Tuesday, June 18, 2013

In My Heart, I’m an Immigrant

Lately, I have been researching my family roots, trying to find out where my father’s family originated, how my paternal grandparents wound up coming to the U.S., and how they ended up in small towns in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Two Internet tools I have been using are ancestry.com (which costs money after an initial search) and familysearch.org, a totally free site put up by the Mormons for all of us to use. (Thank you.) I am one of millions of Americans who have tuned into these websites. And do you know what all of us have discovered? If we look far enough back, we have found that ALL of our ancestors (other than possibly a few Native Americans) originated outside of the United States. So, somewhere in our past, all of us have family members who were immigrants. Live with it!

Amazingly, I learned about familysearch.org from a cousin I never knew I had. She came across some of my blog posts about my Southern roots and realized that her grandmother was actually my father’s sister. So she put a comment on one of my posts, and we followed up with emails and phone calls. You know the kind of things that cousins do. We have combined tidbits of knowledge about our ancestors that we each knew independently, and we now have a much fuller picture than before. Except neither of us knows just where my grandfather was living before he arrived in the U.S. in the 1880s. But arrive he did, probably through Castle Garden in New York. Then he somehow moved to the Midwest, took on the last name Goodman, and eventually met my grandmother in Indianapolis, where her family had settled after arriving from the Ukraine in Russia. Then they moved to Mississippi, of all places. So now I know the awful truth—both of my paternal grandparents were immigrants. Live with it!

Part of why I am thinking about this stuff is that I recently watched Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity—whose ancestors I’m sure came from somewhere in Ireland or elsewhere in Europe and were subjected to abuse after arriving in the U.S.—discuss how the country will be “lost” if a new immigration bill is passed and immigrant children living in this country since birth are offered a chance to stay here as citizens or others who entered illegally are granted amnesty. The country will be lost because we will become a country filled with immigrants. News flash! We already are. Live with it!

There is a quote attributed to former Texas governor Miriam Amanda “Ma” Ferguson, who in speaking against bilingual education in her state said, “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it is good enough for Texas schoolchildren.” Now, even Wikipedia has some doubts about whether Ma Ferguson actually said those astounding words, though the Wikipedia writer is certain they were indeed spoken by some Texas politician, perhaps as early as the 1880s. Deep in his Texas heart, Rick Perry (or even Ted Cruz amazingly) might want to echo the sentiments if not the words of Ma’s quote. And he would sound just as silly. Live with it!

"Ma" Ferguson contemplating her next big idea
Last Sunday morning (and this is a true story, not made up for effect), I went for a ride on bike paths linking my town and the town of Saddle Brook, some five miles away by bike. In one half-mile stretch, I passed patches of grass on which groups of Indians or Pakistanis were playing cricket, groups of Latinos were playing soccer (futbol), and a mixed group of kids—white, black, and brown—were playing baseball. I also heard lots of Russian, Polish, and Chinese spoken by people I passed along the way, and probably a little Hebrew and Yiddish too. And I’m sure that the region in which I live is no more ethnic than are the regions of most Americans these days, no matter how much we try to isolate ourselves. We are all former immigrants trying to blend in. Live with it!

Cricket playing in some Saddle Brook somewhere

I know that I am riding on a “high horse” here, but the tone of the debate today on immigration is a little sad and a lot scary. Just as our ancestors (even Sean Hannity’s and Ann Coulter’s) eventually were “included” in this country (sometimes after a very bumpy beginning), today’s immigrants will, over time, find their place too and maybe even be accepted. The country will survive, and we will be better off for the experience. Live with it!    

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hello, Out There!

The hottest trend in education today involves the teaching of 21st Century Skills. I’m not sure that everyone agrees on what those skills are, but nearly everyone would include facility with contemporary and future technology as core concepts.
My family put on a 21st Century Skill clinic yesterday, and I’ll be damned if I fully understand just what went on.

It all began when my daughter Amanda, who is currently somewhere in Cambodia (having already passed through Thailand and Laos and soon heading to Bali and Malaysia) sent an IM to my wife on her iPhone. (Beware: I am planning to use initials, acronyms, and the occasional technology abbreviation in this post. BTW, if you do not understand these items, then you are probably hopelessly lost in the 20th century with me.)

The IM noted that Google had suspended her gmail account because the company’s techno-bots suspected that her account must have been hacked or taken over by someone else. The reason: why else would she be sending and receiving messages in so many different countries so far from her Jersey or Georgia homes?

No problem, you say. Just let Google know that she was actually she. They would send her a code to re-activate her account, she would communicate the code via text message, and all would be well. Oh, ho! And Oh, no! You see, Amanda had not purchased an international data plan before heading to Southeast Asia. She planned to latch onto wi-fi where she could to send emails via the Internet and use IMs even from the jungle to communicate via iPhone to my wife, who would then let me in on whatever news I needed to know by voice (using the old-fashioned face-to-face communication method).

Can you hear me now?
Google sent the code, but Amanda had no way to activate it without using 4G technology to send a text message. (Are you following this so far?) So she sent an IM to Audrey asking her to contact Verizon in order to purchase a day’s or a week’s worth of cellular data so she could send her text message. Now, Audrey might have trouble carrying out the instructions, but luckily our son Brett was around for the morning, and he has a firm grasp on 21st century skills. Following his direction, Audrey used our 20th century phone (we really should look into more up-to-date equipment) to call Verizon and make the purchase. To do this, of course, Audrey had to first check her handwritten file of passwords to make sure that Verizon would accept her as being herself. Done and done.

Audrey then sent a return IM to Amanda. There was a brief mention of Buddhist temples and other marvels of Cambodia and a quick thank you for making the data purchase--or so I have been told.

She says she's having a great time!
Unfortunately, as of last night, Amanda was still having some difficulty sending her text to Google. Until that time, she may need to resort to sending smoke signals. I keep looking at the sky hoping to see her latest update. It’s a brave new world we live in!