With Independence Day occurring at a tumultuous time marked by a global pandemic and a national crisis over racial injustice, Climate gave local contributors carte blanche to write their perspectives on what makes America special. We will be publishing our contributors’ American Stories now through July 4. Keep an eye out for these unique and personal pieces.
Ask any American where they came from, and they will tell you an amazing family arrival story. Whether they landed yesterday or 400 years ago, someone in the family began a journey that was as unique as it was intrepid. Here are just a few of the stories I’ve heard over the years:
•The first in my family arrived in 1667 as an indentured servant. His great grandson fought for the American Revolution. That patriot’s grandson chose indenture in 1825 so he could buy his own farm out west – in Illinois. A generation later, his descendant fought for the Union at Shiloh.
•My caddy at a posh country club on the East Coast was nephew to an African king. Just before a bloody coup, he was sent to a relative’s in Virginia. Despite his less-than-grand circumstances, he considered himself the most fortunate of all his royal relatives.
•A young golfer, a psychologist, told me his great-grandfather was a prominent Jewish neurologist in Austria who sensed the impending Holocaust. After sending his wife and young sons ahead to America, he came to New York and on his first day, got mugged. Surprise! Both a boxer and a black belt in Ju-Jitsu, he preserved the family fortune of Krugerrands he had sewn inside his coat. His young sons trained as doctors at Stanford, and three generations continue to thrive.
•A distant cousin tracked some relatives to Poland, among them, 10- and 16-year-old sisters. They sailed unaccompanied across the Atlantic in 1901 hoping to join their parents who had come several years before. These Polish girls landed in New York, speaking not a word of English and wearing signs strung around their necks that bore their names and their parents’ address. But they managed to reunite 800 miles away in Chicago!
Our nation’s 245th birthday comes amid civil strife, a deadly pandemic, economic unease and much unhappiness. Yet however imperfect our nation, we can renew our faith in its purpose of freedom, justice, and equality by remembering, with love, who got us here, and how. Ask anyone: How did your family arrive? They’ll have a story … and it’ll be a good one!
Jill Singleton spent nearly 25 years as Cargill’s public representative in the Bay Area. Her story about the experiences of her physician-father during the polio epidemic in the 1950s appeared in Climate’s May issue.