My grandparents Stanislaw and Ala met and were married in a post-war refugee camp in Germany after serving several years in a Nazi labor camp. Both Polish Catholics, my grandmother Ala was taken from her home by Nazi soldiers when she was just 16 years old, and never to see her family again. She would spend the next 5 years of her life in the Labor Camp. My grandfather, Stanislaw, drove an ambulance for the Polish army and served time in the Labor Camp after being taken captive. My mother Lucina was born shortly after in the refugee camp, and eventually the small family gained sponsorship to come to the United States by boat and settled in the Bay Area.
My grandfather died shortly after my brother and I were born thus leaving us to be raised by my grandmother and mother. They instilled in us at a very young age as part of our "adopted" family heritage that nothing in life is simply given to you. If you want something, you have to work for it. In my grandmother's case, it was just the willingness to survive as she horridly witnessed people around her die. My grandmother was a very proud and independent woman. In the U.S., she taught herself to speak English and drive a car. My mother learned how to speak English in school.
I remember my grandmother telling me the story of the first time she was eligible to vote after becoming a citizen in the United States. I still remember the smile on her face as she shared her story of what she defines as her achievement of the American Dream.
I think of my grandparents and mother often when I do the work that I do at SIREN, and in the immigrant rights space. I am deeply honored and proud to share their story. My brother Joshua and I are living examples of our family's achievement of the American Dream. And it is a privilege to work alongside immigrant families in our Valley to help them achieve that same American Dream.