Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Chugs of Key West

LUCY BURDETTEAbout 10 years ago my sister and her husband were visiting us in Key West, but had taken two days to camp on the nearby Dry Tortugas National Park. My sister called me from the boat on the way back. 

"You’d better get over to the dock quickly," she said, "we picked up a group of Cuban refugees." 


Photo from Wikipedia

We hurried over. The refugees were huddled on the bow of the boat, faces impassive, dressed in clothing and blankets loaned by the staff of the Yankee Freedom. Who knows how long they'd been at sea, and on what craft? And it was chilly! A group of their relatives had gotten the word about their rescue and gathered on the dock. The tears and the joy were amazing to witness.


Since Key West is only ninety miles from Havana, we hear a lot about the island and many Key Westers have an intense curiosity about Cuba and what life might be like for its inhabitants. Up until 2014, when the wet-foot, dry-foot policy (in which Cubans who reached the US were allowed to stay,) changed in the Obama era, frequently we heard news stories about Cubans who attempted to reach the US in a variety of homemade, unseaworthy vessels— even windsurfers—with some disastrous results. Many of these crafts are on display at the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden on Stock Island. I'll show you a few--hope you get a sense of the shakiness!











When I wove some of that backstory and conflict into DEATH ON THE MENU, I had no idea that immigration would become such a national hot button issue. But whatever a person might think about the special Cuban  policy that was in place for years, it seemed to me that it would be hard not to be moved by the dangerous attempts immigrants made crossing the Straits of Florida. 

I knew it might be considered risky to weave this subject into a cozy mystery, but it felt more impossible not to do so. Despite our differences in politics, I think we need to remember that the policies that governments make affect real people with sometimes heart-breaking results. 

across from the Statue of Liberty
When it came time to choose a dedication for this book, this is the only thing that came to mind:


Where did your family come from and how did they get to the US? 

63 comments:

  1. My family came from England in the early years of colonization the new world. I’m sure both the journey and the settling in a new place were difficult. It does seem as if immigration has always been filled with danger and heart-break.

    What a lovely dedication . . . I’m really looking forward to reading “Death on the Menu.”

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    1. thanks so much Joan--I can't imagine the courage it must have taken to leave everything and travel to someplace unknown.

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  2. I love this, Lucy. One of my good friends is from Cuba, although she was very young when her parents left. I don't know what kind of boat her family came over in, but it's hard to imagine how desperate people must be to willingly board one of these.

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    1. thanks Marla--that's exactly what I thought when I saw these and read about the Cuban refugees.

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  3. What a great issue to tackle in your new book, Roberta! I can remember back to the Carter era Mariel Boatlift, which was probably my introduction to refugee issues. Now I look at the same thing happening in Europe as tens of thousands of people flee their war-torn countries, and I can't imagine the social upheaval it must cause to take so many people in at once. And yet, I would hope someone would take me in, if I had to flee like that.

    I haven't done enough genealogy to say where all my people came from. On my mother's side they are English and German. The Germans were here before the American Civil War, but the English came in the 1870s. On my father's side I'm fairly sure they were part of the Scots-Irish wave that settled the Appalachians in the early days of our country, but whether that was pre- or post-Revolution I haven't a clue. I know that one multi-great grandfather was a missionary on the Missouri-Kansas border back in the pre-Civil War days of Bleeding Kansas. He took his family and retreated to the Ozark mountains when the federal government ordered everyone out of the border area in an attempt to quell the fighting there.

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  4. Exactly Gigi, don't we all hope someone would take us in in dire circumstances. Your family sounds so interesting--they've been in the US a long time, relatively speaking. I need to track down the cousin who's done so much with our family history

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  5. I have been riven with grief and guilt and anger over the plight of immigrants, even worse now with children being taken from their parents because they dared to risk their lives, seeking a better life. Which is what my great-grandparents did, Jews fleeing anti-Jewish pogroms in the early 1900s. Makes Ellis Island seem like a heaven on earth. Good for you, Lucy, for taking it on in your book.

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  6. I'm glad you took this on, Lucy. My ancestors are mostly Scots and Irish who came over in the early nineteenth century, always in search of a better life. The Maxwells went through Kentucky to Indiana, and the Flahertys to San Francisco.

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  7. Most of my ancestors came from either Ireland or Germany. I knew a lot about Irish immigration, and members of my father’s family fought in the Civil War. But I only recently looked into the German side. One of the things I learned was how important Germans were in the formation of unions. Both my grandfathers and some others of that generation fought in WWI. I don’t think my ancestors were desperate refugees but they certainly took a brave step in crossing the Atlantic.
    Thank you for honoring today’s immigrants.

