Immigration is our universal American story

  • Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

    Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

By Bonnie Jean Feldkamp
Posted8/1/2021 1:00 AM

Last month, a federal judge in Houston ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy was "illegal," which halted accepting incoming applications. I was in South Texas for my father-in-law's funeral when the news broke.

His widow -- mi suegra -- is one of the strongest women I've ever met. My mother-in-law Manuela was born on a small ranch in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, in 1951. She cared for her ill mother as a child. After her mother died, Manuela crossed into Brownsville, Texas, during "Charro Days." She was 13.


The Charro Days Fiesta is a two-nation festival held in Brownsville, Texas, in cooperation with Matamoros, Mexico. The fiesta began as an antidote to the Great Depression in 1937 and happens each year in February. The Fiesta celebrates the shared heritage of two nations. Anyone who has visited a border town knows that a hard cultural divide does not exist. Cultures blend.

As part of this festival, in the 1960s, international bridges were opened to allow people to cross the border without papers during what was called the "Paso Libre," meaning "free pass." Manuela crossed into Texas and did not return. She was a "Dreamer" before it had a name. She stayed in Texas with her aunt. She also met the man who would become my father-in-law, a second-generation Texan who lived across the street.

In 2017, on what was her third attempt, Manuela aced her citizenship test. My husband watched with pride. Manuela had first attempted citizenship in the 1980s. She paid for her test only to learn she'd have to take it in English. Manuela is a Spanish speaker. In the border town where she lives and works, everyone speaks Spanish. She tried again in the '90s, but she had been conned into paying for a nonexistent test. In 2017, she was permitted to take the test in Spanish.

When asked what drove her to see it through, she said that she wanted to be an American citizen like her children and husband. She wanted to show them she could do it and make her family proud. Manuela also very much wanted the right to vote. On July 14, 2017, she was sworn in as an American citizen.

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The opposition to refugees and immigrants is strong, but it is the most universal story we share as Americans. It should be the common ground that unites us.

With the exception of Native Americans, every American family once stood in those uncertain shoes of immigration, making where they are today possible. Immigration is part of who we are as Americans. When we don't share the truth about where we came from, we deny our children a source of compassion for those who are finding their way to America now.

My kids grow up knowing that our families started someplace else. We don't know the specific story of every family member like we know Manuela's. But we talk about the heritage that lives on in small traditions handed down through generations. Recipes, holidays and language are ripe with opportunities to learn and share. Acknowledging that we've all been there helps build a community that feels less threatened by newcomers.

Though the federal court ruling does not affect current DACA recipients, it threatens the security of so many young undocumented United States residents. President Joe Biden has urged Congress to ensure a permanent solution by "granting a path to citizenship for Dreamers that will provide the certainty and stability that these young people need and deserve."

Our society is living and breathing and constantly being reborn, and immigration -- past and present -- is a meaningful part of our American lives.

© 2021, Creators

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