it is the desperate third world citizens who are most anxious to come, yet we make it hardest for them to get here by the red tape and financial hoops they must pass through. And ironically, we do need them within our workforce; it is a fallacy that they are “taking our jobs. To the contrary, they are enabling our workforce to do the higher-skilled jobs Americans desire. Great insite, Vaughn. I wish more people “got it.”


      • Vaughn says

        Have you seen this graph?

        It does a good job of explaining what i was saying.


  2. Marybella says

    Lea Ann, I so love this post. I laughed so hard at the yellow poo!!! I totally understand your view. Although Armando and I are not immigrants, many people think we are and treat us as such.

    We are Puerto Rican, he was born here, I was born there. Puerto Rico is a US territory therefore, we are American Citizens at birth. I have thanked God so many times for that as I know people who have had to go through immigration to get citizenship. I do not take it for granted for one minute. I feel as American as they come for I’ve been here all of my life. Many times though, I am made to feel like I am not American. I am going beyond Citizenship here, I am talking about discrimination because of the color of your skin. I have seen it and felt it first hand- upscale stores not servicing us, dealerships questioning if we can afford a car, the stares and looks at certain restaurants or towns. It just makes me sad that it is 2010 and we still can not get beyond the hurdle of not juding someone by the color of their skin.

    Thank you for posting this and thank you for speaking out for immigration and also minorities. I peronsally believe that you should be in this country legally. I also believe that we are targeting immigrants mostly because of the color of their skin. I am neither a Republican or Democrat, personally I hate how the lump you into one or the other. I vote on the issues, morality being my most important one. Immigration unfortunately seems to have been lumped the same way- Republicans with one view, Democrats with another. I wish this country can come together and find middle ground for this issue. This is just my humble opinion.


    • Marybella,

      Thank you for sharing your viewpoint. Discrimination is inseperable from immigration debate, yet the majority viewpoint often can’t see it. It is a problem of not knowing it because they’ve never experienced it.

      I understand how they view life that way because I was raised that way. I grew up in upper-middle class, suburban, Christian, middle America. I had no minority friends or relations. My Russian violin teacher was as ethnic as I got. Church was white middle class, the neighborhood was white middle class, my books were white middle class. I wasn’t really exposed to different cultures until I left for college.

      Since marrying an obvious Hispanic (he couldn’t be browner … or handsomer!), I noticed a change in how he and I were treated, too. On the East Coast, especially, we were saddened by the poor treatment we received at some restraunts, stores, and communities. Even when he was a bank manager, some people would refuse to allow my husband to help them with his accounts, for instance, because he was brown.

      It is very rare to encounter such attitudes toward immigrants or minorities here in Texas. Rather, the people seem to welcome both for the richness and quality they bring to our land. That is one of the many reasons our state is the most prosperous in the nation right now.

      You are right. The two main parties have probably lost the Hispanic vote over this issue. I know they lost mine. When America ceases to welcome the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, it ceases to exemplify its very “American-ness.”


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  4. Randy Caley says

    WOW! I like you grew up in a vanilla environment. I still had no idea how bad our immigration procedures are till reading this. It makes you wonder why it is like this? I would wager that most Americans do not know much if anything about the sad state of what it takes to immigrate. Recently my neice married a Canadian. they did a justice of the peace wedding to get the paper work started around 9 months before the wedding. He still does not and or can not get a green card. I am not sure of all the details. He is living in Canada and she in america. How can that be right? I can see now why just trying to fix the illegal side of this issue will not work. I am still against illegal immigration, but the American Government is to blame for making it to hard to try to become a legal American which is making more people not even try. Fixing this must be political suicide, but I do not know why.


    • Thanks for your comment. That is really sad that your niece is having such difficulty. You would think a Canadian/American union would be a relatively easy one.

      I know that most people coming from South and Central America are having an extremely difficult time right now. My husband was very fortunate; his father was here on political asylum, his mother received her citizenship before he did, and the two of us had children during the paperwork process (that helps show marital stability). He has been the primary breadwinner since we married and well connected to the community. And Baby Gian’s yellow poo didn’t hurt the cause. So his process was really much easier than the average Hispanic. Our hearts and prayers go out to our friends and relatives still going through the INS process.


  5. Lea Ann, thanks for this–it was really good. My grandparents were Mennonite immigrants from the Ukraine. Canada’s arms were wide open to them–I’ve often thought how different life would be if they hadn’t been.


    • I hope that the USA recovers from this blip and becomes more open to the truth of liberty and immigration in the near future. Praise the Lord for how He has used our countries in our familes thus far!


