The Norman Transcript

July 23, 2013

A child of liberty

By Shirley Ramsey
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Americans born within the states become used to hearing about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Immigrants learn of these as they embrace liberty.

Soldiers are among those remembering that nearly all immigrants came to America to escape threats to their lives.

Early settlers escaped those who would cheat them of religious liberty.

“My great-grandparents came through Ellis Island,” an admirer of the Statue of Liberty tells his grandchildren. “A French artist made that statue for America many years ago. See the lamp? It means we still welcome people like your great-great-grandparents.”

“What did your family bring with them?” his curious granddaughter says. “Did they bring jewels and axes to trade with the Natives, like the early explorers?”

“Oh, no, not at all,” he answers quickly. “Mine were quite poor and had to pack lightly to ship over to New York harbor. Some in the same ship carried jewelry worth a lot. They all came to America to escape being tortured and killed or to worship freely. I guess they soon found out how hard it was to earn a living in the new country. My father told me his family never complained. They sold special breads and other foods. There’s a lot you need to learn about your early ancestors.”

“OK. Right after ice cream, Grandpa?” the youngest says.

One grandmother knew that an Italian couple came over to escape World War II. She told her grandkids a little about them as they made cookies.

“They couldn’t speak nor read English because they hadn’t time to learn before the Italian government collapsed. They came on a freighter. The Italian dictator was looking to throw them in prison. I couldn’t help shuddering as they spoke of relatives who couldn’t escape.”

“Why?” the grandson says.

“I’ll tell you one day. Many, like my friends, had to go to night school to learn how to speak and write English. Before that, others helped them shop. They became citizens as soon as they knew English.”

“Want to see me make a clown?” the granddaughter says, working her cookie dough many times over.

Her grandmother praised her work. She knew her friends would eat her cookies anyway.

Lately, many artists and engineers came to America to get better jobs. Some never thought to become citizens.

“Why not, Daddy?” a daughter of a digital engineer says.

“I’ll explain sometime,” he says. “It’s not that easy.”

“But my third-grade class is making certificates for families who came here and took the oath of loyalty. You’re loyal, aren’t you?”

He coughs. “I try to be.”

“Well, then, I don’t understand.”

“I’m also loyal to my native country.”

“I doubt you’d have to give that up. We’ve been studying that. You just don’t want to study for the test, that’s all. And you always tell me to study.”

Father leaves the room. When he goes to file for his citizenship papers, he takes his daughter with him.

Shirley Ramsey, a retired professor of journalism, lives in Norman.