In 1910, Croatia's serfs and citizens could smell gunpowder in the air as animosities sizzled and neighboring countries ramped up for what we now call World War I — hence my family's need to escape. Once here, my grandfather remained an alien for 20 years and didn't get his U.S. citizenship until 1930. He had been a subsistence farmer back home and, aside from his experience as a coal stoker on freight ships, had no marketable skills. In fact, if he were alive today, he wouldn't be able to read this column because he was illiterate and remained so for his whole life. He spoke what used to be called broken English, and my father taught him to write his name. The scrawled signature on his citizenship papers lovingly resembles that of a 5-year-old.