I Am An American

I am the daughter of

The Isle of Jersey
was home
to my first American ancestors.

In 1676,
 a young man,
Philippe Gavit, (also spelled Gavet, Gavett, Gavitt, and Gavvitte)
 a Frenchman,
 left that island in the English Channel off the French coast of Normandy,
and headed for America.

He stepped ashore in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Soon, he married and established the beginning of what would become my American family.

I am the daughter of early American entrepreneurs and land owners.

Philippe Gavit's granddaughter,
Prudence Gavit (Gavet)
William French,
a Protestant Scot-Irish from Londonderry, Ireland, in 1738/9
at Westerly, Washington County Rhode Island.

Their son, William French, Jr., my father's namesake,
 fought in the Revolutionary War.

A great grandfather on my maternal side fought in the Civil War.

My father and all of my uncles served proudly during World War II.
French Family sons and daughters during World War II
Father, of Sally French Wessely, William French, is on far right.

I lost a first cousin, Steven Reichert in Viet Nam.
French Family Cousins
Steven Reichert, killed in Viet Nam at age 19, is third from top left.
Sally French Wessely is second from left.

Steven Reichert
First Cousin of Sally French Wessely
Name on
Traveling Viet Nam Memorial Wall

I am the daughter of Americans who went to war for this country.

My grandfather when asked what nationality we were always said,
"We are damn Yankee rebels."

I am the daughter of Welsh coal miners.
From the green hills of Wales they came to the dry hills of Colorado
  to work in the mines.

I am the daughter of coal miners,
union members.

I am the daughter of proud Democrats who always voted the Democratic ticket.

I am the daughter of Scotch Presbyterians.

I am the daughter of those who worked for the WPA.

I am a daughter of those who came west to breathe the high mountain air because
 had made life in the humid east unbearable.

I am the daughter of storytellers.

I am the daughter of those who searched for gold in the west.

I am the daughter of
shop keepers,
a telegrapher sending and receiving messages across the wires,

I am the proud granddaughter of a homesteader.
My grandmother, as a single woman, established
and lived in a homestead on her own.
It is my great sadness that I never knew this woman.
My mother as a child with her parents
Albert and Lulu Townsley.
Lulu homestead by herself prior to her marriage

I am the daughter of strong Christian believers,
and renegades who never believed.

I am proud of my heritage.
I believe in extending the American dream to others.

I am a teacher of immigrant children.
Their stories could break a teacher's heart.
They left family, culture, language, and friends,
sometimes unwillingly,
to have an opportunity for a better life.

These children have taught me more about the American dream
than I ever learned in any class in American history I ever took.

I married a man whose parents were refugees from Nazi Germany.
James (Jim) Wessely
with his parents
Kurt and Emmy Wessely
I am grateful this country provides a place of refuge to those escaping
The Holocaust,
and the horrors of war.

I am grateful this country remains the land of opportunity for many.
I am also aware of how much poverty and inequality we have in our own country.

I am well aware of the need for immigration reform.
Few things anger me more than calling a person "illegal."
People are NOT illegal.
Some are in the country without documentation.

This problem of immigration is a complex, generational problem.
I know many families who might not have had documentation to be in the United States.
I know this because students have trusted me enough to tell me this.
As a teacher, it is my legal responsibility to provide an equal educational opportunity to every student
K -12 regardless of immigrations status.
(Plyler vs. Doe 1982)

I am an American teacher who worked with marginalized populations.
I am proud to have worked with this strong,
group of students and their parents.

I am an American.
May I never forget my roots in this democracy.

Sometimes, I see us fighting over the use of words in our Pledge of Allegiance and it breaks my heart.
We have our freedoms,
thankfully we have,
and I support,
our freedoms,
but at times it seems that we are forgetting that we are to be indivisible.
It seems our  First Amendment Rights
are used in ways that appear to shout that we no longer believe in
liberty and justice for all.

We live in troubled times,
but I,
an American,
 continue to believe in the dream my ancestors,
those damn Yankee rebels,
fought to establish.

There are fifteen lines in that famous poem, The New Colossus, written by Emma Lazarus
that became associated with the Statue of Liberty.

I am an American.

I am pondering every line of that poem written about the "Mother of Exiles."

I hope you will do the same on this Independence Day.

Read more about the poem and its author here:  How a Sonnet Made a Statue the "Mother of Exiles."

Historic Ruling?

I am thrilled to have learned yesterday that a juvenile court judge in the State of Utah made a positive ruling in the case of a teenage boy who has lived in this country without proper papers since he was five years.  The ruling clears the way for the young man to gain legal resident status in the U.S.  You can read about this young man's situation by  clicking on this link.   The article was published in Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah this past weekend.   
This historic ruling is great news to all of us who work or have worked with this special population of students.  It is, in my opinion, the right decision that brings hope and justice to one kid.  One can only hope that the ruling is setting a positive precedent for the future.
My Personal Connections and Views on Working with Immigrant Children
As many of you know, I have worked for many years as teacher to those students for whom English is not the home language.  This area of the educational world has long been my passion.  I have worked with students who have come to this country with papers,  and with those who have come without papers.  I never knew for sure the legal status of my students, not did I care about their legal status.  In fact, as teacher in the public school system I was barred from inquiring about my students' legal status because of the Supreme Court Ruling Plyer vs. Doe 1982.  I am often shocked to find out how much misinformation there is out there in regard to the rights of immigrant students when it comes to public education.  Plyer vs. Doe clearly stated the rights of these students when it ruled:  "public schools were prohibited from denying immigrant students access to a public education. The Court stated that undocumented children have the same right to a free public education as U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Undocumented immigrant students are obligated, as are all other students, to attend school until they reach the age mandated by state law."
Now, the Dream Act is being addressed in the news.  The sad thing about working with students who may be undocumented is that they find themselves in a situation that they did not create.  They are brought to this country with or without proper papers through no fault of their own.  Many work hard in school, learn a new language, integrate into a new culture, and then are denied access to state institutions of higher learning as residents of the state in which they may have resided for years.  They are caught in some sort of legal and cultural limbo as they progress into adulthood.  

Those of us who work with this population come to deeply love and respect these students.  We see them vilified in the public sector through no fault of their own.  We see them subjected to racial profiling, and other forms of subtle and not so subtle forms of discrimination and prejudice.  Frankly, it is heartbreaking and discouraging to hear and read some of the prejudicial emails that circulate about this population of families that now live in our country.

I am all for legal means of coming to this country.  I am not in support of punishing the innocent victims who are undocumented because of the decisions of their parents.  To be honest with you, I have worked with gang members whose families have been in this country for generations.  I have also worked with immigrant families.  There is a wide divide between these two populations.  
I am personally thrilled to hear that one young undocumented student may have a more positive future because of the ruling of this juvenile court judge in Utah.  Congratulations to all concerned.