No announcement yet.

Immigrants: what it means to be one

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

    Immigrants: what it means to be one

    This is a prize-winning essay that my wife submitted a few months ago in a contest by a travel magazine. It won 3rd place with a few hundred dollars and a 5 year subscription to the mag. I thought to share it with my buddies here at Guppshupp, as it really tells the plight of the early immigrants to the USA.


    He was just a boy of ten one afternoon in 1905 when they decided one of the brothers should go to America. There were three boys and one girl, and my grandfather, (name withheld), was the youngest. His family came from a small village high on a mountain in central Greece, and despite the beauty of the blue sea below and the luscious fruit orchards surrounding them, America beckoned.

    Family lore says the family drew straws to see who would go to New York, and my grandfatherís was the shortest. Were his brothers envious or relieved? Most likely they were both. The saga continues that he traveled with family friends on a ship across the Atlantic, but with little money and because the necessary immigration papers took so long to be processed, he was smuggled across the ocean. They put him in a cargo trunk when they boarded, let him out during the journey, and stashed him back in the trunk when they arrived. He must have been scared, being so young, with his future so uncertain. The days spent on his voyage to America were long ones. When he finally landed in New York, he was told to look for a man wearing a red carnation in his lapel, a relative who would take him in. School would play no role in his life from then on, as he took a succession of jobs as busboy, cook, and waiter. But despite his lack of education, he would encourage his children to set their sights higher; his daughter, my mother, earned a college degree. How much of the family lore is true? Probably not quite all, but my grandfather was just ten, poor, and crossed the ocean on a ship on his way to America. He traveled alone, but he carried with him all the hopes and dreams of those he left behind.

    I donít think he would have imagined that more than 80 years later his granddaugther would continue the family legacy of starting anew in New York. In 1988, having just recently married and arrived here after a lifetime away, I waited at John F. Kennedy Airport to welcome my husband, a Pakistani immigrant, to New York. We met as students in England, fell in love, and married. My husband therefore came to America not for economic reasons, but for personal reasons. Just like my grandfather must have felt when he first arrived on Ellis Island so many years ago, my husband and I felt the same excitement, mingled with fear, about starting our new life together in the city. I think he would have been proud.