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  8. Yay Lucy! Oh my ancestors came from Poland, or Austria or Russia, depending on which relative you talk to! All came through Ellis Island, and many names got changed And much history was lost.
    And Lucy? Thank you.

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  9. As far as I can determine most of my ancestors came from Germany or England in the late 1600s-early 1700s, although one we know came in 1632. That time frame meant a whole different sort of problems to be faced.
    I'm glad you have done this Lucy because what I am hearing is heartbreaking!

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    1. In the 80's we went to Daytona beach and we would see the make shift boats that would wash ashore from people trying to get to US from Cuba. All I remember was I felt they had hope on these. Such a part of history.

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  11. TrissAugust 2, 2018 at 7:18 AM

    Lucy, so great to address this in a cozy. It's on my list! We are all descendants of immigrants (unless you are in a tribal member)-usually fleeing war and starvation. It's easy to forget but I often see that great statue out in the harbor.I recommend a little trip to the powerful immigration museum on Ellis Island here in NY! All my grandparents were born in parts of what was then Russian Empire, desperate to flee pogroms (murderous, hate-driven riots) and persecution. The stories repeat, don't they? Only the places change. I don't forget.
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    1. No we must not forget or ignore because it seems too intractable. I have not been to Ellis Island but I will! thanks Triss

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  12. My ancestors came here from England and Ireland in the late 1600s and early 1700s. One of them died on the boat, leaving his wife to face the New World alone while caring for a son and daughter. The daughter died shorter after they arrived. Can you imagine what that poor woman and her son endured?! I wish I knew more that these bare facts.

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    1. Wow Cathy, that's a heart-breaking story. They had a different version of courage, but in many ways like the people we hear about today

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  13. My mother's ancestors were Acadians, the French settlers who were expelled by the English governor from what is now Nova Scotia, in an episode of ethnic cleansing. I have strong ties to my French heritage, and to immigrants who wander unwanted, because that was the fate of many Acadian families. My father's ancestors came from Venice, Italy. All we know of him is that he was a gondolier and he went to jail in the US for stealing someone's boat. He must have been desperate, for what is a gondolier without a boat?

    I think that is a very fine dedication and applaud you for it, Lucy.

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    1. Ramona, you won Dianne's book the other day. Email me ay authorrhysbowen@gmail.com with your address and I'll have it sent to you

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    2. Rhys, thank you! I am so sorry--this is what I get for staying offline a day now and then.

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    3. thank you Ramona. The gondolier story is astonishing. I hope you're writing about it!

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  14. I have no idea how or where my ancestors got here, with the exception of my mother's father, who came from Croatia. It's all buried in the mists of time. My aunt has done extensive research on her mother's family, but I don't know if she's gotten back to the original "where did they come from" point.

    It always made ethnic days and projects in school very frustrating for me.

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Mary, my experience is similar to yours. My mother's family came mainly from France and Spain, but I know little of the circumstances. They settled in Louisiana and I know no history before that. My father came out of desperate poverty in West Virginia and I know even less about his family's roots. He never had any desire to explore it. So yes, those personal ethnic history projects and days at school were always very trying.

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    2. And I bet the teachers had no idea that some of the kids were really struggling

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  15. I don't know why writing a 'cozy' should limit you, Lucy/Roberta. I hate these kinds of 'rules' and 'classifications'. Your stories are set in a location in which the issue of immigrants desperately trying to reach a safe shore is a part of its (recent) history. Tell the story you want to tell!

    My ancestors were a motley crew, all funneled through mostly Northern Europe to the New World long before it became the USA. I've mentioned her before, but one ancestor in particular interests me--a young Irishwoman named Annie O'Bryan, who arrived in Virginia from Dublin ca. 1766. Thanks to a family historian, we know that much about her,one son's name (George), and his son Herrell--who was my 4x great-grandfather.

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    1. thanks Flora. there was such an interesting discussion on Facebook recently about cozies and whether readers would welcome harder issues. Many truly want to read books to get away from real life--while I'm sympathetic, I agree with you--must write what feels right to me.

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  16. As an adopted person, I don't know about my birth family's origins. However, I do know a bit about my adoptive parents ancestors - Ireland and Scotland. As Triss says, we are almost all descendants of immigrants. I think it's great to include this theme and story in a cozy mystery. I suspect that most of us read books in order to 'think' and immigration and all the different aspects is a thought provoking topic. Regardless of the type of book that presents it. Those pictures are very sobering and quite amazing.

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  17. Thank you for writing about this Lucy, such a timely subject now that we are emulating the political conditions that made many of our ancestors flee here.

