You are an American

This is something I wrote a little more than a year ago. Fall of 2012, going to college, and living in the middle of a dissolving society. I come from a very politically conservative family, and a lot of that has to do with the way my grandfather raised my mother, the way that she raised me, and the way that I observe the world. This is a small glimpse of a major problem in our world, and specially this country, but it is a glimpse that needs to be seen. I understand that some who read this are not American, but I hope that the words and advice can still be taken to heart.

June 21, 2013

Hello all who care enough to read this. Today is a pretty special day, it is my Grandfather’s birthday. He died almost exactly 8 1/2 years ago, and this is in memory of him. I wrote this months ago, but today seems like the perfect day to share his story, and my story. True, it’ll get a little controversial.. I get that from my mom (laughs). But what good is a story if you can’t share it with others? So here you go, take a deep breath, you’re about to take a journey back in time…

I am here to tell a story. I have many stories to tell, but I shall start with one that began three generations ago. I cannot tell you the year simply because it was not important then and neither is it now. But for history’s sake, we shall say that is was somewhere around the early 1900’s. This is the story of racism, immigration, discrimination, freedom, and America. It is a story that has been told many times, yet overlooked. Many share my story, many have no clue; so many more do not understand its importance. But no matter what the background is, it must be told. And that is where I will begin.

A man is living in Poland. He has his family of a wife and daughter, and a home of some land and a few animals. Life was tough in Poland. There was one day when the daughter had to hide under the bed with a pig. It was during World War I, and the military was coming to take their food away, and they needed to eat. Yet, that was how life had always been. You worked hard, you struggled to survive, you lived. What could be more?

This man knew there was more.

Now, I do not know what made him decide to want to leave. After all, he had a family and a home right where he was. Perhaps it was news from across the sea of the prosperity in a new land. Maybe it was about how people could move forward, ahead, and succeed in society. It could have been because of the hardships at home. I do not really know the answer. But whatever it was, he moved to America alone to work. He found a place to live and a job in Pennsylvania. While he worked there, he sent money back to care for his family back home. Now, this was no easy job he had here, and very few would do this particular job. What was it? Well, you have heard of white-collar jobs, and you have heard of blue-collar jobs – this man had a black-collar job. He worked in the coal mines. Still, it was much better than anything at home.

Yes, I am sure that his family missed him, and life in America was not always easy, but it was better than life before. Now remember, this was 100 years ago; life for immigrants was never easy. As I said, this man was a Polish immigrant and a Catholic on top of that. He was discriminated against for both his race and religion. One of the best jobs that any one immigrant could get at that time was digging in the mines. When he got his check every week, he had to come after all of the other workers had received their pay. He was, shall we say, “different” from the rest of them, and therefore he had to wait.

Still, life was better than it had been in Poland.

After a few years, this man decided something: he was not going back to Poland. He wrote to his wife and daughter, “I am not coming back, you are coming here.” Obviously, neither of them were happy about this decision. I mean, why would anyone want to leave everything they knew and loved? Yet it was not long after that they packed a few belongings and arrived here in America. They could not speak English, and their names were changed to fit the American spellings.

They had a home, though not very fancy. One of them was above a tavern. Yet they had food, water, each other, and freedom. They did not have to stay in this low level of life, and especially not their children. They were in America! The greatest country on earth. Before I continue, I must give names to these characters. This man was named Benjamin Krzywicki, in the American form. Felisca was his wife, and Helen was his daughter.  It was here that they had another son, Joseph; but he died shortly after birth. Then they had another son, Edward. And this Edward just so happens to be my grandfather.

This is my story, my heritage.

Here is where you learn about what is truly means to be an American. This is what the American dream is. This is what it means to be free.

My great grandfather still worked in the coal mines, spoke broken English, catholic in belief, and discriminated against on all levels. But he was in America, the land of prosperity and freedom. He understood that he was old now, and his life would stay just about the same for years to come. However, he had a son now in this new land, and possibilities were springing up everywhere.

Edward, my grandfather, spoke both English and Polish, but his father taught him something very important. See, my grandfather was only allowed to speak Polish to his mother. Why, you ask? This is what his father taught him, “You are an American. You speak English.” Basically what he was saying was, “You are an American, be proud of it. It is the only way you are going to make it in this world.” And he made it.

