We Americans all come from someplace else. One could argue that Native Americans didn’t immigrate but the evidence suggests that even the ancestors of Native Americans came from somewhere else. Whether they got here by walking or by boat is a current controversy. There are these bones down in South America that shouldn't be there. If we go back to some ancestor that can be identified as THE ancestor (at least one that we can find in the fossil record) we all have to say our ancestors came from Africa. Strangely enough here in America that has political connotations.
In any case my father’s people came from Scotland by way of Northern Ireland and from England. (I don’t think they intermarried until they were here in America otherwise the Scots would have refused to marry the English and vice versa.) My mother’s people came from Germany (no not Pennsylvania Dutch, a religious distinction, but all the same from Germany) and England (Pilgrims and Puritans, so what, right?) My great aunts always wanted me to join the Mayflower Society and/or the Sons of the American Revolution. I’ve always figured I wasn’t there so I'm not going to take the blame or the credit. I did join the Saint Andrew's Society (descendants of Scots) but that was mainly so I have an excuse to wear a skirt and various implements of destruction. They also wanted my wife to join the Daughters of the American Revolution and this is where things get complicated.
It seems that whether any of your direct ancestors landed on Plymouth Rock or fought in the American Revolution you can join the Mayflower Society and/or Sons or Daughters of the Revolution if you marry someone who’s direct ancestors landed on Plymouth Rock or fought in the American Revolution. So my lovely wife could, if she chose to, become a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. But her father came to these shores just after the First World War as a first generation immigrant from Italy. She is half Italian. Can you imagine what all those Pilgrims and Puritans would think of that? The first word that would come to their minds would be “Romanish.” The second word would be “stocks” as in locked up in one of those things that you put your head and hands into and people get to throw rotten vegetables at you all day.
Curiously it is the other side of her family that makes her a true blue American. On her mother’s side of the family her ancestors have been in America since the 1700’s. In Maryland. Jews. That’s right she has Jewish relatives that go back to before the Revolution and may have fought in the Revolution! (The rustling noise you hear is those Pilgrims and Puritans spinning in their graves again.) I haven’t heard of Jews being accepted into the Daughters of the American Revolution but my wife doesn’t want to join whether it’s because she is married to me (no great honor) or because some ancestor fought against the British.
Another curiosity is that white Americans assume that their relatives have been here in America longer than, let us say, “those of color.” For some reason if you have East or South Asian features white folk assume that you are just off the boat. This used to and may still infuriate a friend of mine. Her relatives had been here time out of mind but white Americans kept coming up to her and asking, “When did you come to America?” She gave them both barrels “My Great Great Grandfather was a missionary in San Francisco in the late 1800’s! When did YOU get here?" And if you are a Sikh from India the uneducated among us may throw stones at you because they can't tell the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim!
Worse, particularly in the Southwest are the problems of Americans of Hispanic and Native American descent. In Arizona you better have your passport with you these days or they may just throw you over the border even if your relatives have been here for a couple thousand years! And good luck getting a passport in Arizona if you look like you are Hispanic! (I had a curious conversation with a legal immigrant from Mexico yesterday about how she could get passports for her daughters who were born here and are American citizens! We were afraid birth certificates wouldn't be enough. She is afraid that if she takes her children down to visit their grandparents they won't be allowed back in!)
Alas, there are those whose ancestors never chose to come here. Their ancestors were captured by their neighbors, sold to white folks and arrived here by ship. Some could even be in the Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution! (I wouldn't hold my breath on that one. Just ask Thomas Jefferson's black descendants.) And while it is true that many more Africans went to Brazil and the Caribbean as slaves than to what became the United States that doesn’t excuse what British and American slavers did. As Malcolm X said, “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us!” And alas African Americans have always been forced to the back of the line, right in front of the Native Americans.
I’m sorry to say I don’t have a better way to end this little essay than this: let’s get some latkes, some collard greens, some cous cous, a pizza, some curry, some Peking Duck, enchiladas, apple pie and if I forgot the food your grandmother made be sure to bring it (and some antacids) and sit down to dinner. If nothing else we can eat together.
Oh, and since God created all of us we are all relatives ya’ll come to the next reunion yes? It occurs right here at Tully Memorial Presbyterian Church next Sunday. Be prepared to enjoy the fried plantain cooked by our recently arrived African Immigrant brothers and sisters!