    They weren't Jewish and they weren't fleeing a pogrom, but they were fleeing poverty and hunger, hoping to find a better life in the fly-over states, homesteading. And so they did.

    If your ancestors came thru Ellis Island, go to https://www.nps.gov/elis/learn/education/finding-arrival-records-online.htm and search. It is amazing. Oddly enough, I can't find my grandmother although my grandfather and his parents are listed on the manifest. I do know they all came together from Annenberg.

    And they were welcomed, never sent back, even though the United Stated engaged in two horrid world wars with Germany. Makes you think doesn't it.

    My mother's people came in two batches, one from Germany in the 18th century, and the other from England in the late 19th. When I did 23 and Me, I found I was 98.8% European and 0.02% Native American/East Asian. The European is French and German with English/Irish making up most of the rest.

    My cousin has researched my maternal side, way back to 1725, a female progenitor. It's fascinating.

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  18. My heart breaks when I hear what immigrants are going through today in attempts to give their families better lives. And I can't let myself think about the atrocities!

    My mom's parents and older brother and sister came here from northern Italy. My mom was the first of their family to be born in the US. My grandparents never saw their parents or siblings again, although they kept in touch by mail. On my dad's side, my grandmother came here when she was around eleven or twelve. She was one of many children, not all of whom came here. From what I can understand, my great-grandmother came here first, and my great-grandfather came back and forth but eventually decided he couldn't get accustomed to the US so he never made it his permanent home. My grandmother's youngest siblings were born here. My dad's father was born in NYC. His parents were from Italy. (That's about all I know about them except for some whispered stories!)

    I know people whose families went through turmoil to get here from Eastern European countries, often on falsified documents. Every step of their journey was frightening.

    I can't understand the bias today against people who are trying to give their families better lives. Thank you for honoring immigrants in your latest book. I look forward to buying it. I wish I could go see you at RJ Julia, but I have a family event that day.

    DebRo

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  19. Very timely, Lucy/Roberta. I think we are at the moment going through the largest diaspora in human history, worldwide. It's an inevitable result of over-population and competition for resources, like oil, water, arable land. It does not seem to be getting any better, either.

    I'm not sure of the motives of my ancestors for coming to North America, but I know they came from a variety of places, going back to the mid- and late-1800's. One part of the family is French, and they came through both Canada and Ellis Island, the Canadian branch picking up some Native American genes along the way. One part came from Hungary, I know for sure, because my grandmother was able to share a small part of that story. Her father came to West Virginia, to work in, and possibly die in, the coal mines. (They never found out what happened to him after a collapse, whether he was one of the fatalities, or if he wandered away somehow.)

    And then there's the part we always thought was German. Turns out my grandfather's family actually came from Austria, and my great grandmother on the other side may have been Swiss or Belgian. I so wish I'd asked the family histories decades ago, when I had the chance.

    We are all from somewhere else, though, that's the takeaway. I have never understood possessiveness about place.

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    1. Yes we are all from somewhere else, unless native to North America!

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  20. Good on you Lucy. I think most writers will tell you about that one story that arrived on their doorstep and demanded to be told, regardless of the writer's genre. Thank you for taking on the challenge. My family's history is people coming from Ireland/Scotland and some from Nova Scotia. A portion from Spain and a wild Scotsman from Canada thrown in for good measure. The one thing they all have in common is the desire to make a life here. They farmed and worked in the homes of others and two made a life-long career of serving in the military. We are a genetic soup and proud of it.

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  21. I'm another of the early crew - my ancestors came from Scotland in 1720 (my mother's side) and from England somewhere around the same time on my dad's side. I was thinking about the idea that we want "the best" - most of of our antecedents weren't the best. The best people had money, education, land. They weren't about to risk it all for life in a new world. It was the people with no hope for the future and no prospects for a better life who braved the crossing and made this country.

    I think of two friends of Youngest, both daughters of Somali refugees. Their fathers were MDs in their home land, with all the advantages that came with money and position. They came to this country to give their kids a better future. Now one dad is a counselor and the other drives a cab - while their children are excelling in school and getting full rides to prestigious universities. Aren't these exactly the sort of people we need as part of America?

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    1. Yes. I have a Vietnamese friend (first generation) who as a single mother working assorted jobs has put her four children through college, two daughters training as accountants, one as an optometrist, and the son is now earning a degree in computer science. And I know so many more similar stories.

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  22. Fabulous dedication!
    Libby Dodd

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  23. Lucy, I absolutely love that your story is interwoven with this issue and I can't wait to read the book. The photos of the chugs are heartbreaking. I can't imagine the desperation that leads people to attempt an ocean crossing in something like that.

