Why I’m Thankful That My Oma and Opa Decided to Come to America.

Why I’m Thankful That My Oma and Opa Decided to Come to America.

Why I’m Thankful That My Oma and Opa Decided to Come to America.

‘Immigrant’ seems to be a loaded word these days. It’s probably because the open borders crowd lump legal immigrants with illegals, giving them all a bad name. Then there are those on the fringe alt-right whom Marta talked about, who don’t think any foreigner can ever be a true American.

But millions, like our Marta, have legally come to our shores, giving back their sweat and energy in exchange for the opportunity to live free.

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass wrote a touching July 4 tribute to his Greek parents and grandparents, thankful they came to America, even though, as he wrote, “my people didn’t know about Independence Day when they came to this country:”

“They risked their lives and everything they had for the one thing America offered:

A chance to be an American.”

Kass’s column reminded me of my maternal grandparents. They came from Europe to become Americans during the great migrations at the beginning of the 20th century.

Unlike Kass’s family, however, my Oma and Opa came from much farther north, as ethnic Germans from Lithuania. Were they seeking asylum? Probably not. From what I can gather from research, even though they were a minority, the Lutheran Germans existed well with the Catholic Lithuanians.

No, they came for the opportunity to work in the massive industries that Chicago offered. My grandfather worked in the Chicago South Works steel mill, while my grandmother worked as a maid.

Not only did they strive to become Americans, they wanted their children to be Americans, too. As Kass wrote:

“But they desperately wanted to become Americans in all things; in culture, language, custom. They bought in, determined to be part of this country. . . .

They stripped away the old and put on the new, so their children could be Americans not only in fact of birth, but in spirit.”

Eventually my grandparents moved to Gary, Indiana, to a neighborhood teeming with other European immigrants. They spoke English, although my grandmother never learned to read or write it. They never had much money, but they made sure to find a house just over the dividing line between east and west Gary. That was so their children could attend the better schools on the west side of town.

Schoolchildren in Gary, IN.

American opportunities faded for them during the Depression; the steel mill didn’t have enough full time work, throwing the family into poverty. My then 9-year-old mother broke her leg during the depths of the Depression, and it began to knit before they had the means to see a doctor. Her leg had to be rebroken before she could get a cast.

They never had enough to buy a car, either. Yet my grandfather refused to take government assistance. Going on the “poompf,” as he called it, was beneath him, although they sometimes relied on other relatives during especially tough spells. They would pay them back in time. It was a matter of pride.

And when a German acquaintance tried to encourage my grandfather to join the German-American Bund just before World War II, he refused. “I’m an American,” he said. During World War II, the FBI came calling since my grandmother had two brothers in Europe fighting with the German Wehrmacht. But they had nothing to hide. After all, they were Americans.

After the war ended, my mother married my father, a veteran who had flown bombing raids over Germany. But my grandparents still welcomed him, because they were all Americans, and he had been fighting for their country.

America didn’t provide either of my grandparents an easy life. Neither of them lived to see their 70th birthday. But they lived out their adult lives as Americans, providing their children with freedom and opportunities they would’ve never had in Europe.

Like John Kass, I, too, am grateful that my grandparents came to America.

Written by

Kim is a pint-sized patriot who packs some big contradictions. She is a Baby Boomer who never became a hippie, an active Republican who first registered as a Democrat (okay, it was to help a sorority sister's father in his run for sheriff), and a devout Lutheran who practices yoga. Growing up in small-town Indiana, now living in the Kansas City metro, Kim is a conservative Midwestern gal whose heart is also in the Seattle area, where her eldest daughter, son-in-law, and grandson live. Kim is a working speech pathologist who left school system employment behind to subcontract to an agency, and has never looked back. She describes her conservatism as falling in the mold of Russell Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles. Don't know what they are? Google them!

5 Comments
  • the roar of the masses could be farts says:

    Hell yea and thanks grammaw and grampaw for the big win in WWII. Could you imagine the snowflake generation taking on the original axis of evil. It is too scary to contemplate.

  • GWB says:

    A chance to be an American.
    The problem is that the progs define “be an American” significantly differently than freedom-loving people do.

    I think your grandparents would be very proud of the American you are, Kim. 🙂

  • Scott says:

    Great story Kim, and not at all uncommon in it’s themes among European immigrants… The waves of illegal invaders we’re facing from other parts of the world are a different matter altogether, the main thing, beyond the fact they the’re coming in illegally, is that they have no intention of becoming Americans, and they are more than happy to take every handout they can get from the govt.

  • Skid Marx says:

    There was no welfare state back then. The people coming over back then wanted to learn English and assimilate as soon as possible. They went looking for work ASAP as well. Now not so much. As you know when you offer free stuff there will be an unlimited amount of people wanting the free stuff so you better have enough for all. I know we have high tech state of the art printing presses but do we have enough $$$ to take care of all the future democrat voters from the turd world with the 20$ trillion and climbing debt?

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