  6. La-arni says

    Thanks, Lea, for this post! I will share this with my best friends who, like me, are immigrants. Love to you and David.


    • Thanks, La-arni. Now, most of my friends are immigrants or near descendants of such. I hope we continue letting such great people in! : ) Love ya!


  7. Krista says

    I went through the process..but we had to go to the consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuaha…one of the most dangerous places IN Mexico. I can’t go all into this right now, but you did an AMAZING job with this!

    The pastor at a church we THOUGHT we would be attending had the nerve to bring up immigration in his sermon one day…and clearly state that his opinion had always been “If you come here without papers you need to go back”
    This was the reply I sent to him:

    Today’s sermon was very ‘touchy’ for our family. My husband was herew/out a visa for 6 years. We finally were approved for his visa in March09…after many years of working on the process. I try to keep my own ‘opinions’ towards the immigration process tomyself, as many people don’t ‘get it’ but I just wanted to clarifysomething. It’s easy to have that strong opinion of “either do this orget out”…but it’s not that ‘easy’, so to speak. Your statement of how you “thought’ before “IF you are here illegally ,go back home or get legal'” was very powerful to us as we have been inthe process, and have helped and struggled alongside many that are doingthe same thing. That statement, although my husband is NOW legal, wasalmost shouting “you aren’t welcome here’ to he was undocumentedfor so long. I do feel that you ‘believe’ just what you said aboutpeople are people that God intends for us to minister to…butagain..that first statement was very very powerful. I pray that thisemail can just allow you to look into the lives of those who HAVE comehere without a visa, and help in your ‘views’ of ‘them’ as you havechosen to witness to them regardless of their legal status. My husband is from a ranch…that is about the size of ‘downtown’Denton. THey are 40 miles from any town, and have no means of employmentin their own ranch. They have ‘made ‘ it this way for all these years,but the violence has even reached there. Those who do work on the’highway’ selling diesel to provide for their family have even beenrobbed and/or threatened with death by one of the biggest ‘mafia type’gangs that are around there. There are TERRIBLE heartless things goingon daily…by the hour even in different areas down there…and I can’timagine even thinking that they ‘should’ be forced back home. It is VERY VERY difficult to be approved for a visa to come here tolive. It’s just as hard to get one to come here to visit. and again, isvery difficult to become legal once being here without a visa…unlessthey have married a United States Citizen. My husband tried 2 times. He found a way to gather the $ (picking tomatoes for a few USD a day or less) and gathered all the documentation and rode a bus to one ofthe more violent cities, Monterrey, 4 1/2 hours away, only to be denied the chance to come here legally, both times for lack of certain documents/ridiculous requests. They don’t have access to fax machines, or email in theranch..therefore it was something that wasted much VERY hard earned $,and 2 different 9 hour bus rides AND the 10 hours of waiting in line andbeing ‘dealt with’ at the embassy in Monterrey. The documents missingwere once that weren’t obtainable. There are no addresses in theranch…it’s name is San Miguel…and once you enter…you get’directions’ to the house you are looking for…that’s it…so thedocumentation needed is not easy to get ahold of. After that, he decided to come here help take care of hisaging parents. He was dropped off into trees covered in thorns, and led across theriver. He then had to run into a place he was not familiar with and hidefrom people he had only heard about. They were left for 1/2 day and thenhidden in a truck that was able to pass the inspection point. Was it illegal, yes..but he only KNEW that the system that everyonewants to be apart of, had let him down 2 times…and that he HAD to comehere to provide for his family that stayed behind. That is just HIS story. WE have friends that have been lost in thedessert for days as they tried to come here or lied to by those who arepaid thousands of dollars to bring them here and have walked for 3 daysstraight with no money or idea of where they are. They go through somuch to be able to be apart of this country. I do not know one single person (out of the hundreds of MexicanCitizens) that came here to bring drugs, or to harm anyone, or todisobey the ‘laws’…they DO break that law by coming w/outdocuments…but many of them HAVE tried..and use up all the $ theirfamily does have set attempt to come legally. Do I approve of their ‘illegal status’ …no not necessarily.Do I wish for any of them to be forced back home? …by no means. There was a lady who’s husband had been involved in the gangs down therein Mexico. He was murdered in front of their children. She came to theUS to get away from that life that he had put them in…She dropped herchildren off at school and was killed at her the same ‘gang’that had killed her husband. They aren’t trying to do anything more than protect or provide for theirfamilies by coming here. YES there is a system to be followed..but thatsame system is keeping them from being able to come here by making