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The long history of immigration made America what it is today

February 15, 2017

Like almost all of the people living in the United States today, the only reason I exist is because of immigrants who came to our country and were allowed to stay.

With all of the talking, fighting and deportation of immigrants, it is apparent to me that many Americans have forgotten that they too are here because of immigrants. An immigrant is anyone who comes to live permanently in a foreign country, which means that in the United States, if you are not Native American, you are not originally from here.

On my father’s side I am a fourth generation Norwegian American. My great, great grandfather was originally from Norway. He was given the name Peter Simenson after the man who was checking him in at Ellis Island could not pronounce his Norwegian name and shorted his last name into Simenson, or the son of Simen.

Peter came to Ellis Island for many of the same reasons people are immigrating to the United States today: famine, war and a lack of opportunity. Norway was experiencing a population boom yet had an economy that could not support it. There was an impending military draft due to conflicts between Sweden and Norway and a massive potato famine that killed thousands and thousands of Norwegians.

My great, great grandfather left his family farm in Folldal, Norway in the late 1800s, and because he was sponsored by an uncle already living in Wisconsin, he was able to afford the $15 ticket in steerage.

In the United States, Peter went to live and work on his uncle’s 40 acre farm in Stanley, Wisconsin. In Stanley, he was able to thrive among the large population of Norwegian immigrants who spoke the same language and were all trying to create a new life in the United States.

Peter met and married another Norwegian immigrant and had 16 children and expanded the family farm into 160 acres. My great grandfather Harry was the oldest of those children.

Harry would eventually marry another Norwegian American girl and have my grandfather, Roderick Earl Simenson. My grandpa fought in North Korea and helped to install and program one of the first computers for Honeywell. My grandfather also went on to raise two sons who would both become teachers. My dad, the eldest of the two sons, is a first generation college student who would eventually become a college professor. My father exists and is successful today because his immigrant ancestors were able to find better opportunities in the Untied States.

On my mother’s side, I am a third generation Sicilian American. My great grandmother Genevieve Passalaqua immigrated from Marsala, Sicily at the age of 17 in January of 1912. She came through Ellis Island as part of the allotted quota of people from southern Italy, and just months before the Titanic would set sail on its first and last voyage.

There is no record, official or otherwise, of my great grandfather immigrating to the United States. Both of my great grandparents immigrated because of the lack of opportunity in rural Sicily and an impending draft into the war. Once in the United States, Brooklyn, New York, became their new home and there Pasquale Agate would marry Genevieve Passalaqua.

Pasqulae and Genevieve would have nine children, including my grandmother Antoinette, who was the seventh child. Antoinette would meet and marry second generation German American and Korean War veteran William Denzer. They would eventually settle on an 80 acre farm in Ellsworth, Wisconsin.

Nettie and Bill would have six children, with my mother being the second eldest. My mother is a first-generation college student with a long and successful technology career in the financial industry. My mother exists and is successful today because her immigrant ancestors were able to find better opportunities in the United States.

Just in my family alone, there are innumerable examples of how immigrating to the United States enabled all generations of my family to find a better life and future. And I am sure there are many more stories similar to these in the United States.

As difficult as these times must have been for my ancestors, what immigrants and refugees are facing today is so much worse. The fact of the matter is that to send people back to a place they are trying to escape from is sometimes, plain and simply, a death sentence.

Immigrants seeking a safer and better life are doing so because it is necessary. Imagine if you had to abandon your home, your family, your country just to survive. How can we keep out those who are seeking to one day have a life similar to the one you and I get to live everyday?

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