Our reporter Sophie Ruehr followed up this week on her August 29 story about tenant farmers in Truro by writing about Bhala and Digree Rai, the Nepalese immigrant couple who have created Down Home Farm on an acre of land owned by Ron Singer. Ruehr’s earlier report focused on the way connecting owners of arable but untilled land with people who want to farm it is working to increase our towns’ capacity to produce food locally at a time when, as Elspeth Hay reported last week, we are in danger of becoming a food desert.
Sophie’s story about the Rais on page 4 takes a different turn. Like almost all of our ancestors, the Rais came to this country, in their case from halfway across the world, to find a safer and more fulfilling life. They brought with them a set of skills — including the art of building terraces on hillsides to create level beds for growing vegetables and flowers — that have already helped them succeed in their business and beautify the landscape. This winter Bhala Rai is planning to build a Nepalese plow, which he is eager to try out in Truro.
The Rais have endured hardships, including being separated from grandchildren whom they haven’t seen in two years because of problems with visas. They don’t say much about the hardships they knew in their home country, but Bhala came to the U.S. in 2010 and was granted political asylum. The years just before that time saw civil war, forced migration, and war crimes in Nepal. Bhala is now an American citizen.
Reading the Rais’ story makes me think of my grandmother Molly, who walked from the village of Dvin in what is now Belarus across Poland and Germany with her five children and a cart filled with their possessions shortly after World War I. She made it to Bremerhaven — a distance of more than 1,200 kilometers — and eventually, by way of Cuba, to New Jersey, where she joined my grandfather, Sam, a stonemason.
It also reminds me of the way my parents, who worked 365 days a year delivering newspapers for a modest living, always went out of their way to befriend and give money to newly arrived immigrants whom they met, including a young woman from Finland who was fleeing an abusive boyfriend.
And I think, too, of my parents-in-law, George and Jane Parker, and the Cuban refugee family to whom they showed such warmth and kindness that, 50 years later, they still receive letters and gifts from that family’s children.
A different kind of story about immigrants has spread in recent years — a false one about how they threaten America and its values. How shall we respond? By telling each other the stories we know to be true and that affirm what we know is the very best of ourselves.