Thursday, November 02, 2006

What's Really at Stake

I've written before of my great-grandmother. Edla Wilhelmiina Laaksonen came to this country from Finland. In fact, she came twice—first when she was 15, then again when she was 25. She never again returned to her little village in the county of Turku ja Pori, and never stopped missing her home country.

As for her adopted country, she loved it more than anyone I've ever known. She had grown up in a land ruled by the Russian Czar, so she knew the worth of freedom. Her parents were tenant farmers, but seventeen years after arriving in America for the second time she and her immigrant husband Toivo purchased their own home, where she would live for forty years. Edla knew she was living the American dream, and pressed into our minds how lucky she was—how lucky we were—as she pressed into our palms quarters for ice cream.

Shortly before Edla's death in 1991, my great-aunt spoke of the patriotism of her parents:

He read a lot and he drummed the contents of Capitals of the United States in my head. It was important to him, because to be in this country was the greatest gift to them, and they were so patriotic—they were not naturalized citizens, but they were more patriotic than a lot of people. To them being in this country was such a privilege and to us—they wanted us to appreciate that we were in this country.
Having lived under Russian rule until the October Revolution of 1917, many of the Finns who emigrated early in the 20th century were "radicals." Toivo and Edla were undoubtedly acquainted with leftists in their tight-knit Finnish community, and may even have contributed to a charitable cause or subscribed to a Finnish-language newspaper with a socialist agenda. Stretch the definition wide enough and they might have been branded "Communist sympathizers," or even "collaborators."

My government a few weeks ago denied the right of habeas corpus to any permanent resident alien of the United States whom the President chooses to designate an "unlawful enemy combatant." Those who believe that this doesn't apply to "us" should consider this: My great-grandmother was a permanent resident alien of the United States. She lived to the age of 96, but never became a citizen of the United States. She never had the chance to vote as an American, but next Tuesday I think I'm going to vote on her behalf.

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