therequirements more than they are able to provide. Those who come here as a family…they have less chance of being able to’become’ legal here. One family has been waiting for 19 years and stillhave no visa. They applied 19 years ago, and are ‘still waiting’…soalthough they’ve paid thousands of dollars to the U.S. Government…IFImmigration were to get ahold of them, they’d be deported. Another was brought as a 6 month old baby and is now 26. He has nevereven been to Mexico since they came here. They are tax paying lawabiding people. He was pulled over for a broken headlight and deportedto questions asked. He is a father of 3 young U.S. Citizenchildren and husband to a woman that is also from Mexico. When he wasdeported…he had no money nor idea of where/who to run to. He wasdropped off on the Mexico side of the border to ‘find his way’. Becausehe is married to a non-citizen…he has NO way to become legal until oneof his children (the oldest being 5) reach 21 years of age and BEGIN aprocess that can take several years. A side note about the way of life…our 11 year old nephew is in the’4th grade’ in this ranch. He doesn’t even know what 5+7 is. They passthem through school to ‘get rid of them’…and once they are at the 8thgrade level they have to go all the way to that city over 40 milesaway..most of them do not have a vehicle to get there in…and theirparents would rather put them to work on their land than to send them toget an education that may not even help them down there. I don’t write this to convince you to agree with us or to change your’ideas’ necessarily. I just write it so that you can get a small glimpseinto the mind frame of those who have risked their lives crossing thatborder without papers to be able to come here. Again, is it ‘illegal’ to come here without a visa, yes…but do ‘they’do it to prove they can break the law, no. I can go on and on about the miserable life they have in Mexico(compared to here supposedly) and the opportunities they come lookingfor over here…but I won’t do that to you 🙂 I just wanted to give you this view of the immigration stuff…as it issomething that is a very sensitive issue for our family. We were forced to stay in Ciudad Juarez…where there’s an average of800 – 1000+ murders by those involved in this gang a year… (you guysthat watch the English version of the news don’t get 1/2 of the gruesomedetails that we get watching the Spanish news…you should watch it(even if it’s just to ‘watch’) one night on 23…it gives a tiny lookinto the fear these people are living in. .. We were there for 15 days.We were there while 15,000 troops were sent there to try to calm downthese drug wars…this is where US citizen spouses, children and orparents must go when petitioning their loved one. ..this is the ONLYoption of becoming legal for many cases…to go to interviews at theconsulate in Ciudad Juarez…there have been several citizens robbed,kidnapped or murdered while there for this particular reason…so thosethat want to become legal while living here..must return to one of theirmost dangerous cities of their country and pray that they are approvedto come back. Many aren’t due to ‘lack of evidence that the spouse willsuffer without their loved one” and are forced then to live again inthis poverty stricken place…and either split their family (US citizenfamily here while he/she lives down there for 13-15 months waiting on ananswer)…or their family can stay together (as ours did for 3 monthsdown there) and be held with a target on them for being OBVIOUS UScitizens. Sorry this was so long..I get carried away. I am attaching some picturesof our stay in the ranch down there. One you’ll notice is our ‘bathroom’…there is a different picture later that is a cement ring..that wasthe ‘toilet’…but we ‘upgraded’ to a cement US toilet shaped one…butthere is no roof on it so when it rains…too bad for us…and it’sabout 50 yards from the house. The ones with the water–that was our bathing and washing water was nasty smelling and made our clothes turn colors and stink bad.There is no running water at the house most of the time (there is onewater hose but only a certain amount can come out..and for 6 days itdidn’t run at all)

    I too am not FOR illegal immigration..but I truly understand WHY they come here without papers.
    My husband, for one of the hundreds I know, attempted 2 times to get his visa. He had to travel 4 hours away…which caused him to spend about //equivalent to $200 USD. At that time (2001) he had to work for over 6 weeks to save even ALMOST that..and was denied for not having a bank account…and for not having land in his name. So all that hard earned money was in the trash while attempting to come to this “land of opportunity” legally.

    He was desperate after that and came as many do.

    He was here for 2 1/2 years when we got together, and it took us a total of 5 years to go through the DREADFUL process of getting a green card. I have often thought about writing out our ‘immigration journey’ as well.


    • Krista,

      Thank you for taking the time to share what your family has been through and seen. It truly is impossible for most of us debating border control and INS policy to comprehend the real lives and struggles that are taking place not only in Mexico, but on the urban streets in our cities and around the world because of these issues. Thank you for your openness.


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