Archive for February, 2016

HAPPY SAINT PATRICK’S DAY ONE AND ALL!

February 28, 2016 Comments Off on HAPPY SAINT PATRICK’S DAY ONE AND ALL! General

HAPPY SAINT PATRICK’S DAY!

Hello readers of my blog! I first published this on Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17, 2013.  I love Saint Patrick’s Day, and I honestly believe that I can not improve on this blog! Here it is again in 2016. It includes one of the most poignant stories any friend ever told me — the story of a grandmother who had searched the fields every morning during the famine in Ireland to find some grain for her hungry little children. As an older woman, long-since arrived as an immigrant in the United States, she still cried before meals wishing she had been able to have this food when her children were young. How many immigrant stories exist in the United States today? Let’s all go out of our way this month to listen to some of them!

                Whenever I visit Ellis Island, or look over at it from Manhattan with the Statue of Liberty to the left, I think of my ancestors who came to the United States. Like so many people, I wish that I knew much more about them. Before my last remaining uncle passed away some years ago, he gave me his grandmother’s photo album. None of the people in it were identified, and he had no idea of who they were. When I look at that disintegrating album today, I see the faces of very serious looking men and women. They do not smile for the camera, and their faces reflect very hard work.  Some of the young men look pretty tough –they certainly don’t look as though they are afraid of a fight!  All the photographs reflect the lives of people who came to America from somewhere else. The fact that they were immigrants meant that they left a great deal behind – often parents as well as a way of life. Their hope was no different than the hopes of people around the world today – hope for opportunity and hope for safety.

The last time I visited Ellis Island, I walked over to some phones on the wall next to aging photographs. You could pick up a phone, look at the picture, and listen to the voice of someone sharing his or her immigrant experience. My favorite picture was that of an elderly woman pulling a donkey and a plow in a field. She was not smiling, and her face was lined with hard work and care. The voice on the phone was that of a man, her son, who talked about the day he walked across that field to say good-bye to her.  He was leaving for America. His mother looked at him and turned away. He never saw or spoke with her again. Leaving, and being left behind, is never easy. We endure such sad final partings because we must – either to seek for ourselves or allow others to see the freedom that lives in all our hearts and minds.

I often show my classes a beautiful film called A PLACE AT THE TABLE from Teaching for Tolerance. In that film, many different young people talk about the immigrant experiences of their families. A young woman with Irish heritage shows a picture of two of her ancestors, who took a boat alone to America from Ireland as young girls. Their parents were suffering the great potato famine, and took a chance on the girls surviving in America on their own. Indeed, these girls managed to survive the journey and make their way in a new land. This could not have been easy. Their young faces in the photograph  always make the think of all the children in the world today who are on their own, resilient enough to keep trying in spite of war, relentless poverty, and other very difficult circumstances.

Thinking of my ancestors, and of all immigrants, I always remember a story someone once told me.  I had a good friend in my graduate program who was about 20 years my senior. We often traveled to and from school together. One day, she told me the story of her grandmother, who had survived the great potato famine in Ireland. Every morning during the famine she would have to get up and carry three small children with her out into the fields to search for grain that might have fallen on the ground. After finding some, she would make a little bowl of cereal for her hungry children. Years later, when the children had grown up and her grandmother had joined the rest of the family to live in the United States; there was a new routine before meals. Her grandmother would look at all the food on the table before her, cry, and say, “Oh, if I had only had this food when I had the babies!” When she calmed herself and was more at peace, they would all begin to eat.

These are the stories that show us the face of human suffering, and help us remember the sanctuary that so many sought and still seek when they come to our nation. I always think of Saint Patrick’s Day as a happy day and a good time. But I also think about the compassion and generosity that would make such a tremendous difference to those who come to our nation today — from other places and other struggles. To welcome them with open hearts is to give them the chance that our own ancestors sought not all that long ago.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children