Immigration, Traditions, and the American Creed
How the American Creed can be explored in the traditions passed down from my immigrant ancestors.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” On the Statue of Liberty, these words inspired many who wished to come to America hoping for a better life, and mostly, a chance at a bright future, as well as the freedom the United States provided. With these words, everyone who was coming into this unknown country were welcomed with prosperity and hope. When my great-grandparents came over from Scotland, Italy, France, and more, they wished to provide a good future for their families. When they immigrated, they brought traditions that are represented in the American Creed- from New Year’s Eve traditions to exploring music. These traditions have not only shaped my life, but the ones after and the ones before. This is the true spirit of the American Creed. No matter who you are or where you come from, you will always find somewhere that offers the freedom and care that America provides, no matter how different everyone is.
When Hugh Ringland came over from Scotland in 1826, all he had was an aunt, a mining degree, and some delayed paperwork. Coming through Canada, he went to Detroit where the rest of his family was waiting. There, he met Isabella Linton, who had come from Scotland in 1921 with her sister and younger brother, Euphamia and Alec. They were married and gave birth to Barbara Ringland, my grandmother, and he got a job at Plymouth Motor Company, Fuller Brushman, and Frigidare. They were both extremely active in the St. Andrew’s Club, a group for Scottish immigrants who were working to let their children have good lives. Joseph Docherty was next, coming over from Scotland in 1921 with little to no life before him. He got a job at Ford Motor Company and used his position to be extremely active in protests to bring labor unions to Ford Motors. In Detroit, he met Elizabeth Queen, who changed her name to Quinn when she came to the United States. As one of thirteen children, she was one of six to make it to the U.S. She got a job on Mackinac Island as a maid, and met Joseph Docherty soon after. In Michigan, they had three children, one of which became my grandfather James Docherty. With these Scottish marriages came a tradition that my family still does today- a very strange New Year’s Eve tradition. Every New Year’s, everyone in my family brings out their banks and wallets and we flip them over. We open all the doors in the house, and “release the evils of last year.” While this tradition might be strange, having something that was passed down from before my family was even in the United States truly exemplifies how I feel about the American Creed. These differences that may separate us can come together to become something everyone can appreciate.
Nowhere is this more evident than my mother’s family. Starting the furthest back in the United States, the Desplaise, or Desplay, family has been in the United States for a very ling time, living in New Orleans. Many of the Desplaise had served in the Confederacy during the Civil War. The family had come from France a while before, and had been living in New Orleans since then. My grand-grandmother, Lousia Desplaise, first set the tradition for music in my family. Everyone on my mother’s side has had some involvement in music, from my grandmother, Dorothy Sue Benvenutti, being music coordinator of Santa Rosa County, my mother, Susan Docherty, being Drum Major of the Gulf Breeze High School band, and me, playing clarinet in the same band. Without these strong influences of my family, I may never had started my journey through the music that has changed my life. On the other side, my great-grandfather, Frank Benvenutti, came from Trieste, Italy. Family lore is that he jumped ship in New Orleans in August 1880, when he was about seventeen. He lived in a boarding house for a while until he applied for citizenship and was granted it on November 3, 1893, when he was twenty-seven, and met my great-grandmother. These different cultures should have clashed, but with the melting pot that America is, it all worked out.
Throughout the course of writing this essay, I learned more about my family than I ever have in my life. I have spent hours on Google searching my ancestor’s names and what they did. From New Year’s to music, I never realized how my family affected my life and the different things my family has brought over throughout their travels. However, these differences are what make the United States unique and beautiful. One of the starkest lines in the American Creed is “…a perfect Union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity…” My ancestors came to the U.S. hoping for these principles. With them, they brought traditions I still carry throughout my life today. If my family had not passed down these traditions, I would not be the person I am today. That is what I believe to be the true American Creed- Learning, laughing and loving the people who came before you, to the people who came here for these principles of freedom, equality, and justice, and celebrating the differences that make us all unique.