100 Percent Immigrant

I am just so thoroughly disgusted by Trump’s executive order on immigration that I can’t even write about it properly. So, I’m going to stick to the one tiny piece of it that I can handle today.

I notice that many of my friends are posting about their grandparents or great-grandparents who were immigrants to the U.S. Those stories are just one reason that this travesty resonates with so many Americans. Immigration is a vital part of our identity. We all learn in kindergarten that we are a “nation of immigrants,” and that we should be proud of that fact.

But, this rings more true in some parts of the country than others. In the South most people are disassociated from their immigrant roots. Family history often goes back only as far as the Civil War. Without a great deal of research, most Southerners can have only say that they are English, Irish, German, “Scotch-Irish” or African going way back. Way, way back

So, I can’t tell you about a grandmother who fled the Nazis, or a great-grandfather who arrived in steerage from Ireland. I don’t have that kind of story. None of my folks came through Ellis Island. None of them saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time from a ship’s deck. Not one.

But, DNA fills in some parts of that story. While my overwhelmingly European profile shows a slice of Middle Eastern and a dash of North African ancestry, there is not even one tiny bit of Native American. So, the one thing I can say for certain is that I am 100 percent immigrant. (And that “Indian granny” that every southerner claims to have was in my case most likely Turkish or Syrian!)

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-8-57-47-am
Family Tree DNA’s version of my DNA. No wonder I like hummus.

I have done quite a bit of research, but I still don’t know how the majority of my ancestors ended up in the New World. A few were probably younger sons of minor gentry, looking to find the land they could not inherit in the old world. But the majority were likely indentured servants in Virginia and the Carolinas, signing years of their lives away in a desperate bid to escape poverty in Europe.

In other words, they were economic refugees.

I also know that several immigrants on one of my lines arrived with the Mayflower and the subsequent Great Puritan Migration of the 1630s. Two centuries later, my Swiss-German ancestors, probably Mennonites, fetched up in Virginia, fleeing Catholic persecution at home. Still later, a Huguenot branch arrived in South Carolina, fleeing Catholic persecution in France.

They were all quite clearly religious refugees. But they had something else in common.

These Protestants were not fleeing Muslim persecution. They were Christians running from other Christians who wanted to do lovely things like torture them into conversion. In fact, Christian persecution was the impetus for some of the first settlements in the New World. How could we even tell our origin myth of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock without it?

Another fun thing about DNA testing: I suddenly acquired thousands of cousins scattered throughout the country, mostly in the South. I know some of them personally, have made contact with others, and Googled some more. We run the spectrum of race, ethnicity and political affiliation. We aren’t all 100 percent immigrant. Some have Native American ancestry, while others have ancestors who arrived unwillingly on slave ships. But we all have one thing in common.

All of us descend in some way from economic and religious refugees. Every single one. Including my undoubted multitudes of white, southern, gun-toting, Bible-thumping, flag-waving, “all-American,” Trump-voting cousins. The same people who want to stop refugees from entering the country now.

Oh, and that green bit on the map, which translates into roughly 8 percent of my ancestry? That means we got us some Muslim cousins, too. Maybe some of them were stopped at an airport today. Maybe they were even Muslims running from Muslims wanting to do terrible things to them—just as our Christian ancestors ran from other Christians.

Chew on that for a while, Bubba.

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