Friday, May 28, 2010

Welcome to America...June 21st, 2005

This is Ellis Island where the vast majority of us had ancestors land in America. My great-grandparents, Otto and Christina, came over to Boston on a steamer ship from Sweden back at the beginning of the 1900s so they never passed thru New York's Harbor...don't imagine they ever saw the Statue of Liberty, either, since they were pretty poor immigrants and had two young children with them at the time, one of them being my grandfather Paul. They settled in Worcester, Massachusetts, and my great-grandfather found work in a wire factory there. He spoke some English as time went on but I don't know if my great-grandmother ever learned any or not. A very dear friend of mine named Liz has been doing a Family Tree for me and we were recently looking over the census papers from around 1920, I think it was, giving me just a snippet of information as to what my ancestors' lives were like almost 100 years ago. It's a weird feeling looking at those papers, thinking if they'd never been brave enough to set sail for America where I might be! What made them decide to come here? I don't think Sweden was ever in as dire of straits as some of the other European countries were...I'm thinking of Ireland's potato famine for one where those poor people were only one step away from starvation. I was talking to my Dad about Grandpa Paul coming to America and he said one of the reasons they chose Worcester to live in is because it had a strong Swedish American community where a lot of people from 'home' lived and Swedish was spoken so my great-grandma wasn't totally isolated.

Portland has a large immigrant population, probably because we're a port city and we're on the West Coast. In the 70s and early 80s it was mostly people from SE Asian countries who moved in...then a lot of people from Romania and Russia. Now we have a lot of Latinos moving here. I don't know what it is about my face that makes them trust me but I can be in a grocery store aisle with 10 or 15 people around me and I'm always the one our immigrant population approaches if they're confused about the price of something or want to know where they can find something. I've become a pro at sign language, lol! But I always manage to get them to understand. My Dear Hubby says it's because I'm always smiling. I think it's because I love people and when I make eye contact with someone I'm not afraid to say hello or chit chat for a moment. I also have infinite patience. But mostly I think it's because of my great-grandparents coming to America, knowing that it was a scary and confusing place for them, too. And I like to think if I ever am blessed to travel this big wide world of ours and I get lost on the streets of Paris or Bucharest or Vienna or Rome or Moscow...someone will see my fear and take a moment to be kind to me, too. The wonderful thing about it is it makes YOU feel good, knowing you've made a scary moment a little less intimidating. You've touched a life...but they've touched yours, too.

1 comment:

Ciara said...

Wonderful post! Amazing how our family history can influence how we see the world, and how we interact with people.

I never really thought about the fact that I live in a country that has a history of, until very recently, exclusively EMIGRATION. My ancestors come from 200km away! But everyone I know has family of some sort who have emigrated, mostly to the US.

Thank you for reminding me we are all in the same boat in the end! Just on either end of the same one. :-)