When Martin A. Olsen arrived in America in 1928, he spent an entire day riding around on a New York subway. Why the whole day? Because he couldn’t ask anyone where to get off. He couldn’t speak English.
Martin A. Olsen was my paternal grandfather. He later learned English, married and raised a family. He became a taxpaying citizen who loved his adopted country.
I tell you this story because many of you can identify with it. Certainly everyone born in our country has ancestors from some other place. Most of our ancestors arrived in what is now the US within the last 500 years, while native Americans arrived thousands of year ago.
In my own case, on my mother’s side, the line of Appalachian people goes back to the 1700s; records before then have been lost. My father, however, was the son and grandson of immigrants, and his father was the man who rode the subway for hours on end until someone finally helped him.
America was the land of opportunity for my paternal ancestors and, like most of the people reading this statement, I want our country to remain the beacon of hope for the world that is has always been.
Our current President has used immigration to create divisions among American people. An “Us versus Them” mentality paints citizens as enemies of immigrants. In reality, almost every single one of us -new immigrants and descendants of immigrants- want the same things. We all want to have peaceful lives and be regarded as good neighbors. We want our children to have dreams. We want to enjoy the benefits of our own hard work.
We do hear or read of the rare undocumented immigrant who breaks laws and disrupts the people around himself. But a few citizens do that, too. We can all be proud of our country’s historic willingness to welcome hardworking people to our nation.
The Statue of Liberty has welcomed literally millions of immigrants to their new home in the United States. The plaque on its base states:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses
Yearning to breathe free…”
Those are not empty words, but words that helped forge the greatness of our nation. They are words to live by hundreds of years ago, words to live by at the turn of the century, words to live by today.
I am running to be your congressman of Tennessee’s 1st District. And I ask you to stand with me so that together, we can uphold those words..