by Susan Merritt, RDC
President Obama’s “deferred action program,” providing young immigrants a reprieve from deportation and a chance to work, offers a “meditation” for these days after Labor Day. And for me, another day this week on the calendar, Sept. 9, Grandparents’ Day, puts the two in a meaningful partnership.
My grandfather came to the United States alone from the island of St. Thomas in the Azores on a merchant ship into New York harbor in 1914. He left behind his mother and father and younger siblings, to find work. He was 14. Traveling first to an older sister living in Taunton, MA, he found work carrying freight; he was a slight young man and eventually moved to Mystic, CT, to find employment in a velvet factory.
There he met a young woman, born in America with parents from “the old country;” still teenagers, they married soon after. My grandparents were married for more than 50 years.
I often think of my grandfather and all that he went through as a young boy coming here to the United States to find work. He used to tell us he was seasick the entire way across the Atlantic and that this continued, although he lived on the water and in the midst of ships for the rest of his life.
My grandfather was very grateful for the new country that welcomed him in and for the work that it offered. Not only did he care for himself—and soon after, his own family—but he also helped others who were new to America. He learned English, but more, learned to read and write for the first time. He became a gentle and gifted gardener, the profession that he eventually undertook for the rest of his life. (In his front yard, he had the biggest and most beautiful gardenia “tree” that I have ever seen, to this day.) He was proud of his new country, and I, as a child, loved seeing him in marching bands playing his saxophone, his first possession in America, on Memorial Day and, yes, Labor Day.
He and his wife, my grandmother, who was first generation American with parents from the “old country,” made sure that their children graduated from high school. Their grandchildren graduated from college.
And their daughter, my mother, married my dad, who, one of my sisters, the genealogist, says, is 12th-generation, American. The old and the new make a wonderful combination. They were married for more than 60 years.
America has a great and glorious heritage of welcoming immigrants to her shores. President Obama’s program at least provides a beginning to enable it to keep happening to all who come.