Grandfather ended up going to a great university and studied engineering. However, he never ended up finishing. It was during this time that he enlisted in the Navy during the Korean War. He served his country for a few years, and then came home safely to this free land. It was not long after that he married my grandmother, named Ida. Then he got to do something that very few of similar roots had the chance to do. He left his home in Pennsylvania and moved to Michigan to get a job. Since he had been studying to become and engineer, what better place was there to move than Detroit, the Motor City Capital of the World? My grandfather, the son of Polish immigrants and the first to go to college in his family, got a job at Ford Motor Company. Not just any job, mind you; he was an engineer. And engineer who never finished college and was the son of poor immigrants. This is not something that happens everyday…except in America.

Do you see where his roots came from? Do you see his hardships? No, you cannot, I cannot fully see them. We were not there to experience it. Very few know what it is like, yet we stand on the backs of those who struggled before us. In fact, it was worse than what I wrote, because these were harder times than what we can imagine in our pampered way of living. Yet all of the stories are true. Oh, if only the people of today would have the mindset of the people then.

My grandfather lived a good life there in Michigan. It was there that he raised his family of his wife and five children. From time to time, he with a couple of his children would visit his family down in Pennsylvania, where his mother and sister still lived. When my mother was a little girl, she asked my grandfather, “Why didn’t you teach us Polish?” Their father told them, “My father once told me this, ‘You are an American, you speak English.’” He was proud to be an American; he wanted his children to be proud as well.

Now I am not asking for an apology for those who mistreated my great-grandfather, and I do not wish for you to feel sorry. It was a blessing that my family moved here, worked through hardship, and prospered here in America. Hard work never hut anyone. It was because of the American dream that they came here, and no dream worth pursuing ever comes easy.

I never met my great-grandfather, he died many years ago of black lung because of his time in the coal mines. My grandfather is now gone as well. However, I know their stories and what they believed, and it was what all immigrants at that time believed in: the American dream. I think that both of these men would be distressed, saddened, and angered by the mindsets of people today. Was all their work for nothing? Was their sacrifice just to be squandered by their descendants?

We live in what is known as an entitlement society today. We think that we can just get what we want when we want it at anyone’s expense. We drain our country without lifting a finger for it. People come to this country now for its benefits. Yet many, not all, but many do not wish to work for it. Both those who come here and those who are born here think they are entitled to everything. After all, that is the American dream, right?

The American dream was for people, who were being oppressed, to come and start again. Live a new life; let their children live better than they did. Succeed in life. And you know who made it? Those who stood up under the oppression and downward glances of those who lived here. The able bodied, immigrants who built up the backbone of this Nation.

The people who demonstrated hard work, determination, and setting aside of discrimination were those who really lived the American Dream.

Truth be told, many will be angered by what I am about to say, but it must be said. Racism is not about blacks. Don’t you dare tell me that racism is about skin color. That is a façade over the underlying problem. You look at my family. I am as white as can be, so were my ancestors. Yet they were still discriminated against, and I do not expect an apology or a gift in return for that. Why should anyone expect that? No, racism is not defined to one group of people, or even just people.

I am tired of hearing about racism in this country; I really am. Do you know how to stop it? Stop making it into a bigger issue than it is. Stop asking for others to pick you up because your family was discriminated against in the past. Why do you wait around? Do something about you life, make a name for yourself, succeeded in society, live the American dream! Move out of the past and prosper. Why hold yourself back? Why let the thoughts of another make you think less of yourself and your heritage?

My great-grandfather was 100% Polish. My grandfather was 100% American. I am an American. I do not hold onto my past with bitterness, but I look in it with pride. If my family did not come to America, I would have been born into the lowest of the lowest classes of people. I would not have a nice house, a hundred animals; nice clothes or shoes on my feet; two cars to drive nor freedom of speech. I could go on forever with what I have been blessed with, because I am an American.

I am here today and embrace who I am because of who my ancestors were and chose to be: American.

This land is great; this is the land of the free. Please, stop living in the mindset that you are not free and other are holding you back. I could go on and say a speech on how I am being held back because of your “need-to-be-entitled” to things, but there is no time for that now. Just realize that racism is not about skin color, it is about ideologies and how people view themselves. Remember that loss of opportunity is usually a lack of determination. That lack of success in society is of our own lack of self motivation. It is not to just one people group in this world. The only way to truly move on in this country is to embrace who you are: an American. Nothing but you is holding you back.

The American dream is not dead.

We are standing on the backs of determination, strength and dreams. Do not let that die.

In the immortal words on my great-grandfather, and the inspired words of mine:

“You are an American. Live it.”

~Rose

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