There’s a lot of discussion these days about immigration, and immigrants, and the specter of being considered a “public charge.” It’s been a little difficult for me to engage in this discourse, and for the most part, I haven’t. Each time another article or news clip or tweet comes to my attention, I think back to one of my grandmother’s most poignant stories, about her post-World War II efforts—as a recent immigrant and newly-naturalized American citizen herself—to bring her parents from Rio de Janeiro, where they had found refuge from their native Germany in 1940, to join her and her new husband and baby (my father) in New York. Her story is the “real-life” source for this short piece of fiction, which was published a number of years ago by The Pedestal Magazine.
This piece was first written as a writing exercise in a week-long fiction workshop (taught by the incomparable Sands Hall at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival). It became a scene in the (unpublished) novel that I spent a number of years writing. Finally, it was published as this bit of flash fiction.
But each time I read it—as the news has prompted me to do again this week—I can still see and hear my grandmother, telling us how her beloved father had sought to assure the American consular official he met in Rio that he would never be a burden on this country. I recall my (generally stoic) grandmother tearing up while recounting, again, the official’s response: Your daughter’s letter is enough for me.
I tear up, too. Because of my grandmother, and because I know the bittersweet way that the real-life story ended.
And because I am reminded, again, how much words matter. They don’t need to appear on a bestsellers list. They don’t need to go viral. They don’t even need to be published.
Sometimes, they just need to be written—and to reach a single reader.