A Copper Miner’s Great Granddaughter Reflects

By Margie Perscheid

On the radio recently my morning commute offered up coverage of the horror of the Upper Big Branch mine tragedy and the woeful state of mine safety in the U.S. As I listened my thoughts quickly turned to something far more personal— my family which first came to America in 1898, were copper miners in Upper Michigan. My great-grandfather took a detour to Arizona to work in the copper mines there, and was killed in a mining accident.

My family never knew the whole story, but was only told he had been electrocuted by a piece of equipment and buried near Bisbee. His wife had stayed behind in Michigan, and all she could do was gather up the kids, my mother’s father and his brother, and go back to the old country. My grandfather, however, had been born in Michigan and therefore had U.S. citizenship. He came back to work the Michigan mines, and soon brought his wife and two children, my uncle and mother, to join him.

This story didn’t open up to me in bits and pieces, but rather as a whole, a kind of shared experience-recollection of and by the people who lived it, passed it on, and took it in. It seemed to spring up from some unconscious place where it had been resting, implanted by countless retellings stretching back to my childhood. I was a little surprised at how deeply connected I felt to this miner identity, since my life has been so different from those of my grandparents and great-grandparents. But there it was, just like the connection I felt to the thousands of others whose family stories look much like mine. Shared history makes us community. It meant nothing to me when I was a kid. My Balkan family and their stories embarrassed me; I yearned for lighter skin and hair and eyes, and a name like Miller or Moore. I wanted to be something other than I was, until I left and made my home in a place where the divisions of my childhood had no meaning.

As I grew up and moved away from home, I began to see the world through a different lens, and learned to appreciate the treasure of my family’s story. Years later, becoming a parent through adoption taught me the impact of its loss. The more I appreciate my family story, the sadder and angrier I become that my children have been denied theirs. With age I have also come to understand that family histories change with the passing of time. As memories dim and new experiences eclipse the old, future generations will learn a different story from the one I know. The important thing is that the history and the story are theirs to claim, just as the story I hold dear is mine. Whatever goes forward belongs to each of us in the same way our bodies do, and deserves the same respect.

Copyright © 2010 Margie Perscheid. All rights reserved.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Margie Perscheid has been active in the Korean adoption community in Washington, DC since 1989. She is the co-founder of Korean Focus, an organization for adoptive families with Korean children offering educational and cultural programs and services to families in the DC area. Margie has been a member of the Advisory Board of KAAN and was co-coordinator of the 2003 KAAN Conference in Arlington, Virginia. She was a member of the Board of the Korean Branch of the Washington Metro YMCA (now the Chung Choon Young Foundation); and is currently on the Board of Directors of the Washington DC Chapter of Korean American Coalition. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia with her husband, son, and daughter. Visit her on the web at http://margieperscheid.blogspot.com
"We have stories / as old as the great seas / breaking through the chest / flying out the mouth, / noisy tongues that once were silenced, /all the oceans we contain / coming to light."
—Linda Hogan