This is My Family
Look at this picture and what do you see? I see men, women, and children. They are my family. They are immigrants and children of immigrants who enjoy the freedom most of us take for granted, myself included. There is a reason why we celebrate these special days to remind us of what it could have been like if we didn’t live in a country that gives its people rights, freedom and liberties.
Today, on July 4th, approximately 15,000 or so people will be sworn in as US citizens. Every year on the same day from the coast of California to the easternmost point in Maine, immigrants become legal citizens of this country.
What it Means to Me
Fourth of July only became meaningful to me as an adult. Growing up, it was just a day when we would celebrate with barbecues, running around with the grass below my feet and the sun shining on my face and waiting on the spectacular booming fireworks in the evening with my family. It was a fun-filled day to spend with my most favorite people. Now, as an adult and understanding the history of how my family arrived here to the US, I am overwhelmed with emotion and patriotism. It was this country that welcomed them in with open arms, accepted them in as they were. They were (and still are) hard-working people who not only wanted to contribute to their community but also create their own as well … but they couldn’t do it by themselves. My parents didn’t understand the laws, the culture, the process for applying for a job. We had amazing and wonderful sponsors, the Jankowskis, who were immigrants themselves and continue to pay it forward by sponsoring immigrant families to the US and helping them to get on their feet. To this day, my dad has never forgotten this grand act of sacrifice and kindness. The Jankowskis gave our parents jobs, gave my dad the ability to purchase his own car (a pine green Volkswagen Buggy), showed them how to survive in the bone chilling Minnesota winters and how to succeed in the US. I have some fond memories as a child, going over to their home, and racing through the acres of land and snow on their snowmobiles. It was the most awesome thing, and I looked forward to it every winter. Everything seems so much grander when you are a child, and I used to think that they were over-the-top-wealthy and lived in an enormous mansion. Now, looking back, I realize that our sponsors were just normal every day people, like my parents, working hard and finding success because they could. They, too, came from nothing and created something incredible for their family. They set the example for my parents of what was possible and allowed our family to believe that the American Dream was real. It wasn’t just a wish. It really existed, and we could have it too.
From Friendship to Legacy
The friendship we have found and built with this family is remarkable. They have been to all of our family weddings and my parents have been to their children’s weddings. But I think what was most influential was the impact our sponsors had on my dad and his life’s mission in continuing to pay it forward. For over 40 years, his career was in immigration and helping immigrants get settled to the US and adjust to their new culture and life. Every person you see in this picture he has touched in some way. What a legacy he will leave behind. My dad, along with the Jankowskis, will be remembered for generations as the people who started the ripple effect and created the opening to a future for our family and countless families, not just within the last 4 decades but for generations beyond.
We Know How Lucky We Are
For the most part, unless you were born outside the US, it is difficult to understand and appreciate how the US is viewed as THE place, THE saving grace for those seeking freedom and unlimited opportunity. Even though democracy does not guarantee success, opportunity is a serious change especially for those who are fleeing persecution because of their religion, their race or extreme poverty. Can you imagine living a life where you had to pray in secret, beg for food, watching your children lay on the ground because they have no energy to play, or disguise yourself so as not to be persecuted for your ethnicity? What an awful and terrible way to live. When they have lived here, worked here and built a life, created their own identity and manifested their realities, they are grateful for what this country and its people have given to them.
May all Americans, current and future, enjoy this Fourth of July.
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