My Immigrant Story: And Those Who Came Before Me

My grandfather, Manuel Najera

My grandfather, Manuel Najera

“So, where are you from?”

I had just met a friend of a friend and we were having get-to-know-you martinis. This friend, a full fledge Breitbart subscriber, was intent on getting to know my background.

“I’m from Chicago,” I answered.

“I mean, originally,” he insisted.

“I was born in Michigan.”

“Where are your parents from?”

“Michigan,” I snapped.

“What about your grandparents?”

“Michigan, and my great-grandparents are from Michigan and Texas. Is that all?”

I was annoyed and I didn't hide it well. I needed another martini, and fast. The question he really wanted to ask me was, “Why are you so brown?” Surely I must not be from around these parts, but I am. I'm as American as apple pie. I’m also Latina, and proud of everything that it encompasses. And guess what? I can be both, I am both, but most people don’t see it that way.  

My grandfather, Manuel Najera, in uniform during World War II

My grandfather, Manuel Najera, in uniform during World War II

My grandfather fought in World War II. Despite being the only surviving son, he volunteered to serve in the war. He was a B-17 Gunner in the 487th Bombardment Group and he was only supposed to complete 18 missions, but went on serve 35. When asked why, he would simply say, “Because that’s what you do. You fight for your country.”

My grandfather and his generation had such an immense pride for our country. Even into his old age, whenever the National Anthem would come on, he would stand up and place his hand over his heart. My family’s immigration story isn’t really a story at all. We’ve been here for many generations. In fact, our family is so deeply rooted in Texas that the border moved before many of my family did. But to many melanin deprived individuals, it’s people like us who are “taking American jobs, raping the economy, increasing health care costs and not paying taxes.”

My great-grandfather, Sacarias Guerra

My great-grandfather, Sacarias Guerra

Ugh, really? We are more alike than we are different. Fundamentally, we all want the same things for ourselves and for our families. But the negative rhetoric of this election and current administration has illuminated our differences more than our similarities. Whether your family has been in this country for multiple generations or you immigrated to this country last year, we are all here for the same reasons. We have chosen to live here because it’s a great nation full of freedom and possibility. At least that's what we're fighting for, because we all deserve freedom and possibility. The brown, the black, the white, everyone. This should unite us, not divide us. I honestly don’t know what the future holds. I'm cautiously optimistic at times, at others I have to remind myself that this is not "Stranger Things" and we are not living in the upside down, even though it feels like it. But then I put on some Beyoncé and remind myself to "get in formation” and outshine the negativity, words of hate and fear that have plagued us for so long. 

copy by: gabriela garcia

images courtesy of: gabriel najera

This article was originally written for The Huffington Post // Jessica Hoppe