#MyImmigrantHistory Stories

“It was an important exercise for me to reflect on my own family’s history and compare our history with today’s reality. I am no better than the asylum seeker at the border in San Ysidro, or the undocumented farmworker living with 12 other people in a camper by the fields where they work. I was glad to see that my own family at least remembers where we came from and that the myth that somehow we ‘did it the right way’ hasn’t taken root. My mom’s family is pretty special. I hold them in a special reverence for their grit, sacrifice, and compassion. My generation may never be able to match what they were able to do with such limited material opportunities, but with such vision and sense of purpose. The work of immigration advocates has been tough over the past few years, but I think we keep going because we know that this is the right thing to do, this is the hill worth fighting on, and these are the people worth defending.”

—AILA Member Tino Gallegos

“My great-grandfather brought his wife and three children and their ‘immigrant trunk’ across the Atlantic from what was then Bohemia. He was a butcher by trade. My grandfather, born here, was a carpenter. My mother earned a degree in journalism and worked as a reporter. One of her brothers became a college president after serving in the military. My daughters are both college graduates, gainfully employed.

I tell this story not because it is remarkable, but because it is not. America has prospered on the principle that giving people opportunity will result in success.”

—AILA Member Lori Chesser

Read Lori Chesser’s entire USA Today op-ed here.


"My family came to the United States around the turn of the 20th century, fleeing violence against Jews in Eastern Europe. I have these pictures of my grandfather's relatives back in Russia, poor but proud. His parents came to the United States with little, and over time built the skills and wealth they needed to help each generation improve their fortunes. My great grandfather went into construction and helped to physically build the North Minneapolis community of Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Europe. He and my great grandmother were able to create a stable life in Minneapolis for their three children. Two generations later, my mother and aunt both have master's degrees, my sister and I both have advanced degrees, and my brother is a business owner.

My great grandparents loved their family and did the best they could, coming to a new country, learning a new language and raising a family in a world so different from what they had previously known. With no money or English language skills, living in a segregated community of Jewish refugees, they still managed to contribute to America through their hard work and belief in the potential of their children, and their children's children to achieve 'the American Dream.' I know they would be proud and amazed to see the successes of their family tree, three generations after seeking refuge in America."

—AILA Member Sandra Feist

"My family proves this rule wrong. One grandpa swept up at a barber shop; the other pushed carts in the garment district. One became a factory machinist; the other a hairdresser owning his own shop. It wasn't just men, though, as hard work was the byword for both genders. Grandma Elaine was a nurse; Grandma Antoinette became a bookkeeper working for the church into her 80s. They were good for the economy eventually, but they were poor to start out. They used public benefits to survive."

—AILA Member Tala Hartsough

Read Tala's entire letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle on the proposed public charge rule here.


"At the age of 17, my mother was recruited to train as a nurse in England. She eventually immigrated to the United States in the late 1960's and brought my grandmother, two aunts and two uncles to the U.S. My mother's family was small. They only had each other. If my mother tried to bring over her family in the present day, it would most likely only be my grandmother that would be allowed to immigrate. The decades long wait times for brothers and sisters would eliminate any possibility of a timely reunification. What would be lost would be an entire generation of people. Every child from my mother and her siblings (we were all born in the U.S.) went on to graduate from colleges such as Notre Dame, University of Chicago, Vanderbilt, University of Southern California and University of Texas."

—AILA Member Tammy Lin

Read Tammy's entire #MyImmigrantHistory story here.