Friday, July 4, 2014

I Am An American

I am the daughter of

The Isle of Jersey
was home
to my first American ancestors.

In 1676,
 a young man,
Philippe Gavit, (also spelled Gavet, Gavett, Gavitt, and Gavvitte)
 a Frenchman,
 left that island in the English Channel off the French coast of Normandy,
and headed for America.

He stepped ashore in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Soon, he married and established the beginning of what would become my American family.

I am the daughter of early American entrepreneurs and land owners.

Philippe Gavit's granddaughter,
Prudence Gavit (Gavet)
William French,
a Protestant Scot-Irish from Londonderry, Ireland, in 1738/9
at Westerly, Washington County Rhode Island.

Their son, William French, Jr., my father's namesake,
 fought in the Revolutionary War.

A great grandfather on my maternal side fought in the Civil War.

My father and all of my uncles served proudly during World War II.
French Family sons and daughters during World War II
Father, of Sally French Wessely, William French, is on far right.

I lost a first cousin, Steven Reichert in Viet Nam.
French Family Cousins
Steven Reichert, killed in Viet Nam at age 19, is third from top left.
Sally French Wessely is second from left.

Steven Reichert
First Cousin of Sally French Wessely
Name on
Traveling Viet Nam Memorial Wall

I am the daughter of Americans who went to war for this country.

My grandfather when asked what nationality we were always said,
"We are damn Yankee rebels."

I am the daughter of Welsh coal miners.
From the green hills of Wales they came to the dry hills of Colorado
  to work in the mines.

I am the daughter of coal miners,
union members.

I am the daughter of proud Democrats who always voted the Democratic ticket.

I am the daughter of Scotch Presbyterians.

I am the daughter of those who worked for the WPA.

I am a daughter of those who came west to breathe the high mountain air because
 had made life in the humid east unbearable.

I am the daughter of storytellers.

I am the daughter of those who searched for gold in the west.

I am the daughter of
shop keepers,
a telegrapher sending and receiving messages across the wires,

I am the proud granddaughter of a homesteader.
My grandmother, as a single woman, established
and lived in a homestead on her own.
It is my great sadness that I never knew this woman.
My mother as a child with her parents
Albert and Lulu Townsley.
Lulu homestead by herself prior to her marriage

I am the daughter of strong Christian believers,
and renegades who never believed.

I am proud of my heritage.
I believe in extending the American dream to others.

I am a teacher of immigrant children.
Their stories could break a teacher's heart.
They left family, culture, language, and friends,
sometimes unwillingly,
to have an opportunity for a better life.

These children have taught me more about the American dream
than I ever learned in any class in American history I ever took.

I married a man whose parents were refugees from Nazi Germany.
James (Jim) Wessely
with his parents
Kurt and Emmy Wessely
I am grateful this country provides a place of refuge to those escaping
The Holocaust,
and the horrors of war.

I am grateful this country remains the land of opportunity for many.
I am also aware of how much poverty and inequality we have in our own country.

I am well aware of the need for immigration reform.
Few things anger me more than calling a person "illegal."
People are NOT illegal.
Some are in the country without documentation.

This problem of immigration is a complex, generational problem.
I know many families who might not have had documentation to be in the United States.
I know this because students have trusted me enough to tell me this.
As a teacher, it is my legal responsibility to provide an equal educational opportunity to every student
K -12 regardless of immigrations status.
(Plyler vs. Doe 1982)

I am an American teacher who worked with marginalized populations.
I am proud to have worked with this strong,
group of students and their parents.

I am an American.
May I never forget my roots in this democracy.

Sometimes, I see us fighting over the use of words in our Pledge of Allegiance and it breaks my heart.
We have our freedoms,
thankfully we have,
and I support,
our freedoms,
but at times it seems that we are forgetting that we are to be indivisible.
It seems our  First Amendment Rights
are used in ways that appear to shout that we no longer believe in
liberty and justice for all.

We live in troubled times,
but I,
an American,
 continue to believe in the dream my ancestors,
those damn Yankee rebels,
fought to establish.

There are fifteen lines in that famous poem, The New Colossus, written by Emma Lazarus
that became associated with the Statue of Liberty.

I am an American.

I am pondering every line of that poem written about the "Mother of Exiles."

I hope you will do the same on this Independence Day.

Read more about the poem and its author here:  How a Sonnet Made a Statue the "Mother of Exiles."


  1. I'm watching the evening news as I read blogs and the protesters of immigration are turning ugly. I hope Obama moves decisively to address the immigration concerns. The system as it exists now isn't working. I, too, am grateful to the country that opened its arms to me and my family when I was a small child. My children are first generation Americans.

  2. Such precious pictures, Sally, and wonderful history about your family.
    I love the way you express that even though our country has times of trouble it is a wonderful place to live.

