I’d like to introduce you to the Abels. They are one of the four families with immigrant parents who are responsible for my family’s history in the United States of America. Golda and Samuel sought a better life than they could have had in Eastern Europe early in the 20th century. Their children in this picture are Bernard, my maternal grandfather Robert, and their two daughters, Lilian and Ruth. Their third daughter, Shirley, would be born later. Like many Ashkenazi immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, leaving Eastern Europe was an escape from centuries of discrimination and violent riots aimed at their communities, but not an escape from hardship and prejudice. America looked at the latest wave of immigration with similar suspicions that had met the Irish – my great grandparents talked in a strange manner, they ate unusual foods, they dressed differently, they worshiped “incorrectly,” their loyalty to their new home was considered suspect.
Despite these impediments, they managed to thrive and build a life. Their son Robert became a builder and an architect of industrial buildings. Their grandchildren have served in the nation’s military, become teachers, and professionals, and today their great great grandchildren are growing up as the fourth generation of American citizens to follow them and their efforts to seek a better life. Like all immigrant families, their story shares similarities to the stories of millions of others and, simultaneously, is uniquely their own. America is somewhat in love with the archetype of the immigrant family coming to America, assimilating, and finding economic advancement from one generation to the next, and, to be sure, many families slot into that experience. But no family is entirely the same and, more importantly, there are thousands of nuances to the American experience from generation to generation.
Consider: This “Nation of Immigrants” is not made up entirely of the descendants of people who emigrated voluntarily like my family. Some families were always here, descendants of the first people to live on this continents and who were forced off their lands and killed in wars against them. Other families were brought here in chains during the slave trade and faced centuries of unrelenting cruelty and discrimination. Still other families lived on one side of a border one day and found themselves on the other side the next such as Mexican citizens living in Texas in the early 19th century. And while many millions have emigrated voluntarily over the centuries, their reasons for doing so have been as various as the people themselves. Many have come here as refugees to escape Teachers in the Trump Era: Your Students are Still Watching | Daniel Katz, Ph.D.: