Our Shared Immigrant Story
(Editor’s Note: Permission was granted to reprint this story which was released in June)
(June 25, 2014) This month we celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month. Thanks to a new non-profit called Welcome.us, from now on, June will be dedicated to celebrating immigrants and recognizing the achievements and contributions that immigrants have made to our country.
I am Polish American. Both my paternal and maternal grandparents came to the United States from Poland in the early years of the last century with no possessions or assets to speak of and only a dream of a better life. My grandparents worked hard to achieve their American dream; they loved their adopted country and celebrated America. It is with this same commitment to hard work, patriotism and love that many of today’s immigrants come to the United States, hoping to remain here.
After establishing themselves, my grandparents all took jobs to support their families. One grandmother was a seamstress who sewed the lining into caskets, the other was a baker, rising before the sun each day to make bread for the bakery in which she worked. One of my grandfathers worked for the rail-road his whole life, while the other was a carpenter who carved some of the finest altars in the Catholic churches in Chicago. Both grandfathers proudly served America during World War II. Throughout their lives, blind to the obstacles they faced, my grandparents remained strongly committed to their faith, their community and their adopted county.
Twenty-eight percent of all new businesses in 2011 were started by immigrants. Twenty-five percent of high tech firms launched between 1995 and 2005 have been founded by immigrants. Seventy-five percent of agricultural workers in the U.S. are foreign born. Nearly 90 percent of patents associated with the University of Illinois involved at least one immigrant inventor.
The innumerable contributions of immigrants to American commerce, industry, culture, and politics are historic and legendary.
America was built and is fueled by immigrants every day, and no one can dispute that the immigrant experience is the foundation of America as we know it. Whether you’re a 1st generation American, or a 5th generation American, someone in your family immigrated to this country for a better life.
For many, the promise of America is extinguishing. Immigrant families are being separated from one another. Immigration reform is a priority for me because I recognize the immigrant background and experience in our history, as well as the suffering in immigrant families who are being torn apart.
Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country. What we do today will determine the next chapter of the immigrant history and immigrant experience in America — these 11 million people are already part of that chapter. America needs leaders who have the courage to fix a broken system. America needs Republicans in Congress to work together with President Obama to realize that reform — for the benefit of America’s economy and for immigrant families.
Although I didn’t make the journey from Poland myself, I cherish my heritage while honoring my American spirit. During Immigrant Heritage Month we celebrate our different cultures but also our shared values. I urge you to go to the Welcome.us website and share your immigrant story with America.
By Maureen Pikarski
(Member of the National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Committee (NDECC) and serves as Chair of their Women’s Council.