Monday 26 Sep 2016

Coming to American
AJ Robinson

There’s much description and debate about Immigrants coming to American. We’re a nation of immigrants, the “Melting Pot” and countless men, women and children moved through Ellis Island, on their way to becoming citizens. In the case of my father, he came from a long line of Americans; the family had been in the U.S. since colonial days!

Not my mother, though.

She was a war bride, first generation immigrant from Florence, Italy. On 21 July 1945, she and my father married at the city hall, Il Palazzo Vecchio, in the city. Though a joyous time, there was also concern. My father had orders to ship out to the Pacific soon. Still, they tried to put those thoughts out of their minds, and went off on a three-day honeymoon arranged by my dad’s comrades.

By the fall, she was expecting a baby and put on the list to ship out to America. The physician told her not to worry; as long as she gave birth under the American flag, her child would be a US citizen. This led to her having nightmares of her lying in bed next to the flag pole; giving birth out on the military parade grounds.

Fortunately, the war in the Pacific ended and my dad soon followed my mother home, to her new home. On 21 March 1946, she left on the Army hospital ship, the Algonquin, from Naples. She was one of 300 brides waving to 300 sad men on the dock. She thought about her past, how that phase of her life was over, and now a new life was beginning.

Two weeks later, after a voyage fraught with seasickness, my mother stood on the deck as the ship entered New York Harbour.

As she would later say, “No American will ever realize what happens inside the heart of an immigrant at the first sight of the Statue of Liberty. I had read about it in the schoolbooks, but I didn’t expect it to be so tall and majestic while lighting our way into our new life. The tall buildings in the background added to the splendour, and as we approached the dock they seemed to engulf us and embrace us like a mother stretching her arms out to her new children.”

It was there, in the shadow of the statue that she pledged to be a good American. The ship docked. She and five other girls took a in a taxi to Grand Central Station to go to Boston. As it happened, the taxi driver spoke Italian, but it was quite different from the Florentine she knew; she didn’t let on that she understood some of what he was saying. He took them on a quick tour and then it was off to the train.

The trip there was short and they had little in the way of luggage. On arrival, reporters mobbed my mother and the other women. This was a big event for the community. My mother was the only one who spoke any English. Reporters bombarded her with questions. A little overwhelmed, her salvation came in the form of a very tall, very thin man.

It was Pop, my paternal grandfather. He and mother were there to welcome their daughter-in-law to the USA and the family. Mother was disappointed that my dad wasn’t there too; he’d neglected to mention that in his letters home.

That was not the end of her journey to becoming an American, but it was the end of the beginning. Over the course of the next several decades, she raised five sons, learned better English, learned about America, its food and became a citizen.

She still counts to herself in Italian whenever we play Scrabble, but I’d say she’s a good American.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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