If I try very hard, I can almost see them.
They stand on a rise, a tiny patch of land jutting above the prairie, staring at an endless sea of grass undulating like the ocean on a windy day. Nothing at all like the ceaseless misery of hacking through the forests now behind them. Sometimes pulling the Conestoga wagons with their bare hands, urging on the mules and the horses with a snap of the whip, they know the end is still miles off, days of struggle still ahead, months of plowing unforgiving sod, clearing timber, and burning stubborn tree stumps remaining.
Days later, after eating hardtack dipped in coffee, rutted tracks behind them, mud caked on wooden wheel spokes, they approach the widest river they’d ever seen.
They cross with great difficulty, in flimsy rafts, muddy water churning beneath them, cattle bellowing like women in painful labor and horses wild-eyed and jittery. Months later, the journey finally ceases, the trail ends, and the land there blooms with small farms, symbols of their dreams. These pioneers come from landless people escaping an unforgiving class system, one based on inheritance and primogeniture, the Europe of feudal lords.
These people were my people: farmers, ranchers, boilermakers, teachers, nurses, and eternal wanderers, who stopped moving only because the Pacific stood in their way. They embody an indomitable spirit, immigrants who left everything behind to search for greener grass.
And today’s immigrants come with the same spirit. Let’s not forget that.