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Woodworking: Immigration pundits: Learn from Grandma Elsie Moren

Serendipity -- The making of pleasant discoveries by accident.

--Oxford Dictionary

I ran into serendipity the other morning after listening on TV to politicians and media pundits shouting and screaming and arguing about immigration policy. Should we build a wall?

Shouldn't we?

Should we grant citizenship?

Shouldn't we.

So I turned to the Pioneer Press for sustenance, usually not a great idea, but found it, in of all places, a columnist.

I find very little sustenance from columnists like Joe Soucheray.

As for Mike Nichols, better off to not even mention him.

No, the columnist I found was Ruben Rosario, who often amazes in this era of take-no-prisoners punditry.

Not long ago, Rosario wrote a startling column that grabbed me and shook me about how his older cousin had sexually abused him when he was a kid.

A lot of so-called "manly men" wouldn't have had the guts to do it.

On the Sunday earlier mentioned, I turned to the inside and there I saw a somewhat familiar picture.

"Geeze, that looks like my old student, Dan Swalm," thought I.

I glanced at the caption and sure enough, it was Dan Swalm, whom I had shepherded through English classes at Augsburg College 40 years ago.

What was he doing posing with a photo of his grandmother?

In the accompanying text, Rosario told Dan's story and the story of his Grandma Elsie Moren, a northern Minnesotan of Swedish descent, who lost her U.S. citizenship in 1918

What had Elsie done?

Blown up Fort Knox?

Worked as a messenger for Franz von Papen?

Swalm explained to Rosario that he was digging around to reconstruct a family tree, he found that grandma had married an unnaturalized Swedish carpenter who worked in the rail yards of Duluth, Minn.

Back in 1907 in its wisdom, the U.S. Senate had written an immigration law that said American citizens who marry men who aren't U.S. citizens would lose theirs, too, and also lose the right to vote, etc.

"Grandma Elsie long ago went up to heaven and is playing the golden harp, so people might wonder why should I care," said Swalm who works as executive director of St. Paul-based Career Solutions, a nonprofit that provides poor and low-income women with job and career guidance.

"But when we uncover an injustice like this we have an obligation to those people...and seek justice in their memory."

So the more Dan dug, "the madder I got."

So he contacted U.S. Sen. Al Franken's Minnesota office and explained the situation, which replied that "Senator Franken intends to introduce a resolution in the Senate expressing the sense of the Senate that what happened to your grandmother and numerous other women was wrong and should not happen again. It will also emphasize the contributions that immigrants like your grandfather have made to our society. It will use your grandparents as an example but speak to the experiences of everyone who was in that position."

Why in the world would the U.S. Senate deny citizenship to a woman who married a Swedish carpenter?

I would imagine that the U.S. back then needed all the Swedish carpenters they could get. Our old house in Minneapolis had beautiful oak floors laid in by Swedish carpenters.

That reminded me of the River Falls hailstorm that decimated our town 11 years ago.

Without those Mexican kids no more than 16-years old who re-shingled and re-sided half the town, this community would be the less for it.

Unfortunately I remember that contractors didn't provide Porta-Potties for those kids and one householder reported a kid for relieving himself in her lilac bushes, followed by an arrest.

And contractors put sheaves of roofing up with cranes for the local kids who were also roofing, but let the Mexican kids carry those big bundles up the ladders, singing as they went.

So when the politicians convene to decide the fate of our new immigrants, I hope they'll remember Grandma Elsie Moren, who's probably up there playing her golden harp and looking down, swelled with pride, on her grandson who is helping young women who are now in the same shoes that she was back in the olden days.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.