Cape Elizabeth, ME. – Like many a natural born American, I had one parent who was not.
In the waning gray days of World War II, Eastern Europe was a place of devastation and dislocation. In that tumult, my parents – he an American army officer who had escaped from German POW camp, and she a member of the Polish Home Army – met and married in February 1945 after a courtship of only ten days.
“In wartime,“ Pop once told me, “you don’t analyze, you act.“
Ten days later Mom and Pop were forced to split up, he heading east in search of an American mission, she remaining behind with only a handwritten note identifying her as the wife of an American soldier while asking anyone who could to help.
It took the better part of 1945 for Mom to escape Russian occupied Poland and make her way to Nuremberg, Germany where she found refuge with General George Patton’s Third Army. It was in late 1945, then, that she finally sailed for America hoping she would recognize the man she had married nearly a year before. Such are the rippling effects of war and its many deprivations and dislocations.
Mom finally arrived in St. Louis, Missouri in January 1946 and by June 1951 was a mother of three native-born American kids living in a newly built suburban home. But she did not become an American citizen until 1972 some 26 years later. Though she loved America and all it had given her, she was forever a proud Pole, too.
“How do you renounce who you are?” she once said when I asked why it had taken her so long to apply for citizenship, as renouncing former allegiances was one of the requirements of American citizenship.
This is a long way around to recognizing that America still remains the most unique country in the world, the only nation born of an idea rather than of blood or soil. But it is also an acknowledgment that America is not alone in generating patriotic feelings in the hearts of its people, especially those forced leave because circumstances beyond their control had given them no choice but to go.
So when the American president – whose mother was born in Scotland and grandfather in Bavaria – fomented a chant of “send her back“ from xenophobic followers against a Somali-born U.S. Congress person, it flew in the face that America has shown the world throughout its history.
Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) came to the United States from Somalia with her family as a ten year-old in 1992. She is the Somali-born U.S. Congress person President Trump’s followers want to “send back” after she made comments they found critical of Israel and America.
Four-time U.S. Olympic distance runner Abdi Abdirahman also fled war-torn Somalia with his family when he was only three years old. After existing in a Kenyan refugee camp for five years, the family found asylum in the USA in 1985.
Today, Abdi is working toward bringing the sport that has defined his adult years back to his homeland, because though he is a proud American, and eager capitalist, he remains a loving son of Somalia, too. Continue reading