I have often posted about politics in the past. Lately it has been too damn depressing.  I was surfing around, however, at a Facebook page titled Historians Against Donald Trump, kicked off by the iconic Ken Burns, and some fuming and festering in the comments about illegal immigrants made me realize: you know, goddamn, at least one of my ancestors was an illegal immigrant. No shit.

What the story is, at least as my father told it to me, is that once upon a time there was a Norwegian able seaman named Michaelssen who put into port in the great city of New Orleans, and Herr Michaelssen, whose antecedents are fairly sketchy, apparently decided he had had quite enough of the seafaring life. Having jumped ship, he made his way inland, and I mean way inland, finally fetching up, like Odysseus, at a point where people didn’t know what his oar was and had to ask. We’re talking Nebraska here.

Just speculating, but I don’t think he went through an immigration office. Eighteen hundred something. He married into a German family that had entered in a more formal way, and eventually there was a daughter who married a second-generation Scots-Irishman, which is sort of a parlayed Norwegian anyway, und so weiter until you get to me.

But, you know, all very very white and Northern, which I guess is the difference. No stories of great-great-grandfather Michaelssen (who did change his name to avoid awkward inquiries, to something very drab and English) encountering suspicion from the authorities or hysteria from the populace.

Just sayin.


8 thoughts on “Politics

  1. …yeah. I am also descended from Nords and Swedes in Nebraska, and at least two of them just came here because they did. My grandmother had a US birth certificate, but that’s all the documentation we have of that side of the family.

  2. My mom was born in Poland and came over to Canada by ship at the beginning of the depression. When I was a boy, she told me the first orange she ever ate was on that ship, and she loved oranges ever since. Her parents had moved from Poland to the United States, and for reasons I don’t know, went back to Poland, then a few years later moved to Canada. My mom had sisters who were born in the United States, Poland and Canada. My grandpa on my father’s side lived in Chicago, where he was in the leather business but also made violins and played in pit bands. They moved up to Montreal, where my dad was born, and then to Toronto. Grandpa ran the Queen City Leatherworks, making gloves for railwaymen from the 20s right up to the 60s, all the while continuing to make violins.

    Here in Toronto we have one of the most diverse cities you can imagine these days, and I think that’s one of the things that makes this city great (a tasty side-effect of our diversity is that you can get some of the best food from so many cultures here). We have our share of problems here for sure, including some racism and intolerance, but compared to many places, our peculiar hodge-podge works remarkably well. I love living in a cosmopolitan city and when I’m away from it, I miss it.

    • Washington, almost by definition, is cosmopolitan but it’s also weirdly provincial. Every wave of immigrants seems to break here, too, probably an attraction to “the capital.” It makes for a strange social mix. Great food, too, by the way. But a weird juxtaposition of Virginia rednecks and people from just about everywhere.

      I have herbs growing all over my yard, a vegetable garden that’s largely minded and harvested by the guy who mows my lawn (I just collect tomatoes, etc. in rent), and a big cherry tree. One of my Salvadoran clients walked around the yard and said “It’s like you’re foreign! You actually grow food! Americans don’t do that!”

      I’ve had my share of moments when I wanted to screech a racial epithet or two — each and every one of them involving too-loud music that was characteristic of a particular culture and which I was essentially told I had to tolerate or else I was a bigot (all right then, I don’t want to hear your salsa music/soul music through my wall at midnight, fine, I’m a bigot and I hate you and wish scabies and dysentery upon you!) — but I don’t know how I’d stand living in Whitebread, Flyover.

  3. All my ancestors were “illegal”, because they got here before there were any laws on the matter. My most recent immigrant to this country arrived in 1853, in San Francisco, after coming round the Horn from Denmark. Everyone else scattered in from before then back to 1622. (I’d say 1620 but I’m not sure I’m a real Mayflower descendant. I have a male ancestor on that ship, but his issue hence my bloodline came a little later.)

    Article commentary these days is hard to tolerate. There are too many angry people armed with keyboards, with their spare time unrelieved by study and knowledge.

    • Yeah, I ponder off and on that issue of the establishment of laws being somehow equated with morality. Various sorts of border controls make sense, but conflating desperation with criminality — when desperation is all that motivates the larger number of “illegal” immigrants — just gins up panic and division.

      There are laws against things that make you de facto a bad person, like rape and murder, and laws that exist to keep things orderly and predictable, but which have to be weighed against other considerations if anyone wants to be just. Right now there are so many people drunk on the idea of “law and order” that they’re ready to lump any offense into the first category and assume someone capable of one is capable of all. I’m really sick of people.

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