I'm Not Sure I Have My Forebears' Stories Straight, Either
April 17, 2015

This is today's Hillary scandal:

Hillary Clinton’s statements that all her grandparents immigrated to the U.S. are in conflict with public records, a report says.

According to Buzzfeed, Clinton spoke in Norwalk, Iowa, on Wednesday about her family’s arrival in the country. “All my grandparents, you know, came over here,” she said.

Only her paternal grandfather, Hugh Rodham Sr., immigrated to the United States, according to Buzzfeed. Her paternal grandmother, Hanna Jones Rodham, was born in Pennsylvania, records show.

Clinton’s maternal grandparents, Della Howell and Edwin Howell, were both born in Illinois, according to records.

Clinton gave similar comments in a speech in Louisville, Ky., last April, saying her paternal grandmother “immigrated with her family as a young girl to Scranton and went to work -- very young -- in a silk mill.”

I think I understand this. I'm a dozen years younger than Hillary Clinton, but I'm of similar ancestry -- my grandparents are a mix of immigrants and children of immigrants. My maternal grandfather (who died before I was born) and grandmother were both born in America, the children of immigrants. My father's parents were immigrants -- or so I've been told. I'm not 100% sure I have their story straight. My father died when I was nine. These grandparents moved down to Florida in my childhood, and my mother's relationship with my father's family was never very good, so I lost touch with them. I never discussed this with them, or with any cousins. (I lost touch with them as well.) And my mother, while still sharp in her late eighties, has never been focused on nailing down the specifics.

I'm not sure what Hillary Clinton knew about her maternal grandparents from family lore. Hillary's mother's father died before Hillary was born. Hillary's mother's mother "essentially abandoned" the family when Hillary's mother was young, according to Hillary's memoir Living History. Hillary's mother spent several years of her childhood being raised by her grandparents. It doesn't sound like a cozy extended-family situation in which Little Hillary would say, "Grandma, tell me about the Old Country."

And remember that, in those generations of immigrants and children of immigrants, it was common not to talk about the past. (The story in my wife's family is that her father and his siblings literally didn't know which Mitteleuropean country their immigrant grandfather came from or what his first language was.) So some of us whose ancestors immigrated to America in that era don't necessarily have their stories straight.

I find this in a Mediaite story:

Now, second generation experiences are a fairly legitimate subject to discuss in America, but they’re wildly different from the first generation -- a.k.a. “the immigrant” -- experience.

I don't think that's necessarily true. Culturally, there didn't seem to be much difference between my immigrant paternal grandparents and my non-immigrant grandmother. They all spoke English without an Italian accent, because they'd all been speaking English since childhood (the immigrant grandparents came here when they were young) -- yet they were all children of immigrants, which meant they experienced their parents' sense of being outsiders.

Hillary Clinton has only occasionally talked about her grandparents, and she could have told the stories she's told with accurate information without really losing the point of the anecdotes. Her grandparents grew up as both Americans and outsiders -- that's true for the one born in Wales and for the ones who were born here as children of recent immigrants, just as it's true of my U.S.-born grandparents and the grandparents who came here from Italy as children. So I give her a pass on this.

Steve M. blogs at No More Mr. Nice Blog, where this post first appeared.

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