My 10th great grandfather and his family boarded a ship in Mannheim, Germany in 1663 bound for America. They came to Germany by way of Amsterdam and before that France, seeking refuge from religious persecution. Each new home offered only temporary asylum. During this time, and for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, the Catholics were persecuting the French Huguenots, murdering and torturing them, causing them to flee to the corners of the world.
David and his wife Marie were among these French Huguenots fleeing certain death toward a new world. They were refugees.
I have been researching my family lineage. My mother’s father’s side is rich with history like the story of David and Marie. David’s offspring fought in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Korean War, World War’s I and II, Vietnam, and Desert Storm. It is fascinating to imagine how my family were some of the first settlers in this new world, shaping the story of American history, living the ideals of freedom, worshiping their God, fighting for their country, and building a future that includes me and my children.
My family included farmers, factory workers, musicians, soldiers, carpenters, seamstresses. I haven’t found any doctors. It seems I’m the only one, an anomaly.
My father’s side has been more difficult to research and I’m actually a little nervous to dig too deep. You see, his mother’s side were white southern farmers. If I dig too deep, I might find something more sinister, like the vile stench of slavery on the family name.
My father’s father’s side came from Hungary. I have acquired the death certificates of my great grandparents which lists their parents’ names, but that’s where the trail ends. My great grandfather’s death certificate does not list his mother, only his father’s name. Did she come to America with him from Hungary when he was a child? Or was it just him and his dad? Were they fleeing persecution? War? Certain death? Did she die trying to escape?
All of these stories led to me, sitting here today, pecking at these keys, occasionally staring out the window, trying to find the right words to convey the emotions that I feel so that you can feel them, too.
David and Marie boarded a ship, knowing full well that it may never make it to shore, it could end up at the bottom of the ocean. They still got on, fully aware of the dangers that they would face traveling to their new home. They knew that once they got to America their troubles would not be over. They needed to find shelter, food, a community that accepted them.
The spirit within them still stirred, compelling them onward despite the dangers, promising them a future even when it looked like there could be none. They got on the ship. They leapt into the unknown. The took a chance with their lives. The horror that they were fleeing was so overwhelming that escape was the only option no matter what new dangers lie ahead, like jumping out of the window of a burning building 10 floors above the ground.
There are places in this world that are worth escape even if death is the destination. There are people who still make the journey no matter the cost. They would die to live the American dream, to be free. I see the death of the American dream before me. If there is no promise of freedom for those that seek it, then there is no America. America has closed it’s doors, shackled it’s heart, barb-wired it’s soul, and stepped on the necks of the oppressed.
David and Marie made the journey for the chance at the American dream. The pay off, 400 years later, is that I sit here understanding why someone would make the journey. To be an American, worshipping my God, expressing my opinion, loving who I love, standing up for those who can not speak for themselves, helping others by being their doctor, supporting causes that help the less fortunate, speaking out against hate, calling out hypocrisy, calling out the lies -this is why David and Marie crossed the ocean.
They made me an American. Because of their sacrifice, I am deeply rooted in the American dream, to never let the quest for individual freedom die, no matter the cost.