|Gravestone of Bryan Carroll, |
My Great-Great-Great Grandfather
This is the gravestone of my great-great-great grandfather Bryan Carroll, who emigrated, probably in the 1840s, from County Meath, in the Mid-East Region of Ireland. This gravestone was discovered this year in Upstate New York by family members, and will be repaired next year at our family's expense.
It is a wonderful discovery for our family, the insertion of one more piece into the complex puzzle of our shared history. But in 2015, 165 years after Bryan Carroll died at the age of 45 after what must have been a life of struggle, I am not reveling in this discovery as I should be. I am instead thinking about people in America today who continue to demonize citizens of the world like Bryan.
Bryan was a man who probably found himself in the midst of devastating circumstances beyond his control—in his case, the Great Hunger—which then led him to risk a perilous bid for the very survival of his family. Arriving in America, the Carrolls were probably persecuted for their faith, for their ethnicity, and for their poverty. These are all aspects of the immigrant experience that ring hauntingly true today, but what rises in my mind is the devious fact that all of those who would deny an immigrant his freedom today—all of them—have Bryan Carrolls in their family trees.
And yet, they never ask: What if someone had slammed the door on my family? What if someone had denied Mario Rubio or Rafael Cruz immigration from Cuba? What if someone had denied Mary Anne MacLeod, Donald Trump's mother, immigration from the Scottish Hebrides? What would America be today without these immigrants and the millions of others like them? Without the rich heritage they have woven into the American fabric? Without the hard work they and their descendants have put in to make America what it is today? And what would the world think of America had it denied its freedoms and its bounty to these desperate people? What would Irishmen left to starve in devastating famine think of those who denied them? What would Cubans left to suffer in Communist oppression think of those who denied them?
Fortunately, we'll never know the answers to these questions because we have opened our doors, we have woven a rich multi-ethnic national identity, and we have built a great nation and expanded and protected our freedoms, and we've done it all together.
To turn back the clock on this approach to the world—an approach grounded in generosity, an approach that is the very centerpiece, I believe, of American greatness—would be a betrayal of that very greatness and an admission of weakness and retreat.
I am thrilled that my family discovered Bryan Carroll's gravestone, and I'm anxious to learn as many details of his life as I can. But more than that, I am thrilled to be a citizen of the nation that has relieved the struggles of millions of immigrants like Bryan, and has set the foundation on which our family and the families of all American immigrants have been allowed to thrive.