Let me start where I hope it does not end – Copley Square, January 29, 2017, with thousands of others gathered in protest of President Trump’s Executive Order, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.”
Earlier that day I dropped my youngest son at his school for a basketball practice. I drove to downtown Boston, to take a walk before picking him up after practice. I parked on Pearl Street, near High Street, an area historically known as Fort Hill, an area where Irish immigrants first settled during the mid-nineteenth century. I walked from there along the waterfront, looking across Boston Harbor to East Boston, where my maternal great grandfather settled his family on Paris Street. One of his daughters, my grandmother, married the son of immigrants from England and Ireland who had also settled in that neighborhood. My father’s family came from Ireland as well, around the same time. From both families came generations of soldiers, laborers, police officers, lawyers, bankers, teachers, nurses, engineers, and so many other professions.
As I walked, I realized and appreciated that each generation of my family is a unique chapter in the immigrant story of the City of Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and of America, and that each member of each generation is a character in that never ending story. And so it is, as it should be, for all immigrant families.
As I walked, I also thought about the Executive Order the President had signed just two days earlier, which banned immigrants from select countries, only because they were from those countries. I thought about how, for those already here, their unique chapters in the immigrant story would be short, and that without their parents, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives and children being allowed to follow, their immigrant story would end.
From the waterfront, I walked through the North End and made my way through Haymarket. As I approached Faneuil Hall, I came to the beginning of the Holocaust Memorial and stopped, as I had done on walks before, and read the inscription on a granite marker. It was written by Stephan B. Ross, Holocaust Survivor, and is dated April 29, 1945, at the Dachau Concentration Camp, a place I had visited 27 years earlier. He wrote, “I was an emaciated fourteen year old boy when an American soldier lifted me into his strong arms. He looked into my tired eyes with compassion, shared his food with me and gave me a small American flag of freedom.”
More than at any other time when reading that inscription, this day it made me pause. I had just looked across to the neighborhoods that so many years ago had welcomed my family. Before me now was the incredible story of an orphaned young boy, survivor of the Holocaust, who was brought to the United States. He went on to live a life of contribution, to write his unique chapter in the immigrant story, and his family theirs, a story too without end.
As I moved on, finishing my walk, I thought of what I had on my schedule for the remainder of the day, and then picked up my son from his practice. Together we drove home, and I showed him a picture of the granite marker, inscribed with the words of Stephan Ross. When I got home, I told my wife I was going into Boston, to Copley Square, to join the protest against President Trump’s Executive Order. She reminded me that I had other things scheduled, as did she, but I explained that I felt I had to go.
As I stood among thousands that afternoon in Boston, I knew why I was there. I was there because I do not want an Executive Order to be the beginning of the end of the great immigrant story. I want America to be as that American soldier was to the fourteen-year-old boy whose words I had read that morning. I want America to lift immigrants into its arms, to look into their eyes with compassion, to share its abundance, and to have its flag be the flag of freedom. That is the immigrant story of Boston, of Massachusetts, and of our America, and I want it to be a story without end.