Stories of family history and the American experience filled the Waquoit Congregational Church Parish Hall on Wednesday night at an event hosted by US Representative William Keating (D-Massachusetts).
Immigrants, the sons and daughters of immigrants, and the descendants of slaves were among the 20 people who told of their own or their family’s journey to America at an event that sought to push back against the rhetoric of President Donald J. Trump.
“America is the only country that was founded on an idea,” said Mr. Keating, who lives in Bourne. “The idea is our foundation but the individuals, that’s the knitting that brings it all together, and each one of those strains is a story, it’s a personal story, it’s a family story, it’s the fabric that brings us together.”
The congressman stated that the idea for the event occurred to him the morning after he watched Trump supporters chant “send her back” at a Trump rally in reference to Ilhan Omar, a congresswoman from Minnesota and immigrant from Somalia.
“I sat there and said how could this be happening in America,” he said. “The truth is we’ve had a very mixed and tragic history that goes back to our own founding, but I thought we had come further than that.”
Rep. Keating told of his Irish immigrant grandmother who came to the United States by herself with only a single trunk of belongings.
She eventually bought a house despite a woman who called an emergency community meeting to impede her “because someone of a different faith, coming from a different country, was going to purchase a house in their neighborhood,” he said, noting that the chant at Trump’s rally reminded him of that story.
After sharing his family’s story, Mr. Keating joined the audience to listen as others shared their stories.
“I came from India, but I am an American,” said Olivia White, a resident of Falmouth who came to America in 1962 to attend college.
Ms. White recalled that when she first came to America in the 1960s, some restaurants would not serve people of color.
“I became a US citizen in the early ‘70s and have been very involved in the politics ever since,” she said.
Jarita Davis, a resident of Falmouth, said, “I have descended from many different immigrant communities, the Dutch West Indies, even Scotland, and the Cape Verde Islands.”
Her grandfather came to the United States in 1912, she said, and her parents faced housing discrimination in the 1970s when they looked to buy a home in Connecticut.
“When we moved into this little cul de sac in suburban Connecticut at least half of the people sold their house and told the other half that they better do the same thing because the property values are going to drop,” she said.
Carmina Mock DeLuna, also a Falmouth resident, said she was born in Spain but fled from the Francoist dictatorship at age 25, losing her two first-born children in the process, and becoming a political refugee in the Netherlands.
She moved to the United States in 1992 to join her husband, she said.
“It has been a love at first, since I put my feet in this country,” Ms. DeLuna said, “I really love America, I want to spend the rest of my life until I do my last breath.”
A resident of East Falmouth, Lynne Rhodes, said, “People here have shared here where they are from, I can’t really say where I am from. My maternal great-grandfather was born a slave.”
“I don’t don’t know my paternal great-grandfather, he was lynched for the privilege of having married a black woman, being a white man,” she said.
“My grandfather was raised in an orphanage because his mother had to save his and his sister’s life because the Klan was looking for a single black woman with two children,” she said.
Mashpee resident Marie Stevenson, said, “A lot of people are surprised when I say I am an immigrant, I wonder why? Nobody says to me, ‘Oh go back where you came from,’ I wonder why?”
Ms. Stevenson, who was born in England and came to the United States at the age of 10, described herself as “a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant person.”
“One other thing I wanted to tell you about white privilege,” Ms. Stevenson said, “I don’t like it when people say ‘Yes, but your mother followed the procedure and that’s how you got into this country.”
“Don’t fool yourself. From 1930 to 1960 the immigration laws were set up so that Northern Europeans like me could get here easily,” she said.
Lucia Pereira, a resident of Hyannis, said she is an immigrant from Brazil who came to the United States with her daughter after her husband moved to the United States in 1999.
“We came here to get some opportunity,” Ms. Pereira said.