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Michael Smerconish Headshot

An Immigrant's Dream Still Means Something

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The daughter of the shoemaker to King Nicholas Petrovich of Montenegro is on her deathbed. She is 101 years old. She is my grandmother.

Word of Victoria Grovich's (nee Ivanisevich) imminent passing came to me last week on the same day I reviewed the latest Pew Global Attitudes Project Survey. The study noted the continued decline of the United States' image throughout the world. The same day, the president's approval rating in one poll plummeted to 29 percent, while Congress' rating is lower still.

Maybe the silver lining to the passing of the shoemaker's daughter is the antidote her story offers to increasingly negative perceptions of the United States. Let me explain.

Nikola Grujicich was my maternal grandfather. He left the Balkans in 1906, at age 14, for America. He was accompanying his father to seek jobs in the coal mines of West Virginia. Grujicich quickly became Grovich. After World War I, Nikola returned to the Balkans, and not long thereafter, wed my grandmother in an arranged marriage. Her father, Milo Ivanisevich, was the town cobbler in Cetinje, Montenegro. He made boots for the king, a fact proudly trumpeted in the window of his shop on a dirt road.

After the marriage, Nikola returned to work in America, leaving behind my grandmother and their newborn until he could afford to send for them. That happened in 1927.

My grandmother made the 12-day journey with their firstborn and arrived at Ellis Island. She left behind her roots and parents she would never see again. Awaiting her was a limited network of fellow Slavs. She did not speak English. She once told me that while sailing for America, she was homesick and frightened, and wished the ship would turn back. Lucky for me, it didn't.

My grandparents briefly operated a boarding home for miners in West Virginia, and then relocated to Hazleton, in Pennsylvania's coal region. There, they raised 11 children (eight girls, three boys) before my grandfather succumbed to black lung.

Those 11 children are still alive, which is itself an extraordinary testament to American health care. The 11 have led comfortable lives. Each has been formally educated and consistently employed. Each owns a home and a car. They have traveled extensively. Their children have had it even better. My cousins' educations extend well beyond those of their parents. Their homes today are larger than the ones in which they were raised. None wants for any basic necessity.

They are leading typical American lives. This is not only a story about my grandmother, but also about many of our forefathers.

What a land of opportunity! This takes me back to the way we are regarded.

In the last Pew Global Attitudes Project survey, the United States' favorable ratings declined in 26 of 33 countries. Anti-Americanism is extensive and has been for the last five years. There are a few surprises as to where we are well-received - more favorably in some of the Third World than with former WWII allies, for example. Another tidbit: Americans are more popular than America. (See the report at http://pewglobal.org/reports.)

No one should be shocked to learn of rising hostility toward the United States, given the situation in Iraq. Nor the corresponding decline in the president's popularity.

I'm concerned about the way we are perceived around the globe. And I am worried about the way we regard our own nation. My hunch is that the negativity from abroad and the vitriol directed toward our president here at home are causing an American loss of self-respect. I sense a collective tail being placed between our legs in response to a constant barrage of all that is wrong with America. I may be mistaken.

My evidence about how we view our own country is visceral and anecdotal, not quantitative. (I did, however, see a recent CBS survey that found that 72 percent of Americans believed that if the Founding Fathers came back, they would be "disappointed" rather than "pleased.")

Don't get me wrong: We've certainly got our share of problems, Iraq chief among them. Fixing them and our standing in the world should be a never-ending goal.

But it's healthy to take stock of all that we are afforded in this country, namely, an environment in which we can still live free and pursue dreams. Frankly, that is why we have an illegal immigration problem.

Despite what Paris Match and the Manchester Guardian say about us, millions are still breaking barriers to go where the streets are figuratively paved with gold.

They want what the shoemaker's daughter experienced