    We all, unless we are Native American, come from somewhere else. And even the Native Americans came from somewhere else originally, looking, I imagine, for a better life.

    As far as I've been able to determine, between my 23andMe results and what little genealogy I've been able to turn up, my ancestors came from England (a surprise to me!), France, and Germany, with a few odd ones thrown in--one Scandinavian in the 1700s, one West African in the 1600s. Both my mom's and dad's people seem to have migrated through Tennessee and Georgia on their way to Texas.

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    1. So interesting Debs, though we aren't surprised you have English roots!

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  24. Such a great topic, Lucy! As a recent I'm,I grant from England I have no ancestors here, but I bet everyone else reading this does. We are all immigrants, all coming here for a better life. Whatever our politics we should have compassion for those fleeing despair

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  25. Great topic, Lucy! I don't know how most of my relatives got here, but my paternal grandfather came over from Denmark when he was 17. He made the trip with his best friend, and they came through Ellis Island. Eventually, he ended up a homesteader in Montana. If not for his travels, I wouldn't be here! There were only three ways in to o America when it started: you were a Native American already here, you came on a slave ship, or you came on a ship of your own volition. Lots of Americans seem to have forgotten this!

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  26. My family seems to be mainly northern European. Mom's family appears to be the typical English/Scots/Irish. Dad's is a little more mixed. His mother was a Huston and they were Scots/Irish; came over sometime in the 1700s. His dad emigrated as a teenager from Sweden. One story says he came through Ellis Island; another says he came by way of Canada. He followed other siblings as there were 8 or 9 of them and his parents couldn't split their land in that many portions. So probably half stayed in Sweden and the others moved. I have a copy of his citizenship paper where he pledges to support the Constitution of the U.S. and renounces allegiance to Oscar II, King of Sweden in September of 1896.

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  27. Shalom Reds and fans. I am a conservative Republican. That said, I believe we need more immigrants, not fewer. Also, I believe that globally we need more people, not less. I don't believe in the "population bomb".

    My grandparents came to this country in the early 20th century.

    My father's parents came to the U.S. just after World War One from Barbados. Their mother tongue was English. Their forebears were slaves imported from West Africa for the most part. My father was born here in 1920 in New York City. His older sister who was born on the island had a Badian accent her whole life. My father was sent to live in Barbados during his primary school years I think because educational opportunities in the primary grades were better there for blacks. He returned to finish high school and college. He served in World War II. Although not a pilot, he was one of the Tuskegee Airmen.

    My mother's parents were Ashkenazic Jews. Their mother tongue was Yiddish. I think their second language was Polish. (Although, I think they could get by in Russian, Ukrainian and German. They learned their accented English here. My grandfather emigrated first arriving here in 1920. He left behind my grandmother and an infant son (my Uncle). My grandmother followed in 1928 and my mother was born the following year. Both sets of grandparents came with very little but collectively they raised 10 American children.

    It is only little by little as an adult, that I have come to appreciate how much courage my grandparents must have had to do what they did.

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    1. thanks for stopping in and leaving a comment David. You have such an interesting mix of people and places in your history. And I totally agree about the courage

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  28. I'm German, French, and Italian. None of my ancestors came through Ellis or Castle Garden and my Italian grandfather was accidentally born in the US when his mother came to visit family although he was raised in France and Italy. The French side of the family were probably illegals as they had originally left France for Canada and then entered the US in the early 1800s from Canada to escape the British (sorry Rhys). The German contingent traveled with visas, my grandfather as a first class passenger to settle on family owned land and my grandmother as a second class passenger to relocate to New York.

    I remember living in Florida in the late 1950s and the early 1960s when the Cuban influx first began and there were Freedom flights and the Archdiocese ran Pedro Pan. Miami opened its doors as did the entire country.

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  29. I mentioned this the other day, but I highly recommend chef Marcus Samuelson's new program on PBS called No Passport Required. He profiles immigrant communities in different parts of the country and it is fascinating to learn about their food and cultures, and what they have contributed to communities.

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    1. Yes! I have been watching it and loving it. Fascinating.

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  30. Your dedication makes me cry!! I have spent years working in the Hispanic community in the suburbs of Chicago, and have heard so many astounding stories of people crossing the dessert, running out of water, sucking the juice out of cactus plants; people coming curled up in car trunks or in freezer trucks, risking their lives with dubious people. What they were running from was more awful than anything I'd ever heard before. All they wanted was a job--any job at all.

