This Land is Your Land
I’ve got to take a minute to tell you why I’ve been so buried in my phone this week. This past weekend, there was a deadly terror attack in Charlottesville, Virginia that killed 3 people. The perpetrators of the attack were white supremacists and nazis. They don’t feel that people like us belong in the United States, and feel so strongly about it, that they will use any means necessary to intimidate. This includes violence and hate speech against Jews, Muslims, People of Color, native Americans, the LGBT community, immigrants, and feminists. I have to tell you that your family falls under a few of these categories. When I was a kid, we laughed off these kinds of people and viewed them as anomalies. They appeared on daily talk shows like Sally Jesse Raphael and Donahue, and we all gawked and scoffed and how backwards their thinking was. Now, don’t get me wrong. There has ALWAYS been racism and antisemitism. It’s just that, since World War 2 and the Civil Rights Movement, most people in our country thought it was best to aim for better. There was covert racism, which has been perpetuated in the legal system. It was wrong. It has always been wrong. They were brought over as slaves and forced to endure unimaginable violence and horror. The legacy of slavery still looms like a shroud of shame over this nation. But until recently, many didn’t feel comfortable being as outwardly racist and hateful as they were before the 1960’s. But things are starting to change. President Trump ran a campaign on hatred and spewed rhetoric that has emboldened racists to speak their minds. They now have a legitimate political platform, known as what was once the Republican party. I want you to know that in this time in history, while watching you play everyday, I am scared. And my prayer is that as you read this letter, it is a thing of the past, and that my fear seems reactionary. I hope as you’re reading this, you are of the knowledge that hatred did not prevail.
I’d like to give you a run down of your family’s history, so you know where you come from. Your mother and father are classic millennial, liberal arts educated “white people” from Texas and Kentucky. But your mother is also the first generation of Americans from a Mexican immigrant family. Your father is a Jewish American grandson of a holocaust survivor. We have veterans on both sides of our family, hippies who’ve marched against war, and even a few aspiring politicians. You’re descended from Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and Hungarian and Russian Jews. Some came through Ellis Island. Some suffered atrocities, the likes of which, I hope you never know.
We named you after your great-grandmother, Ann. Everyone called her “Anyu”, which means “mother” in Hungarian. Your great-grandmother Ann and great-grandfather Sandor were from Eger, Hungary. He came to the United States to study before the war broke out, But Ann was in Hungary when the Nazis seized it and she was forced into a ghetto, and then taken to Auschwitz, which was a concentration camp. Her family, including two brothers and her mother and father, were murdered there. She and Sandor’s sisters, Julie and Eva, survived. Your great-grandfather tracked them down after the war and brought them to the US to safety. Julie eventually moved to Argentina, where she started a family. Eva returned to Eger. Your great-grandparents settled in Kentucky, where they had 4 children. The oldest of which was their son, Andy.
Even though surviving the Holocaust is an extraordinary and tragic life event, it was not the sum of Anyu’s story. She had an effect on everyone she met. She was warm, and strong and straightforward. She was welcoming to all. She had a tiny little frame, but a very strong grip. She was loved and loving. She was everything I want you to be, including remarkably resilient. In her later years, she spoke out against hate and intolerance. She told her story and spoke to young people. She told school children, “If you had been alive back then, the Holocaust never would have happened.” She had that kind of faith in people. She believed that knowing better meant doing better. This week has tested my faith in her faith. And for that I am truly sorry.
I write you all this because I want to say that the sum of the story, regardless of the events that may unfold, is that love and resilience are ALWAYS possible. The day after our wedding, there was a brunch in honor of Anyu’s 90th birthday in New York City. Her kids rented a restaurant space, and the room was FILLED to the brim with adoring friends and family. She had children and grandchildren present, a whole legacy of love and family that seemed barely untouched by the tragedy she’d once lived. It struck me in this moment how many people had been affected by this amazing person, and that if she hadn’t survived, all those people would either not exist, or be without the love of a person like her. So what I want to say to you is that no matter the challenges, you can use your life to touch the lives of others. You can live through tragedy and injustice, and unimaginable grief, and still create love. You can overcome oppression and create legacy. You can have an impact on those you’ve never even met, and you can be a teacher of peace and a soldier of love.
You, my son, are truly American. Your blended heritage and storied family history make you thus. Your ancestors on both sides survived and thrived. Your life is a testament to their will and courage. I will always dedicate my life to teaching peace and examining my own responsibility in the madness of this life. I will also never stop fighting for what is best for you and your future. This country was made for you and me by people like us. May you live feeling accepted, strong, and free.
Yours in love and strength,