I don’t know much about how my family arrived in the United States. On my mother’s side it seems like everyone came via French Canada where my ancestors lived for many generations. My grandmother and mother are Michiganders. The LePort family can be traced back to the Appalachian Mountain region. I know of LePorts to whom I am related in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, but I’ve never met any of them in person. I presume someone knows how our family came here, but I don’t know the details, though our name leads me to believe we came from France.
While my country is far from perfect there isn’t a country in the world where I’d move in exchange for my citizenship here. I wouldn’t mind living elsewhere, but I am not interested in exchanging the benefits of being a citizen of the United States for the benefits associated with any other nation. I am thankful that my family migrated here.
When I was younger my best friend was a second generation citizen. I was raised in Napa, CA, which has a large immigrant community due to the vineyards there. My friend’s father came to the United States as a migrant worker. I was very close to his family and as a young man I realized that I was grateful to my friend’s father for doing all he could to come to this country. If he had not, I wouldn’t have met them. I came to identify more with my immigrant neighbors in the Napa Valley than the wealthy winery owners and others who had benefitted financially from the inexpensive labor offered by the immigrant peoples.
I remember one day when my father went on a very racist rant about “the Mexicans.” He made some statements about how they were “stealing our jobs,” which even as an adolescent I knew was a lie. I had seen the shacks provided to migrant workers as homes. I knew how many people had to live in a small space to survive and I knew that many of them were underpaid and overworked. These people had not come to this country to steal jobs. Instead, in a post-NAFTA world, they came to do the work that people like my father would never agree to do. They came to pick bunches of grapes for hours each day because Euro-Americans like my father wouldn’t do it for the wages offered, and without the inexpensive labor the wine industry couldn’t have made the profits necessary to make the Napa Valley into the tourist destination it is today (if you have a chance to watch the movie Bottle Shock, I recommend it since it does a fine job of depicting the valley before it became a “world-famous wine growing region”). I challenged my father many times on this matter and I don’t remember a single time where he said he’d be willing to do the work for the wages offered.
Today it was announced that our Senate passed a bill for immigration reform. I’m sure it is imperfect, and I know there is a chance that it is rebuffed by our House of Representatives, but it makes me hopeful. I find that our nation is better when it says, “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-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” This may be an exalted view of our national self, but it is better than one where people who have been given opportunity pour their resources into building walls along boarders that prevent others from having the same opportunity.
I understand that we must be as responsible as possible, but as a nation we have benefitted from the work of many people with whom we have withheld rights and opportunities. I am convinced that our nation will be a better place if we provide more hope to people who come here than if we tell them they are “illegal” within our boarders. As a nation we have the opportunity to humanize others recognizing that we live in a land of abundance and that most of us live here not because we were born here–the distinct claim of Native Americans–but because someone was given the opportunity to come here, stay here, and participate in the American experiment. When my family immigrated here it was an action that provided me with more privileges and opportunities than many people ever experience. I hope more people can make the same claim in the years ahead.