Opinion » Note

A Nation of Refugees


I've written before in this space about my German ancestors, who fled the Rhineland in 1709 after years of war and famine, and how they traveled to England following promises of resettlement in places less beggared by conflict.

In that previous column, I recounted how the Hagedorns, as the surname was spelled then, were among the Palatinate Germans who settled in upstate New York, where they stripped pitch from the pine forests to render tar for the British Navy. I wrote that they spoke German at home and kept to themselves—including when it came time for fighting in the American Revolution.

The last time I had occasion to bore readers with my family history, we were publishing a longform piece about immigration, and how migrants to the United States—and Idaho, in particular—help fuel the economy. In the two years since then, migrants and refugees have been evermore in the news and their presence has become increasingly divisive.

At this point I should put a finer point on my own ancestral remembrances—mine were not the kind of refugees that some would necessarily welcome today. They did not want to speak English. They didn't want to get involved in the Revolution. What's more, according to some unverified sources, one of my direct antecedants was apparently penalized by the newly installed United States government for housing a group of English-paid German mercenaries in his barn. Accounts from the German communities in upstate New York mention resistance to taxation by American authorities, with some stories even suggesting taxmen were tarred and feathered and thrown from bridges.

As I wrote in 2013, my ancestors are lucky enough to be included in the narrative of America's glorious founding—their reluctance to be a part of it glossed over by three centuries of convenient forgetfulness.

The point of all this geneology is to remember that ours is a nation of refugees, and all are part of the collective story. In this edition of Boise Weekly, we feature a handful of stunning photographs that reveal the humanity of our newest neighbors. Find our photo essay online.