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Poems about Our Ancestors

In my hunt to completely decimate my poetry collection and turn it into a chapbook, I've been exploring maternal connections and where my family comes from. It's a pretty short list of relatives and places considering, so I turned my attention to looking at poems about ancestors. Which quickly led to me reading poem after poem about immigrants. Reading about the lives people were searching for when they left their home countries, and the affects that such a decision had on later generations in their family was a thought provoking experience. With immigration still playing a major role in political discussions around the world, I believe it's worth it for everyone to read more about what people are aiming for when they make such a decision and how it affects families decades later. Do the hopes and dreams of these people come to fruition? In China I used to hear (pre-COVID) that America is where people have to go for their dreams to come true. War pushes people into nearby countries worldwide. Everyone is clawing their way towards what they hope is something 'better.' I regret now not having the foresight to ask my grandfather about his family or my great-grandmother about her past and why their family members from Canada, France, and Scotland to become Americans.

There are two poems in particular I want us to look at today: Lenelle Moïse's 'the children of immigrants' and Louise Glück's 'Legend.'

These two poems encapsulate reality, I think. We have the daughter in 'the children of immigrants' explaining why she had to grow up so much faster than her peers. A stanza from her poem about her parents is particularly gut-wrenching: "In Haiti, they were middle class. Hopeful teachers. Home owners. They were black like their live-in servants. They donated clothes to the poor. They gave up everything they knew to inherit American dreams. And here, they join factory lines, wipe shit from mean old white men's behinds, scrub five-star hotel toilets for dimes above minimum wage. Here, they shuck and jive and step and fetch and play chauffeur to people who aren't as smart as they are, people who do not speak as many languages as they do. In the 1980s, they are barred from giving blood because newscasters and politicians say that AIDS comes from where they come from: Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, a black magic island that spawns boat people and chaos, a place of illiterate zombies, orphan beggars and brazen political corruption."

They left middle class Haiti to be treated less than in America. We see a similar stanza in Louise Glück's 'Legend: "My father’s father came

to New York from Dhlua:

one misfortune followed another.

In Hungary, a scholar, a man of property.

Then failure: an immigrant

rolling cigars in a cold basement."

We have two immigrant stories, both with dreams that seems to fall short. Are these poems then warnings? Or was something achieved? Did the daughter receive a better education in Moïse's work? Did Glück's speaker benefit from the sacrifices of their grandfather? Were the indignities thrust upon their family members worth it in the end?

What happens when we look at the history of our own families? What did they break their bones on to accomplish for the people important to them? How can these tales be weaved into something that attempts to make people more empathetic to the plights of others? Or, perhaps there's an experience of someone not trusting someone different from themselves that can suggest how we need/can do better?

My plan for this topic is to write plainly about a person and an action they took to presumably better their lives or the lives that were to come after them. Was the result positive? If so how? If it was negative how did the person feel about it? Did they regret their choice? Was there a sense of melancholy? Was it worth it from the eyes of those closest to them?

Asking questions always helps me with the writing process, so hopefully it'll help you too!

Let me know how it goes!

See ya~

Mea Andrews

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