By Abby Stryker

Photo by Annie Albin

My ancestors have been immigrating to the United States since the early 1770s.

One of the first, Johannas Holderbaum, who grew up in Holland, came to America as a young man and took up arms to defend the fledgling country’s sovereignty in the Revolutionary War.

Johannas Holderbaum was the first of many in my family to fight for this country, a tradition that my grandfather, uncles and brother have carried on.

In times of peace, my ancestors did their part to bolster the U.S. economy. My maternal ancestors were blacksmiths turned engineers and worked in the auto industry. My paternal ancestors were farmers.

A group photo of the engineers at Studebaker in the 1930s. Mr. Studebaker is front center, wearing a vest, jacket and glasses. To the right is my great-gandfather Gus Rienks in the white shirt and black vest.

Gustaff Adolf Rienks, my maternal great-grandfather, immigrated to the United States at the age of 16 from Holland. He arrived not knowing much of the language of his adopted country, but learned quickly and used his skills to find a job at Studebaker in his adopted hometown of South Bend, Indiana.

My grandma remembers playing with the Studebaker children, who had a similar ancestry.

My maternal grandfather, Carl Bralick, grew up in South Bend hearing Croatian and Magyar alongside the broken English his Hungarian parents spoke. He fought alongside his brothers and friends in World War II. He was an American, but embraced his heritage, attending Hungarian mass until his death in 2002.

My paternal ancestors came to the United States in the 1800s. My great-grandmother was a Rosenthal; her ancestors emigrated from Germany to New Jersey.

My paternal ancestors, like many new Americans of the time, changed their last name from Van Strycker to Stryker when they immigrated to the United States from Austria in the mid-1800s.

The Strykers settled in Iowa and Nebraska on land gifted to them by the government to homestead. My grandmother, Karen Stryker, still lives on the land near Callaway, Nebraska, where my aunt and uncle raise cattle, sheep and goats as well as grow corn, like many Nebraskan farmers.

Huddled masses yearning to breathe free

My family’s history, like almost everyone’s in the United States, is heavily dependent on America’s tradition of receiving immigrants with open arms. If my great-grandfather Rienks couldn’t have used the blacksmithing skills he learned in his home country, he wouldn’t have gotten a job in the auto industry, likely wouldn’t have gotten married to my great-grandma and so on.

I’m proud of my heritage, and I’m thankful that my ancestors came at a time when America knew what it was: A country of immigrants.