Immigration Stories

The following stories have been shared by members of our fellowship.

Linda Tollefsrud

My father’s parents came to this country from Norway in 1914 with three children in tow.  Five more children were born to them in the United States, including my father (born in 1927).  The 5 younger siblings were, thus, birth-right citizens.  The family homesteaded in North Dakota, at a time when anyone willing to build a home and farm the land was given 160 acres.  What is the current value of that gift, even in semi-arid ND?  The cheapest land I see for sale there in late 2018 is $196,000 for a parcel of that size.  Now consider the proposal by the current federal government to prohibit giving an immigrant visa to anyone who might use certain public benefits.  My grandparents came to the U.S. with few resources; after paying for their travel by ship and train, they had only $9 to their name. The family of 10 lived in a 2-room sod house. If poor people had been refused at the border a hundred years ago, my family would not be in this great country. The United States not only welcomed needy persons in the past, but gave the gift of free land in the Midwest.

Judith Barisonzi

When I was a child I learned the words of a poem. Perhaps you know it too. It starts:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,

Send these, the tempest-tossed, to me:

I lift my lamp beside a golden door.

Emma Lazarus

My grandparents came to this country around the turn of the 20th century from Poland and Russia. I don’t know if they were tired, huddled, or tempest-tossed, and I certainly never thought of them as “wretched refuse.” But they were unmistakably poor. Some of them were also fleeing pogroms and lengthy service in the Czar’s army. At about the same time, my husband’s grandfather came to this country from Italy. He was poor, too. They never found a golden door. None of them ever got to be rich, but they were safe from violence. They labored in factories, owned little neighborhood groceries and candy stores, and lived pretty good lives: productive citizens. Thank you, America, for giving them a chance.

Immigrants today come from other countries and speak other languages, but they are also poor, and many of them are also fleeing violence. Not much has changed, except that we no longer welcome them. But I believe those same words of the poem are still inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, which is still lifting its lamp. Shame on us for not fulfilling its promise.

Jude Genereaux

The Old Country
I wear the map
of the old country
on this face.
Grandfather Paul Kozak and wife Anna
fled Bohemia to make a new life in
coal country PA, where my Dad was born;

from them comes this doe colored hair,
cheekbones, and all things Czech.

Grandma Henrietta VanBergen arrived on the shores of
Lake Michigan, after father Cornelius brought
the whole clan from Hoogstraten to safety

her square Belgian jaw and blue eyes, are mine.

Grandfather Michael Snajdar, a 9 year old fleeing communes
in Zagreb, remembers hearing his father utter
“Freedom at last” as they sailed into NY harbor;

when “Stubborn” shadows my face, it is his.

Today another small child stands by a fence,
weeping. Came here for the same reasons, but the
Statute of Liberty is nowhere in sight.

I wear the map of the old country on my face …
I see only terror on hers.


For more information please visit the Immigrant Advocates of Barron County Facebook Page.