Morris Ticktin was my great grandfather, on my fathers’ side. Hw was my grandmother Nettie’s father. He was born on October 18, 1873 in a town called Bialystock. At the time of his birth, Bialystock was part of Russia. It is now part of Poland, near the Ukrainian border.
When he was 18 years old, he came to the United States on a ship called the Normannia, which looked like this:
I know all of this because my cousin Jess is a genealogist. She has researched our family tree, which is no easy feat for our family. Most of our family was desperately poor, emigrated from Eastern Europe or Russia, and left little in the way of documentation behind.
One of the few written records of Morris’ existence is his entry on the ships’ manifest, which displays his name:
My ancestors did not come over on the Queen Mary or on a private plane. They came over in the bowels of steam ships. Another great-grandparent emigrated on a ship with her two sons, two suitcases, and ten dollars. Ten dollars was their life savings. That ten dollars is recorded on the ship manifest.
My great-grandparents came to the United States to better their lot in life. The United States was a land of hope and opportunity.
My grandparents were able to obtain some education, but not a lot. Most of my grandparents did not finish high school. Their hope was to improve their lot in life, and the lot of their children.
My parents generation was the first generation to attend college. My father, and most of my aunts and uncles, attended college. Their hope was to improve their lot in life, and the lot of their children.
My generation benefitted from all of this. I am not a “self-made man”. I am the beneficiary of at least three generations of Ticktins and Kriegmans and Wards who slaved away every day in sweat shops and textile mills, so that some day their great-grandchildren could live the American Dream.
I never met Morris. He died sometime in the 1930’s.
I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have a conversation with him. How would I explain everything about 2015 to him?
How would I explain the education my generation has received?
Or our single homes in the suburbs?
How would I explain my six trips to Japan this year?
What about all of the cars in the driveway?
Or the volleyball tournaments?
What about the stents?
What would he think of computers, cell phones, microwaves, the internet….the list is a long one.
On a more somber note, how would I explain to Morris how we view immigration? How would I explain to him that, now that we are all here, we decided to close our doors to everyone else? How would I explain to him that the same place that welcomed him and his family is not so welcoming anymore?
How do I explain that the inscription (a poem, actually) on the base of the Statue of Liberty- “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door”-how do I explain that we don’t really mean that anymore?
We call that statue the Statue of Liberty.
Read the inscription again. It could have been named the Statue of Immigration.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s, an evil man rose to power in Europe by preaching hatred.
He made one particular group of people his enemy.
First they were blamed for the ills happening in his country.
Then they were made illegal.
Then his country started building walls and fences to stop their movement.
Then the unspeakable happened.
I see some disturbing parallels in 2015.
We are making one group (immigrants) our enemy. And we are preaching hatred about them.
We have a presidential candidate who is blaming immigrants for our ills. He wants to build a wall between us and Mexico.
We don’t call immigration “immigration” anymore. Now we call it “illegal immigration”.
We are blaming a group of people who cannot defend themselves for what ails us.
Illegal Immigration is illegal because we want it to be illegal. We made it illegal.
The only difference between what my great-grandfather Morris did, and “illegal immigration”, is that Morris came to the United States in 1891. Had he come to the U.S. today, he would be classified as an illegal immigrant.
The people who want to move someplace else for a better life, regardless of where they come from, are just like my great grandparents. They want a better life. My great grandparents were allowed access to that opportunity.
My family exists because of that opportunity. I am alive because of that opportunity.
So are you.
Who am I to deny that opportunity to anyone else? If I try to deny that opportunity to anyone else, then I have forgotten where my ancestors come from, which is ten dollars and two suitcases, and nothing else.