In conversation: Boom and Valerie talk about family history - or is immigration the subject?

Boom: I heard that when your father's ancestors moved to this country, they jumped ship rather than go through the Ellis Island station. Is that true?

Valerie: Not Ellis Island; Baltimore i believe was the port of entry.  Ellis Island didn't open until much later.
But yes, it's the story that was handed to me.

B: I always assumed that our family emigrated for general opportunity, but learning these details makes me wonder if we have any more specific reasons.

V: i haven't heard any specific story of why.
However, we can piece some things together, read between the lines.  Europe was very restless then.  There were revolutions all over, and the year my ancestor and his brother jumped ship followed some particularly nasty ones.  Most of the revolutions failed. It probably wouldn't go well for any who had participated.
 This is our ShipJumper, 40-50 years after arriving.  In that time, he married, raised a family, became an honored member of his church.  He held jobs as butcher, Indiana limestone builder, and farmer - surely contribuiting to our society.

B: Do we have stories about other branches of the family?

V: There seem to be a lot of descendants of Daniel Bonebreak (various spellings).  Just the records i have show several families of his descendants, in which one husband and wife had more than 10 kids, most of whom grew to adulthood and reproduced.

Daniel was a schoolteacher.  Details are a little vague (different versions) - his own family, or a neighbor's, was in desperate need for food.  So Daniel killed a buck/elk from the king's forest.  In his time, the 18th century, only royalty & their friends were allowed to hunt in the king's forest, no matter the reason.  If caught, it would have been a capital offense, but regardless, Daniel is sort of quoted as saying he wouldn't live in a place where the pleasures of the elite mattered more than simple survival of the commonfolk.  He was gone before morning.  i'm not clear whether his wife and family came at the same time or later; however, he & his wife sold themselves as indentured servants to come.  Later they ran away from their master because he was cruel to the wife.
  i have obituaries from several of his descendants, my ancestors, attesting their value and contributions to the communities in which they lived.

B: What differences do you see with the immigration that brought our family here and the immigration that's going on today?

V: Let's see, poverty, wanting a better life, more freedom, violence in the homeland, fleeing the law.  No, i see more similarities than differences.

B: So if we're descended from immigrants ourselves, why should immigration be halted or slowed now? Is the country full? Is our culture all it should be?

V: Is the country full now?  True, some cities are crowded, but there is also the choice to live somewhere like the wilds of Wyoming or Alaska.  And i don't see several generations of a single family in one tiny apartment, as in one short story we were assigned in high school.  And our population is nowhere near India or China, for example.  Not that i'd like it to be, but i rather imagine that if we get near that point, some other place will become the new magnet.
  i'd never thought about the culture being finished developing.  But i suppose every people thinks they represent the pinnacle of cultural development.  i have no answer for that one.
Some things have changed, some are different.  Some changes are better, and some are worse.  Which is which depends on whom you ask

B: Is there anything new about anti-immigrant sentiment?

V: The British brought Hessian (German) soldiers to help them.  Many stayed.  Anti-German sentiment dates back at least that far.  In our family, individuals had to change the spellings of their names (Karl to Carl, Friedrich to Frederick, etc.) to blend in.  Recently i read an editorial by George Takei in USA Today about his family's experience, considerably worse than what our family endured.

B: For our own safety, we have a process of legal immigration to vet newcomers. Official refugee status needs certification from the UN, US federal government, and often the state Do you think that system works?

V: i suppose.  For us, to some extent; for those who want to live here, not so much.   Like many things, it's a tradeoff.
The graphic here illustrates well what is needed.
It's a less brutal system than was practiced in the past, but it would have me pulling my hair out, like dealing with Medicaid & technology.

B: You helped a friend with immigration paperwork once. What was that like?

V: Well, i tried.  Not one of the stellar moments of my life - after hours of searching the immigration website, all i could do was forward her to an agency.  i couldn't make heads nor tails of what was online - and it's in English.  INS has their information available in many languages, but my friend's was not one of them.
Here's a detailed explanation of how it works.  Try reading it without YOUR eyes glazing.

B: Does that sound like a system that gives people a reason to overstay visas, sneak through borders, and jump ships off Baltimore Harbor?

V: Or stay home.  But when it's that bad at home, you can't stay either.
  As far as i can tell, people overstay visas because:
  • an official mistakenly told them all was in order
  • the paperwork is piling up on a desk somewhere
  • or they can't find anyone to help them through understanding the maze.
  The money is a serious impediment.  i'm not saying the process to citizenship should be financially cost-free, but the prices i've seen would give most of us cause to hesitate.  The friend whom i tried to help was facing $700 for the next step - once she could slog through the mire of requirements.
  i'm sure those aren't the only reasons, but i have known  such people.

B: So if the regular system is that tough, what good can a blanket ban do?

V: Blanket bans remind me of the school kid whose school had zero tolerance toward weapons.  He discovered Monday morning that his pocket knife was still in his pocket from hunting with Dad over the weekend.  As a responsible kid, he turned the knife in at the office as soon as he got to school - and was promptly expelled.  Seems like that caused more problems than it solved.
Blanket bans are logistically easier than vetting people, but at least as likely, if not more so, to perpetrate more injustice on people who have already been severely downtrodden.

B: Do you think it's consistent with American values to favor our safety over the safety of people trying to leave war-torn countries?

V: It's not inconsistent with what we've shown over our history, but it does conflict with our expressed values.

B: So should we continue with our harsher precedents, or try to be a nation more in line with what we say we are? Are we our ideals, or our fears?

V:  You do know how to ask tough questions.
  i'm inclined to say ease up.  It's the compassionate, humanitarian thing to do.
  But there's the saying, "Nice guys finish last."  Native Americans began by welcoming Europeans, even assimilating white customs, but still they were overpowered & forced from their homelands.  And we do have reason to believe that not all immigrants come peacefully.
  However, on the THIRD hand, is my new favorite saying, "Nice guys finish first.  If you don't know that, then you don't know where the finish line is."
Nice guys finish first. If you don't know that, then you don't know where the finish line is.
Read more at:
Nice guys finish first. If you don't know that, then you don't know where the finish line is.
Read more at:

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