An Immigrant’s Story Told Over and Over

My family is part of the history of American immigration. At the time they came to America, all there was to staying in Ireland was poverty, starvation, servitude, the workhouse, and prejudice against their culture and their persons by the British. Immigration was the only hope. I heard the stories of my ancestors. “There’s nothing for you here.” My great-great-great grandmother said this to her daughter and then watched as the daughter prepared to leave Ireland. Can you imagine the last crushing embrace, the touch, the last spoken words, the wave, the last glimpse of a daughter you raised? How many letters were written back to the mother? Very few I suspect. Maybe just one. Just a note to say I’ve arrived in America and I’m still alive.

You had to be tough to survive. I have one family of ancestors who were settlers in the 1850’s in Kandiyohi Country in Minnesota before it was even a state. Sod busters. In my family’s case, the settlers gained from the Dakota Indian’s loss. Treaties were signed with worthless or no legal representation or any clear understanding of what would come next. How could one know that an X would lead to the starvation of your people, and a destruction of a way of life, a culture less valued than the ‘superior’ white man’s European culture. The Dakota War ensued. The tragedy was, of course, the loss of life and way of life for the indigenous people, but also that the US government would use the immigrant as a buffer and a reason to destroy the Indian population. “The settlers need protection” This was repeated over and over all across the west. It was used as a reason to kill woman and children. It was used to destroy Indian nations. And sadly, it was the same strategy used to conquer Ireland, the Irish, the very people who helped ‘civilize’ the lands taken by the savages.

One of the most tragic moments in literature for me was in the book ‘The Journey of Crazy Horse’ by Joseph M. Marshall III. Anybody who has studied the life of Crazy Horse, knows the greatness of the man. He was an honorable warrior and in the Lakota culture that was one of the most notable achievements. He risked his life for the lives of his people, over and over. He fought for the honor of his people. And at the end of his life he had the most difficult choice one could make. He was, truly, put between a rock and a hard place. He had a choice, as leader, to make for his people. It meant either bringing them to the reservation to live out their lives, or leading them north for a chance at a traditional way of life. This great warrior chose the reservation to save the old and the young from bitter weather conditions. Crazy Horse, the warrior, gave up his own traditional way of life, for the sake of those he lead to the white man’s world.

This is what our leaders do particularly well. They grind warriors into dust. They pit immigrants against natives. They give choices. You can have food on the table, a good job, good pay, the appearance of security, or you can have your honor. You can stand for the protection of the earth, or you can have a ‘good’ job in the oil industry. You can believe jobs will come back by electing a president with empty promises, that time and again amount to nothing. Who joyfully helps to dismantle the one security gained in your favor, the ACA. You can believe the leadership, Republicans in the case, who continues to profit by writing legislation to help the lobbyist, rather than protect the democracy. You can believe those who repeat the same fears of confiscation of weapons, even though such a thing was never proposed. You can believe those who work to eliminate the skillfully created threats, you know, those huddled masses, the poor, those reaching to be free. And to the Republican, the new voting block.

It’s always the same story. Those that have the power want to keep the power and they will go to any length to do just that. They will destroy their own legacy for fear of losing power. And now, I fear, they will even destroy our democracy in a delicate race for gains in their favor before time runs out.

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