    My own ancestors left no records of their struggle to get here, but from DNA I do know they came from Great Britain, Germany and Scandinavia. Some of them I know came during the potato famine in Ireland. I have read how they came on old slave ships, starving, diseased, and many dying on the way.

    Rhys Bowen's first Molly Murphy book gives a great account of what that may have been like.

    These immigrants are brave to risk their lives, and you are brave, Lucy, to bring this issue into your cozy mystery.


    Fiction is about empathy. In order to get into it, you have to put yourself in someone else's position--and that's the definition of empathy. I think it's the role of fiction to help us become more feeling beings.

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    1. thanks keziah, yes fiction is about putting the reader in the shoes of the person on the page. should be good training for life!

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  31. Since Daniel Boone is a famous historical figure, my family history (on my father's side) is fairly easy to pin down. Our family is descended from Daniel's brother, Edward or Neddie, and Daniel's and Edward's father was Squire who emigrated from Bradninch, Devonshire, England in 1717 to Pennsylvania. I'd always heard the small village in England referred to as Stoke Canon, but Bradninch seems to be the name on record. It's about five miles outside Exeter. The Boones moved around a lot, and when Daniel opened up Kentucky with the Wilderness Road, Edward and his family moved to Kentucky, too, where he was killed by Indiana a year later. I'm hoping to get to England next year to visit some ancestral sites, such as the church where George III and his wife Mary (parents of Squire) are buried.

    Lucy, you know from my review how much I love Death on the Menu. The way you weave the history of Cuban/Key West relations and Ernest Hemingway and the Truman's Little White House is brilliant. Truman's Little White House is a favorite spot of mine to visit in Key West, as is the Hemingway House. And, I so love Haley Snow and all the supporting cast, with a special affection for Miss Gloria. This book works on so many levels--entertaining, humorous, historical, food love. I know it's going to be a huge hit for you.

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    1. thank you darling Kathy, from your lips to the cash registers:)

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  32. Lucy- Those pictures are wrenching. I'm so glad your sister was there to help those people. I live in AZ, most of my neighbors are Hispanic. They are my friends -- people I care about very deeply. I do not care what their status is - they are great neighbors. Besides given that I come from a bunch of whores and thieves (according to Mom's genealogical research), I will never sit in judgment of people trying to make a better life. I mean, isn't that the point of being alive, to live your best life?

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    1. Yes! let's remember that as the Reds motto, living our best lives...

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  33. I think we are German. An aunt said she traced a relative to Switzerland. One of my best friends is from Laos. She married a Vietnamese but he was adopted at 5 years old. I've worked with people from Great Britain, India, Eritrea, and China. Some of my Spanish teachers were from Cuba, and Spanish professors in college from Spain and Chile. The lady from Chile married a professor from China. Their daughter was in one of my classes. My life would be poorer if I hadn't met these people.

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  34. Like everyone here, I'm proud of my immigrant roots and heartbroken over the intolerance towards immigrants that seems to be taking hold in this country (again). I've a fairly diverse background, but I'll always remember a trip to Ellis Island with one of my aunts and my paternal grandmother to tour the museum and find my grandmother's mother's name in the (now digitized) arrivals book. Such courage to leave everything behind for a dangerous crossing to who-really-knows-what on the other side. No one becomes an immigrant because things are really great at home!

    But here's a slightly fun, scientific thing I read about a while back (probably in the NYTimes Science Section). There is a particular gene variant that predisposes an individual to both optimism and risk taking--a willingness to just launch out. Americans are far more likely than other national populations to have this variant. It is speculated that it could be the concentration of immigrant ancestors. While others just struggled on in terrible circumstances, those willing to emigrate may have had this variant and that helped convince them that steerage passage was their best option! Additionally, it may have helped those who were not brought here voluntarily to survive into future generations.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post!

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  35. It’s a good thing to have written in your book. I really like having history woven in the story. It’s important. Your series has everything, it’s awesome. I’m English, my grandma was in the daughters of the American revolution DAR, also danish and Belgium what a wonderful thing they all could enter America. America is in turmoil so sad for those children separated right now. What a world we live in. My heart hurts. Love your books so much. Thank you for writing this series.

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  36. Such courage! I have friends who left Cuba by plane, back when it was allowed, but they had to leave behind everything of value. Carmen Deedy tells a heart-breaking, and then heart-warming story of her mother's wedding ring. My own German great-grandparents must have come by ship, but I don't have details.

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  37. Beautiful posting, Roberta. My grandparents - on sturdier ships from Ireland to Boston.

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  38. My uncle was able to find some records (birth, marriage, &/or death I think) of family that date back to the 1600s. Not sure exactly when they came over from England.

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