GORHAM — My grandson Rafael showed me the results of his DNA test. You send away a sample of your spit along with $99 and get back a list of your ethnic background by percentage. French, at 15 percent, jumped out at me; it’s probably from my Gamage ancestors, who anglicized this surname from “Gamache” when they left Brittany in the 12th century. Plenty of Gamaches here in Maine.

The next largest ethnic group was Eastern Europe, at 10 percent. No doubt that came from the Polish parents of my wife, Blanche; they emigrated over 100 years ago. Then there were a dozen or so more geographical locations, starting at Great Britain, where all my known family came from. Even a few in Africa were included in Rafael’s ancestors.

This got me thinking about the “foreigners” I have worked with over my career, all skilled engineers who started out speaking another language but spoke English better than I did, maybe. From Germany, Hungary, Greece, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Scotland, Wales, England and Ireland. Moving east: from India, Australia, China and Japan. South of the border: from Mexico, Costa Rica and Chile.

Recently we heard the leader of our country, the so-called melting pot, suggest that four elected members of the U.S. Congress, all women of color, “go back” where they came from.

Just where does this stop? Or start? The two most powerful men in Washington, POTUS Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have foreign-born wives, from Slovenia and Taiwan, respectively. Can they stay?

I think back to those foreign-born generals who helped George Washington win the eight-year-long American Revolution: Tadeusz Kosciusko, Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben and Casimir Pulaski. What if they had been booted out?

And without Guglielmo Marconi and Alexander Graham Bell, we might still be sending messages via carrier pigeon.

The point is that immigrants over the years have been bringing their talents and strong work ethic. They have been and are quite willing to wash dishes, make beds and clean our toilets as they learn to speak English, get better jobs, pay taxes and gain citizenship.

I often reflect on two emigrants who left Russian-ruled Poland over 100 years ago: Wladyslaw Wodka and Kamila Brokowski. If they had not the determination to leave their homes with only the clothes on their backs, I would not be sitting here with my bride of 62 years.

And that grandson? He wouldn’t be a joy to his grandparents if his dad had had to go back to the Dominican Republic where he came from 27 years ago.

My dentist and my doctor had roots in Syria and in Vietnam; I am sure many of you can think of similar stories. Our country was made up mostly of people “from away” and will be for coming generations. In National Geographic, novelist Mohsin Hamid recently wrote: “All of us are descended from migrants. … None of us is a native of the place we call home. … We are all migrants.”

 


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