Earlier this year, I was invited to a Faces of Worthington gathering at a rural Rushmore home. A bit nervous about the event, I wasn’t sure who would be there or what it was all about.
I was quickly put at ease by the host, a few familiar faces and an immigrant guest invited to tell her story — her journey to America.
The evening began with introductions around the table — not the kind where you state your name and what you do, but rather a request for each of us to share where our ancestors came from and how they got here.
The first part of that question for me was easy. My family tree has its roots in northern Germany, and my ancestors branched out to America in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Their journey here wasn’t easy. Each of them left their homeland, their friends and, for some, the rest of their family behind.
Imagine giving up everything that is familiar to walk into the unknown.
Yet they did it. They journeyed to the land of opportunity where they could buy a piece of prairie land, break the sod, plant the seeds and pray for a crop to sell.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” The Statue of Liberty poem, “The New Colossus,” by Emma Lazarus.
They spoke in native tongue. In fact, my Grandma Elizabeth started the first grade speaking only the German language. Back then, in that one-room schoolhouse, there were no special classes for English-language learners.
I wonder if she was teased and taunted for not knowing English. Was our America a better place back then — a more welcoming and understanding place?
I can be thankful that in the early 1920’s, Grandma didn’t have a school bus driver to ignore her based on the language she spoke. Could you imagine the racism, bigotry or better-than-thou attitude she might have faced if she’d had a different skin tone?
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Martin Luther King Jr.
MLK delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963.
What has changed in America in the last 56 years? Have we not learned to accept, even celebrate, our differences?
And, who is to judge the content of our character? We do not choose to be born to white parents, Hispanic parents, African parents, parents of privilege or parents in poverty. Isn’t our character determined by how we respond to the situations we are born into?
Is an undocumented person a bad person, or a person fleeing a bad situation? Can you tell me who is undocumented in this community by looking at them?
Skin tone does not give them away, let me assure you.
Earlier this week, The Washington Post published a story about Worthington that put our small community of nearly 13,000 in the national spotlight.
Like many, I was angered by the hatred and racism that spilled from between the lines. That someone would spit in the face and boo a Catholic priest during a Sunday morning sermon? That can’t be my Worthington.
What have we become?
Are we truly as the WAPO reporter sees us — a community filled with hate, divided by racism and a school bond referendum?
It appears we are, but that’s not all we are. That’s not all we will ever be.
So, where do we go from here?
What will you do to change?