  3. I agree with everything you said here so eloquently, Sally. I was born in a different time than the troubled one in which we live today. Let's hope that we can find a peaceful path through the thickets. Love from me to you and yours. :-)

  4. Nicely said. I tutor a lot of ESL students, and also feel it is my responsibility to help them out as best I can without regard to nationality, legal status, or anything else. I don't ask; they don't tell; and honestly, the issue doesn't even come up -- it's beside the point. That being said, there's got to be a limit to the number of immigrants the U.S. can handle (don't ask me how many; I don't know) and so we should try to handle the situation as fairly and equitably as possible. But that doesn't seem to be happening now.

  5. Like Djan, I totally agree with you. My family came early to this land also but we were still immigrants since we are not American Indian. That is the strength of our country. I hope we don't forget it.

  6. Beautifully expressed, Sally. I learned some new things about you today. that's a good thing.

  7. Your post is enthralling, inspiring, revealing of the inconsistencies of wielding First Amendment rights as a sword to divide. You have issued a poignant call for less "us versus them" and more acceptance of a broader, stronger, indivisible "us."

    Thanks for creating and sharing.

  8. This post was Awesome!!! Thank you for writing it this way. Your history is inspiring.

  9. Beautifully written, Sally! And very thought-provoking. Immigration certainly has become a controversial topic these days, but we must remember that, unless we have Native American heritage, our ancestors were all immigrants at one time.

  10. An amazing description of all the generations that made you you. That we all have a similar story call forth tolerance and a welcoming spirit.

  11. What a beautiful post. I enjoyed looking at all the pictures of your family. You also wrote eloquently about your roots. I came to the USA as a legal French immigrant, now naturalized, and was lucky that hardly any French people immigrate here so I obtained my green card within 3 months in Paris! But I understand how hard it must be to wish to come here and not be allowed to. Hopefully something will be done, but I am not too hopeful that it will be quick.

  12. how fun to have so much information on your family. My husband's ancestors were from Wales...

  13. Those old photos tug at my heart, Sally - you're fortunate to have them. I've also taught English to people from other countries. I've found them to be hard-working, dedicated students who want to better themselves and provide for their families. Our country needs to address immigration issues instead of passing the buck to the next set of politicians. PS The wild Lupine grow profusely in both the forest and in my yard and the deer don't seem to bother them. I also sow seed of hybrid Lupine in my front yard and they are just ready to bloom - hope I get some red ones which I sowed last fall.

  14. Beautifully written, Sally. Thank you

  15. This is incredibly moving.

    I am not an American and often feel that America gets much wrong today but your words go straight from your heart to mine and if that is how Americans feel and think, then I salute you.

  16. Oh, I loved this, Sally, and feel just as Friko has said. I don't share your heritage, but have my own, but I salute yours and all that it stands for. A wonderful post.

  17. Oh, I loved this, Sally, and feel just as Friko has said. I don't share your heritage, but have my own, but I salute yours and all that it stands for. A wonderful post.

  18. We all have a heritage. We're glad that your ancestors helped us to win the war.
    Maybe none of us would have survived if it had turned out differently.
    Freedom earned and gained!
    Maggie x

    Nuts in May

  19. Sally, your words touched my heart and beliefs so deeply....on the level of family (your heritage so beautifully illustrated here), your ethics and you wonderful way way with words brought this subject in to the open where it should stay and remind everyone of how are country began and the foundation of our government. Things have gone so horribly astray and you bring order in to what should be.
    THANK YOU.....

  20. What important observations you have made, based on your origins and your experiences. I agreed already with your sentiment, but, living in Texas, I hear such ugly things from people who hold opposite sentiments. It's so good to hear that there are humane people in the world who recognize that these women and children . . . and even men . . . flooding our borders are refugees.

  21. Hi There, Just me stopping by to say HI. It's been so busy this summer and I didn't want to miss any of your posts... Somehow I missed this one. Don't know how--but it is fabulous. Love your family story when it comes to being a proud American and loving our wonderful country. God Bless all of those who did what they needed to do in order to keep us safe and FREE.

    We have had a milder than normal July which I love --but who knows what August will bring us... ha

    Have a great summer..

  22. Sally well said. I'm not American but Canadian. But I get what you are proud of and what you are stating.
    Like your hubby's family my parent fled from Germany where my Dad was a displaced person, refugee from the Czech republic. His family spent months in refugee camp before getting permission to have a place in British occupied Germany. My early years was spent playing in the ruins of an ugly war.
    Watching the scene in Netherlands today suggests we still seem to not have learned that having war weapons is not a solution. Diplomacy is such a tough thing to implement because humans are stubborn.
    Immigrants often come to other countries to seek a peaceful life. They usually come prepared to work hard. And your family has demonstrated that.
    I am hoping that the future will be once again positive for all.

  23. A remarkable post, Sally. How could your words not touch our hearts. Indeed, we all have our stories but I'm not sure anyone could tell theirs as eloquently as you shared yours.


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