When I was in college, I took a history course that asked us to research a family member through oral history. I went back to my father's father, who died long before I was born. In so doing, I captured a lot of genealogical information about the family in general from everyone alive and old and about to die, and a whole lot of apocryphal stories. My father's family was Sicilian Italian, immigrant and first generations. So stories kind of flowed through these older people in a way that was mostly lost to the later generations. What was odd, in visiting the later generations, was how wedded they were to the Italian part of their "Italian-American" heritage, but how little they cared about the stories -- many brave and inspiring -- of their parents or grandparents who struggled to make that American story happen.
One theme of the stories that I loved was how the American born children of immigrants honored the family connections and their homeland in America at the same time by bringing in the 1920's to the US their close relations who by fate or lack of funds had not come to the US when immigration was easier. In modern terms, these would be the people that Arizona would pull over and handcuff.
My grandmother's brother, Frank Benanti, was the first (and American) born son of a Sicilian couple -- his father sold sandwiches to the railroad workers in Missouri, then worked up to a pushcart in Kansas City, and then owned a large commercial establishment downtown and most of a city block to house his large family. It was a compound before the Kennedys even thought of it, with separate houses for their children and their growing families. Frank was the shining star of the family -- college, studied law, lawyer, and eventual judge. His brothers all followed him to law school, as well.
But none of them drew a legal line about going back to Palermo, buying a "marriage certificate" to a cousin or sister-in-law, and returning through a few extra ports to the US, with a wife in tow. (I guess the male "left-behinds" were on their own.) That's the story I heard.
I was fortunate enough to meet the stately Honorable Frank in the 1970's, at the end of his life, and I wish I had asked him about this story, but I didn't know it yet until I was in college in the 1980's, and he was gone. Only third-hand tales remained. He was impressive, and I did ask him if he really had known Harry S. Truman. He had.
So I join Ancestry.com on a whim, start adding in family names, and suddenly I get a link to citizen's records at docking from a steamship record in New York, 1926 -- Frank coming back after a long tour of Italy. There are funny little footnotes, and I wish I could look at the page references, but it looks like Frank may have returned with a non-citizen something. The best story that matches is that he brought back Lena, who I also had the privilege of meeting, twice, in her home above the family funeral parlor in Kansas City. Really. The stories I could tell about Lena.
Anyway, there is something so bone-chillingly thrilling about seeing, in black and white, the record that sorta kinda proves the truth of the apocryphal tale. Of the key document that gave Lena a new life in a new country, where she went on to raise two solid kids who carried on the family business, the children of a loving and prosperous (it's a NICE funeral home) man. Where I could meet her 50 years after her arrival, and she could feed me until I thought I was gonna burst. Little bird lady, holding her elbows out like chicken wings, muttering in a mix of Italian and that weird semi-Southern Missouri accent.
I could say something about immigration paranoia, but it should be evident. I am proud of America and its people however they get here and hang on and make a life. And whether the family was the Benanti's or the Gallegos or whoever is getting here by hook or by crook ... well, the hell with Arizona. I wouldn't be here and neither would you if that kind of thinking had been the rule.
I'd rather just say this is really, deeply, cool, to be able to see the very document that let it happen.