Lori Falce: Immigrants are like foster children
My grandma could have been a German spy. Or at least, people might have thought that.
She was just a teenager when Pearl Harbor was bombed and the U.S. was thrown into the deep end of war. She was an all-American beauty with a Ginger Rogers smile. What she didn’t have were documents that said she was born here.
Grandma came from a big Midwestern family, and her mother’s roots traced back to Jamestown. But tragedy made her a ward of the court at a young age. She lived in different houses until she found a home with people I knew as my great-grandparents.
So her adoptive father — a World War I veteran who had fought the Germans in the trenches — made sure that she had papers. When Grandma told this story, she didn’t say how they were acquired. She just raised her eyebrows, shrugged her shoulders and lifted her hands.
Grandma’s story makes me sympathize with refugees. She was one. Maybe she wasn’t fleeing another country or seeking asylum because of her skin color or her religion, but she was a child who was tossed into the homes of people who didn’t want her there and made sure she knew that she wasn’t as valuable as their own children.
Her story makes me ache for the immigrant who is told to go back where she came from — but has no place to go.
I look at those who have come from somewhere else but found their footing here the same way I look at a foster child.
They both negotiate a system that is hard to understand but which they are required to grasp with the surety of a lawyer.
They may face abuse and hostility. They may work hard but be called lazy and entitled. They are frequently told, “We don’t want you here.”
But without my great-grandparents offering my grandma their name, I wouldn’t be here.
Without Pittsburgh becoming home to my husband’s Italian family, my son wouldn’t be here either. I can say the same of my mother’s great-grandmother, who fled Austria, lying about a husband she didn’t have to protect the daughter she was carrying.
We all come from somewhere. We all have a story about where our seeds were planted and where we took root.
Some people are born and live their whole lives in one square mile. For others, where they start out and where they end up are a world away.
Some people seek out a place where they fit in. Others stretch the boundaries of where they are, like walking in a tight new shoe until it settles into comfort.
It’s where we find our home that matters.
And everyone should be as lucky as my grandma was. She wasn’t a German spy. She was just a girl who deserved a family. She found a dad who would do anything to protect her.
Lori Falce is a Tribune-Review community engagement editor. You can contact Lori at [email protected].