Immigrants in My Family

The new administration in Washington continues to limit immigration to the U.S.A. with policies questioning the suitability of people from various countries to become Americans.  This made me think of immigrants in my own family.

In 1913 my grandfather, William Oliver Anderson, immigrated to Massachusetts from Glasgow, Scotland.  He made a career in the shade-grown tobacco industry in the Connecticut River valley and became a keystone in his community of Wethersfield, Connecticut.  William Anderson, immigrant.

My great grandmother, Christina Hellen, immigrated from Cape North, Nova Scotia to New Gloucester, Maine in the 1870s.  She worked as a maid in the household of a wealthy Auburn family and then married one of the sons in the house; it was a scandal at the time and the marriage may not have been all that happy.  Yet she persevered and built a thriving storage business during the Great Depression when other businesses were going under.  Christina Hellen, immigrant.

A bit earlier, in 1640, a great, great….grandfather of mine, Robert Jordan immigrated from England to what is now Portland, Maine.  He was a prominent minister in the community and left a legacy of many descendants who still live in Maine today.  Robert Jordan, immigrant.

Another great, great…grandfather, Isaac Allerton, immigrated from England to Plymouth Plantation in 1620 (yes, that was on the Mayflower).  By some accounts, Allerton was a bit of a scoundrel, but he played an active part in the founding of the colony by the Separatists.  Isaac Allerton, immigrant.

And there are others in my family tree who came here from elsewhere.  Each had the same goal in mind.  They left their homelands to build better lives for themselves.  Their dream was the American dream, the one you and I live.  Many of them just had to work a whole lot harder to make that dream a reality.  Not all were Saints and not all were rogues.  Some failed dramatically and many prospered in the new land, which became their home land.  They were immigrants; their children were native born.

So when I see Somali refugees in Lewiston or descendants of Acadians in Van Buren, I see reflections of my own family.  Mexican migrant workers raking blueberries in Cherryfield follow a path like that of my ancestors.  In Trenton in August, women from Caribbean nations wait for the bus to transport them to clean the hotel rooms of visitors to America’s great national park.  In order to build a better life for themselves, they do work most Americans would not undertake.  So did my immigrant ancestors.

Just because some of my forebears immigrated a few years earlier I am no more deserving of the better life here.  The accident of my birth in Maine is nothing I can take credit for; rather it is a gift for which I am grateful.  And gifts are best shared.

In whatever ways you think America is great or needs to be made better, our history– my history–tells us that immigrants from across the globe will play a part.  Our doors cannot be open to everyone who would come, but those doors also cannot be closed in inhumane and narrow-minded ways.  Our core values as a nation demand more from us, a just and humane way of managing this challenging problem.  Let us start that conversation now.

Mark W. Anderson

About Mark W. Anderson

I am proud to be a Mainer, born in Caribou and schooled at Brewer High School, Bowdoin College, and the University of Maine. I am grateful for a 35 year career at UMaine, the last decade in the School of Economics.