Each generation must find its way amidst cultural changes, clashes and conflicts. Carolina and Mauricio had to do this in the new novel, PRAIRIE TRUTH (just released). Reading a good historical novel not only gives the reader momentary escape, but paints a colorful picture and historical perspective that helps to clarify the conflicts of today.
Like the characters in PRAIRIE TRUTH, and like those who actually lived in the San Luis Valley of New Mexico / Colorado in the 1800s, I can look back at generations of my own family tree and find abundant examples of people fleeing persecution, oppression, and hardship to seek an identity, a living, and fulfillment.
My husband’s Danish forebears immigrated to America when Germany took over the southern section of Denmark on which their farm was located, and attempted to conscript their sons into the German army.
My Scots-Irish ancestors had earlier found their way to America amidst turmoils, persecutions, and deprivations in their part of the British Isles.
My great-grandparents found their way to a homestead in Eastern Colorado to seek new opportunities.
Members of my mother’s birth family found their way to the agricultural fields of California to escape the poverty of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression era in Oklahoma and southeast Colorado.
Another great-great grandmother, who is said to have been a Cherokee Indian escaped from the Trail of Tears, hid at the back of a tobacco farmer’s fields in Indiana and raised his illegitimate child. That child, who grew to be my great-grandfather, took the farmer’s name, avoided school, farmed steadily, and carved out a quiet life raising a family and serving the Lord, keeping silent about his parentage.
Fact can be stranger than fiction, and that makes fiction like PRAIRIE TRUTH believable. In this historical novel, a young woman born on the Colorado prairie to a white settler’s daughter and a Cheyenne Indian, never fully accepted by either culture, leaves home and rides her horse toward the mountains and high valleys southwest of Denver. There she learns the language and customs, and blends in, at least for a time. There she make friends, proves her abilities to contribute to the good of a community, and falls in love.
She finds out that her new community itself—the San Luis Valley of Colorado in 1888—is racially and culturally and religiously mixed also. Wars have been fought and won or lost. Borders of nations and states have been re-drawn. They must adjust to new language, new laws, and prejudices. But also, new opportunities present themselves.
The sufferings, traumas, and separations of the past were as real as those of today. The challenges of the present may feel insurmountable at times. But learning how resiliency, integrity, and community have carved paths of hope in times past, gives us courage to face into our problems today with renewed faith and hope for a better future.
We are a nation of immigrants and descendants of immigrants.
Today, on the 4th of July, the passionate words of the poem below express the heart of a woman who grew up on a “far-flung” island of Scotland and immigrated to America as an adult, with her husband and young family. Author and poet, Alice Scott-Ferguson, writes:
“In a land of deep class divides, my parents were not from the nobility, elite or formally educated. They were people of the land and sea in the farthest reaches of the United Kingdom, the Shetland Islands, where the sun never sets in summer and the aurora borealis dances in the long, dark winter skies.”*
Many of my ancestors also came from Scotland (and Ireland)—but way back during Colonial times of the 1600s. They crossed the Atlantic to the New World for economic opportunity (survival?) and for religious and personal liberty. They settled in and around Virginia and Kentucky, and each generation moved steadily across the expanding frontier, seeking new beginnings and opportunities, until they reached the Pacific Ocean. And now some of us have moved back toward the east. My ancestors include farmers, preachers, teachers, homesteaders, soldiers, and transient laborers. Many generations of blood, sweat, and tears have soaked into this land from shore to shore.
We are America. “This Land is My Land …” we have sung with gusto. Does our subjectivity make it hard—even impossible—for us to take an objective look at our country, our land, our nation? Have we become full of “hubris,” as Alice has penned (below)?
I think the voices of immigrants, who continue to choose to come to “America the Beautiful” to seek life and opportunity and freedom, are voices we need to hear and heed, if we want to “trade our hubris for humility,” as Alice Scott-Ferguson expresses in this poem:
America the Beautiful*
Pilgrim from a more restricted place to America, the parent of my progression land of my adoption.
Country of limitless opportunity for me and my progeny, ever grateful sometimes sad land divided in agony in greed in need of a re-birth of soul into a vibrant whole not of uniformity but of unity in our differences in our sameness with the world though still we hold that glorious space of being a framework of freedom.
Wide and wonderful land open your arms of welcome let us love one another let us not fear one another let us harness the love and discover fire again.
Let us trade our hubris for humility, thee and me.
~Alice Scott Ferguson
*(excerpted from Alice’s forthcoming book of poetry, Pausing in the Passing Places.)