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Happy 4th

When I was a child, before my family imploded, my father used to take us for a walk on the 4th and retell the story of the Revolution. We would shiver with the soldiers in Valley Forge, and celebrate the crossing of the Delaware. At home we would read the Declaration of Independence, make ice cream in a hand-cranked freezer that my mother’s grandmother had used when her husband returned to Illinois from his service in the Civil War. We’d finish the evening with fireworks in our small-town back yard.

Ice cream churn

Ice cream churn

We knew another part of the story, too. My father’s mother crossed the Atlantic alone at fourteen, around 1908. Her father, my great-grandfather, had been murdered in a pogrom near Vilna–a mob broke into the house and shot him in front of his wife and children. The mob then paraded through Vilna singing “Te Deum,” thanking God for the death of another Jew. My granny, the oldest of eight children, was at risk; her mother shipped her to the New World. As she sailed into New York Harbor, under the outstretched arm of the lady with the lamp, she was lonely, scared, but safe. Never again would her life be in danger because of her religion. images-2

My granny never saw her mother or most of her siblings again. Two sisters joined her in New York in 1920, but by 1936, our borders were closed. Jews and others whom Hitler persecuted before war began had no place to turn. We even sent back a shipload of children, Jewish refugees from Europe, before the war began outright. My great-grandmother, her other five children, and their children, were murdered in the forests outside Vilna in 1942, down to the smallest baby in arms.

On this Fourth of July, as on many, my heart is pulled in many directions. I have a wistful nostalgia for our small-town Fourth, the parade, the walk and history with my dad, the ice cream, the friends who came over to enjoy it with us. I grieve for all those turned away from our borders.

As women make the perilous journey to this country, traveling up from Guatemala through Mexico to our hostile borders, their danger of rape is so high that the jefes who extort money to shepherd people through the deserts force women to take contraceptives so that their rapes don’t end in pregnancies. We make the wall high, we scream hysterically, we demonize, but even today, as our roads crumble and our schools fail, people still want to come. They can help us be a better country, but we are like the old lady and the onion in Russian folklore:

onion roots

onion roots

A woman who’s lived a bitter and angry life dies and goes to hell. She screams up at St Peter so loudly that he finally pushes open the gates of heaven and says, “Did you ever do one decent thing in your life?” It takes her a few millennia in torment to remember one good deed, but she finally says, “Yes, I once gave an onion to a beggar.” Peter holds out an onion with very long roots. He tells her to hold the root and he will pull her up. The woman seizes the end of the long root and Peter begins to lift her from hell. The other tormented souls see her rise and grab her legs and soon a whole chain of damned is rising with her. The woman is furious–they’ll pull her down. She kicks so hard that the people holding her legs fall off. At which point, Peter drops the onion and she falls back into the pit with the rest.

Anti-immigrant fervor is not new in this country. Anti-Irish mobs attacked incoming Irish in the 1840’s and ’50’s. In the 1884 election, the Republican Party claimed that big-city Irish Democrats were the party of “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion.” Italians came in for their share of ethnic and racial furies, and so it has continued to this day.

But we all came from somewhere else, most by choice, seeking freedom or a new chance, African-Americans against their will, but still wanting and deserving freedom and a new chance.

images-3

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.

I wonder if that phrase underlies the Supremes recent decisions against women. Justice Scalia said in a speech two years ago that the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the laws, doesn’t apply to women. I wonder if the Supremes, the five Catholic men who would have been hounded and pilloried 125 years ago, don’t believe in their heart of hearts that our Constitution exists only for men.

All I can do on this Fourth is pledge my life, my fortune and my sacred honor to make this a country of equal protection under the laws for everyone, female as well as male, Hispanic as well as Irish, Italian, Anglo, Black. It’s a long road ahead, and I often feel such despair that I want to turn away from it, but the thought of my granny and others like her gives me strength for the journey.

Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence

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  • Cheryl Kohan

    Such an excellent post, Sara. It’s astonishing what we humans are capable of, both good and bad. I can relate to this post on a couple of levels. I’m Irish and well aware of the troubles the Irish had here as well as in Ireland. But more interesting than that is a story my mother told me that kind of haunts me. I was born in Belfast in 1944 (to an Irish mother and a Yankee father). My father had returned to the United States and sent for my mother and me. On board ship my mother was very ill and was befriended by a lovely Jewish woman named Margo who was escaping to the United State literally with the clothes on her back. She cared for my mom and me the entire voyage. So a year later, when my sister was born, my mom named her Margo. I wish I knew more about that lady.

  • What a moving story, Cheryl. Thank you.

