Thank you for giving us our chance …
My granddaughter, Sofia, called me recently to meet about a project she had for school. The assignment was thought-provoking.
Who you are has been influenced by people in your life. Include the people before you were born. Not about a person, but of influence that has carried forward for years. Think about people who had an impact on you, both positive and negative. What impact do they have on you today?
“Wow,” I thought, “What a great challenge.”
As we chatted, I thought of my immigrant grandparents and felt she needed to know more about them. “They packed up their meager possessions and set off for America, understanding no more than what they heard from others … that America was THE land of opportunity.”
They were unskilled, uneducated people who embraced chance. They dug ditches, built railroads, served in the military, started businesses and eventually bought a home. They came, embraced America, succeeded and passed it on. As a result, their offspring thrived.
To witness the Italian immigrant experience through the eyes of others is so compelling that it makes you want to understand what they felt. I wanted Sofia to understand. Because then, we can appreciate just how terrifying it was for them. Respect for them grows. I tried to help Sofia realize their sacrifices and their courage. “Wow, that’s incredible,” she said.
“Yes, indeed. And it was not easy when they arrived as prejudice was palpable. They were eager to distance themselves as quickly as possible from their former identities; insisting that their children learn only English and integrate as quickly as possible into the local culture.”
“Thanks, Papa. I never knew that.”
“Yes, Sofia. Thank you for allowing me to participate, share and appreciate even more their accomplishments.”
The Italian immigrant experience combines the painful memories of poverty left behind with a hope of a better life here. They were full of optimism as they sought a more promising future for themselves and their families.
We must not forget who we are, where we came from and what made America great. We must never forget who made it possible for us. Those courageous immigrants are the shoulders we stand on.