Let me tell you a story of two grandmothers. My father’s mother, Anna Harbaugh Sedam, was born in a sod house on the plains of Nebraska in 1884. This side of the family has been here since the mid-1600s.
The first Sedam (Suydam then) was born in Brooklyn in New Amsterdam (now New York) about 1660. The Harbaughs have been here since the early 1700s. I have two fourth great-grandfathers who were Revolutionary soldiers and fought for independence.
Grandmother Sedam was a “Rosie the Riveter” and built B-17s that helped win World War II while my father served in the South Pacific. She taught me to fish, camp and get around in the woods. She is probably the reason I became a forester and worked 30 years for the U.S. Forest Service.
My maternal grandmother, Teresa Mercuri Farraro, immigrated from Calabria, Italy, in 1909, looking for a better life. Her gift to me was understanding and tolerance.
She spoke very little English and whenever this side of the family got together we spoke Italian for her. She always had to have an adult family member accompany her to any kind of legal function to witness her mark because she could neither read nor write. Because she was illiterate, she never became a citizen, but she worked hard and contributed to this country her whole life.
She is the reason that, unlike most of my peers, I have no problem with immigrants who come here and keep their language, customs and culture, because I know that no matter what, they work hard and contribute.
And I know their children and grandchildren will be just like the rest of us and they, too, will work hard and contribute and make this country a better place.
We are lucky to have them and should thank our lucky stars they continue to come here looking for a better life.