Happy Birthday Memere

For the uninitiated, “Memere” is the word my family uses for grandmother. My father’s mother, who died in 1988, was born 125 years ago today in Richibucto, New Brunswick, Canada. The area was beautiful but economically poor and as a young woman she emmigrated to Garder, Massachusetts where she spent the rest of her life. She got a job as a chambermaid at the Colonial Hotel, met a bellhop, and they married in 1918. They raised 2 daughters and 5 sons. Of the sons, 4 of them served in uniform in either World War II or Korea, or both.

I’m thinking of this against the background of the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Arizona vs. United States. Almost everyone agrees that our immigration policy is a mess, but the battle of the soundbites is clearly being won by the anti immigration nutcases. Their argument begins and ends with the phrase: “What part of illegal don’t you understand?” The funny thing is that most of us are here because our ancestors came here from other countries.

The nutcases argue that our ancestors came legally and that makes all the difference. They argue that those who are current undocumented workers didn’t take the legal path. They, in a sense, cut in line. Well these are silly arguments. When my grandmother came to the US around 1915 there were no laws governing immigration from Canada. If you could get here (and were white) you could stay: you could find a place to live, get a job, meet someone, and begin the process of becoming an American. That didn’t change until 1921 and the Emergency Quota Act set limits on how many people could come here. Since then anyone who wants to come here has to compete for a spot. Frankly, if you’re an engineer from Bangalore (and Qualcomm wants to hire you) there is a line for you to get in. If you’re a farmworker from Mexico (or a chambermaid from Canada), there is no line. You can’t “cut in line” because there is no line to cut in.

I’m grateful my grandmother had the good fortune of coming here before her skills were evaluated and ranked. Her children were part of the generation who lifted the country out of the Great Depression and fought a world war that ensured a happy ending for the 20th Century.

When I look at men and women who are this generation’s immigrants I see my grandmother. Regardless of their legal status.

So should you.

Happy Loving Day!

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the day the Supreme Court unanimously struck down Virginia’s law prohibiting interracial marriage.

Virginia, like many of the southern states, prohibited people of different races from marrying. In 1958, Richard Loving (who was white) wished to marry Mildred Jeter (who was black). They lived in Richmond and couldn’t marry there; they traveled to Washington D.C. and married. They then went back to their home in Caroline County. They were arrested in October, plead guilty, and were sentenced to 1 year in jail. Section 258 of the Virginia code stated this:

If any white person and colored person shall go out of this State, for the purpose of being married, and with the intention of returning, and be married out of it, and afterwards return to and reside in it, cohabiting as man and wife, they shall be punished as provided in ยง 20-59, and the marriage shall be governed by the same law as if it had been solemnized in this State. The fact of their cohabitation here as man and wife shall be evidence of their marriage.

The judge suspended the sentence on the condition that they leave Virginia for a period of 25 years and said this:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

The couple moved to Washington D.C. and Mr. Loving filed suit (ironically making this the case of Loving v. Virginia). The case was argued before the Supreme Court on April 10, 1967 and the Court unanimously struck down the Virginia law 45 years ago.

I can’t resist, but the hot marriage issue of this decade is gay marriage. Opponents of gay marriage argue that marriage has always been heterosexual (much like it used to be between people of the same race), it is the will of God, and that the federal government has no right to determine how states decide marriage. Loving v. Virginia shows that the classic definition is always under review.

Happy Loving Day everyone!