We are all Immigrants

My great-grandmother’s great-grandmother’s … great great great great grandmother, left Africa sometime a long long long time ago. She probably left with a small group of people, perhaps following a migration of animals, or a story they had heard about lands with abundant resources far to the east. I do not know what route they took, but eventually they settled in Asia and lived there through at least one glaciation, when the planet was colder and the coastline much lower. They hunted and gathered and fed themselves on the abundance of the land. The glaciers rose and fell and rose and fell and at some point when sea level was low one of her grand daughters left with another tribal band and headed north across the great Bering Strait for a new continent all together. Again, I do not know their path, they may have traveled along the shoreline where there are easy pickings of fish and shellfish to live on. Eventually they arrived in the land we now call Mexico. And many generations of mothers and daughters lived and hunted and gathered and loved and birthed and died in that land. Then the white men arrived and many of her people died. They died of small pox or the flu or cruelty and violence. But somehow my great great great … grandmother survived. Eventually a woman we know in the family only as La India married a Scottish miner in Oaxaca and they had a daughter named Antonia Carr. When the miner died, La India took her share of the mine’s proceeds and moved to Ciudad Juarez and opened a grocery store. She remarried am man whose last name was Alvarado. Antonia Carr-Alvarado married Pedro Fierro, an orphan who had been raised in a Jesuit Monastery outside Mexico City. The border between Mexico and the UW wasn't as we know it today, people regularly moved back and forth for work, and food, and love, and grief. Always trying to avoid suffering and make things better for their children. Antonia and Pedro had number of children, the youngest of which was Maria Fierro. Maria and her sisters just happened to be living in El Paso, on the north side of the US-Mexico border, when it was officially closed behind them. They thought it was a great stroke of luck as they became US citizens by geography. They were Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and poor. Maria and her siblings eventually migrated to Los Angeles, the city of hope and dreams where Maria sewed fancy dresses for movie stars in the sweatshops in downtown LA. Maria married Enrique Esquivel and they had just one daughter together, Dora Esquivel, my mother. Dora spoke only Spanish until she went to grade school where she was punished for speaking Spanish. She refused to speak it any longer and became the first English speaking woman in her lineage.

And so my maternal line traveled east from Africa to Asia and America and to me.

My great-grandfather’s great-grandfather’s … great great great great grandfather, left Africa sometime a long long long time ago. He probably left with a small group of people, perhaps following a migration of animals, or a story they had heard about lands with abundant resources to the east. I do not know what route they took, but eventually they settled in the Levantine what is now Syria or Palestine or Israel. They were the people of the Levantine. Probably dark-skinned. They hunted and gathered and may have been some of the first agriculturalists. They left the Levant in many waves, traveling around the Mediterranean and some of them making their way to the British Isles. This man might have been an early Christian fleeing persecution or who knows which of many migrations out of the Levantine for better resources or a safer life in places far afield. We do not know when that happened, but long enough ago to have intermarried and intermarried with fair women and sire fairer and fairer sons. One of those sons migrated to America.  There my great grandfather William Wells met and married Eleanor Ryan in New York City and sired my grandfather George Wells. William and Eleanor divorced.  My grandfather George and his mother Eleanor moved to Akron Ohio where he first found work climbing poles for Ohio Edison. George married Margaret Courtney and they had 8 children, of whom my father, William Wells, was the fourth child and third son. One cold hard winter George and Margaret had had enough of Ohio and decided to pack their bags and head someplace warmer. They drove to California, then to Florida and back to California again to finally settle in Burbank. Bill grew up, joined the Navy, came back home and met my beautiful mother Dora and fell in love.

And so my paternal line traveled from Africa to the Levant to then west to Ireland to America and to me.

I imagine these amazing migrants, my ancestors, one line traveling east around the globe and the other traveling west around the globe and eventually meeting in this land that has always welcomed migrants, although perhaps no more, and here I am and who am I?

Am I a white woman, a brown woman, or a red woman? I was raised in a white suburb and given the privilege thereof. I was raised to speak my mind and to claim my space. I assumed that a space would open for me if I worked hard enough and I know that my ability to make that assumption is a function of the privilege I was granted because I am not too dark although people never quite know ‘what I am.’

Who am I? An immigrant's child, just as we all are.

Lisa WellsComment