Last week two items in the news captured my attention — the so-called “invasion” by migrants from Central America and the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I, including a proposed visit by the president to an American cemetery in France.
Let me share a little of my family’s history and give you some context on how and why these two stories came together for me.
You see, on my mother’s side of the family, my great-grandfather, Joseph Klein, came to Pennsylvania as a young German immigrant in the 1880s. A few years later, he moved to Texas to get into the cattle business. Most of his descendents remained in the Fort Worth/Arlington area, and I literally have hundreds of relatives there. (In Azle, a little town about 20 miles outside of Fort Worth, the remnants of these immigrant families still speak German.) I have not been able to collect much information on the other side of my mother’s family, but I suspect they arrived in America much earlier.
On my father’s side of the family, my grandfather, Samuel Stuart Williams, whom I am named after, was born in New York in 1886. Not much is known about his side of the family, but we suspect he was the son of English immigrants with Irish, Scottish and Welsh roots who arrived in America shortly before his birth.
Ah, but I do know about the other side of my father’s family. My great grandparents came to the United States from Mexico in the 1890s — fleeing Pancho Villa, who at the time was just a young local hoodlum terrorizing their hometown in Chihuahua. I know my Basque ancestors originally came to Mexico as sheepherders, and they mixed with the indigenous people. Some of my “Mexican” relatives still follow the old ways and herd sheep to this day. Many others are farm workers.
It didn’t take long for both sides of my family to assimilate and become true Americans willing to sacrifice their lives for their new country.
On my mother’s side: One of her brothers lied about his age and enlisted in the Army during World War II. He died at 15 during a beach landing in Italy a few days after a letter home arrived announcing he had just completed basic training. Another of my uncles served as a bomber pilot in the Pacific during World War II. Other relatives served as well.
On my father’s side: My namesake served in the Philippine-American War. (He also claimed to have been a boy bugler with Teddy Roosevelt during the battle at San Juan Hill.) Daniel Venzor, my grandmother’s brother, was killed during World War I and is buried at an American cemetery in France. I have a photo of family members visiting his grave among the long rows of white crosses.
Of course, my uncle Ted famously gave up five years of his baseball career and served as a Marine pilot in both World War II and in Korea. One of my brothers served a tour in Vietnam. Other relatives served as well, including my dad.
And you know what — it didn’t take too long for some of the descendants of my immigrant relatives to achieve the American dream.
My uncle Ted made it all the way to baseball’s Hall of Fame. He said all he wanted out of life was to have people say, there goes the greatest hitter who ever lived. If he didn’t make it, he sure came awfully close, and his name is sure to come up whenever people argue about the game’s greatest hitters.
His mother was famous for her work with the Salvation Army and earned the nickname, “The Angel of Tijuana” because of her efforts to save sex-trade workers south of the border from her home in San Diego.
Her husband, my namesake, became a state prison official. My late brother, Ted, worked as a graphic artist on Madison Avenue (designing, among other things, the Taco Bell logo) before starting his own design company and creating annual reports for big companies such as Hewlett-Packard, William Sonoma and Seagate for many years.
I guess most of the rest of us are just everyday, ordinary Americans, working to make a living and support our families.
But you know what? Unless you’re from a Native family, I’ll bet my family’s story is not all that different from yours. The American dream offers its possibility to all of us.
Now don’t get me wrong — in the black and white politicized world we share today, somebody’s bound to say I’m just another stinking libtard who wants open borders and thousands of illegal aliens pouring into our land because I believe they will one day vote for Democrats. Please. Not at all.
But I wonder — as we move to make America great again — will someone 100 or so years from today still be able to share this uniquely American story or has, “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!” simply become a quaint, old-fashioned invitation, the promise of an open, welcoming hand we no longer choose to honor?