  • Susan Gaswint

    For me the 4th is a reminder that this country took away life of women and children, denied the right for them to worship, stole their land and for over two hundred years have treated my ancestors as if they had no rights, it would be nice if your hopes were finally. come to pass, but the lies and mistreatment are written in blood, and only God knows how this will be played out for me this day is built on a lie I love your books an I really look forward to reading the next one.

  • Rabbi Ruth Adar

    Thank you for your eloquence. If enough of us make that pledge and keep it, we can do what needs to be done. I for one will sign on with you.

  • Karen Gardeski

    Sarah, immigrants, LEGAL immigrants, deserve to be recognized and have the rights we all should have. I do have compassion for those surging across the Mexican borders illegally but ….. how many of those can we support? Healthcare is incredibly expensive for even American citizens despite what some would call “healthcare reforms” – and many cannot afford it – yet those who come illegally are taken care of at taxpayers expense. Your grandmother came here legally and your memories are precious.

  • P. Menges

    How chilling. I didn’t know they returned a shipload of children. How cold. Now what can we do for the 52000 children coming from Central America?

  • This is a horrific situation. I have a friend who works for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights; you might check their website. They can’t solve the problem, but they are working on it and I think doing it effectively. http://theyoungcenter.org

  • christian coleman

    I NEVER THINK I WILL SUCCEED IN GETTING A LOAN FROM THE INTERNET
    Good day, My Friends be very careful, I am Mrs christian coleman,an American who base in the czech republic,i am so confidence to say that one’s in my life time i can experience legitimacy in loan company on the Internet world, if i was directed by somebody else to this company, i wouldn’t have written them because i have been fooled several times by online loan firm on the Internet and i decided stay off applying for loan online until a time came when i was having financial problem due to the predicament i had in my place of work that leads to my sack off in my place of work and i have nobody to run to, my credit was very low,my rent was approaching it expiring dates and my kids have to been in school but due to my ex-sense spending before i got sack off from place of work i have nothing solve all this problem. I have no other option than to come online looking for online loan firm that will help me out of my financial problem and i came across a loan firm and i was scammed of $5000USD in my attempt of obtaining a loan from them and i almost committed suicide and i ask my self is this the end of my life because i am a dieing mother of three kids to take care of,where will i get money to finance their education and pay my bills? all this are the questions that kept running inside my mind and became frustrated in the process of doing that and a words of encouragement came into me instantly saying it is not over yet, keep trying and you will definitely got in touch with your helper very soon and i stood up and said i will give this a last try and if nothing happens that means there is no hope for me any longer. And i went online that very moment and i came across a post by one (Mrs Christiana Douglass) saying that she has never seen a real loan firm like ocean finance Loan Company and instantly i consulted the loan firm by the email which she place on the post and in that same day i got response from the manager(Kenet Mark) and he forward to me all the Rules and Regulations that is guiding the company which will enable me to obtain the loan from them and i ask him how long will it take me to finish the process of my loan because i am planning of getting into business after i lost my job and he said it will take us three to four days if i am fast in replying their message. I ask him,hope i am not going to send any money to them because i was told here in my country that i shouldn’t send any money in getting a loan and he replied by saying that it surprise him when i said that because their is no loan firm online who will render service to a loan seeker without him/her paying anything upfront. It sound very hurt to his hearing and he took it as a pain and explained everything to me and when i have a rethink about it i discovered it was true and that was were those false loan firm took advantage in defrauding people of their had earn money and he gave me his words that i should go on with them and he will took me by surprise that they are truly for real and i went on and apply for a business loan of $200,000.00 USD for the duration of 10years and i paid all the charges that are needed to be paid and like he said he is going to surprise me, that was what he did, it was then i knew that there are still real loan company on the internet otherwise i wouldn’t have known.here is the consultation address:Oceanfinanceloancompany26@yahoo.com …,if you want to. consult them for more information
    Thanks
    MR kennet mark

  • Kathy Durkin

    I agree with your points about migrants. Children are children. They deserve to be treated well, and not abused. The stories written about by the ACLU in a formal complaint to the Dept. of Homeland Security about the abuse of children in detention centers would disturb anyone with human feelings.
    My grandparents also fled pogroms in Russia-occupied Poland in 1907. My grandmother’s family got here, thankfully by 1913. My grandmother was very progressive and so were here siblings. They would be shocked at the
    mistreatment of migrants, especially children.
    A lot of money is spent in this country — trillions of dollars — on wars, weapons, development of new weapons, and trillions to banks. The superrich and
    banks and corporations do not pay enough taxes; if they did, health care,
    jobs, education, housing and food programs would be sufficient for all,
    including migrant children.
    Have compassion. My grandparents had it.
    And from doing some research on Ellis Island, unaccompanied children
    came here starting in 1900, when the island opened to immigrants,
    few were ever sent back.

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