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Prompt 134: Coming To America
134. You are an immigrant in the early 1800s trying to get into the United States. How does seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time make you feel and why?
For the record, the Statue of Liberty was officially erected in the 1880s. So arriving in the "early 1800s" is just a shade too early. Maybe we were there to help build Navy ships for the War of 1812? But I digress.
Hmm... Arriving in NYC as my entry point into the USA, close to the turn of the century. This reminds me of what I know of my parents' families coming to the USA. My dad's father and mother were from Italy and England respectively. My mother's father and mother were from Ireland and the USA, respectively. My entire genealogy revolves around Europe, with a lot of Italian, Welsh, and Irish, and a little bit of Swedish and straight-up British.
My mother's family has a less-extensive family tree, at least from what we know. Her mother and father met, had two kids, then he bolted. As far as my mother knows, he died alone and drunk. I don't think my grandmother ever mentioned the guy. I did see one photograph of the guy, and it was the most surprising thing: it was like seeing me in a black n' white photo wearing a British Navy uniform. I'm like the spitting image of that guy, and when I was in middle school or high school and saw that photo I thought it was somehow faked and part of a practical joke. That's how much I resemble that man.
Oddly enough, I don't know much about my grandmother's early life, but she was born in the 'States and dirt poor. My mother has mentioned on several occasions that she, her mother, and her sister (who died while still in her teens when in a car accident, the victim of a drunk driver) had no running water in the house so they had an outhouse for a bathroom. They lived in Pennsylvania hill country, and would pick coal from the hills to heat the house in the winter time. My mother went to Nursing school to escape the hill country life, and spent over 40 years of her life in some form of healthcare job.
My father's side of the family is more extensive. His mother was a Briton, adopted by Hungarians and then somehow in the United States. The only remnant of her early life I ever knew about was when seeing a Hungarian-language bible in their Pennsylvania home. My dad's father was a first-generation US citizen, but shortly after he was born their family moved back to Italy, living with relatives. They eventually returned to the US, "Americanized" their last name, and then worked coal-mining and steel mill jobs in Pennsylvania hill country.
Many of my father's relatives lived in that area for much of their lives, including several more Italian relatives and native Italians. There was a kind of Italian borough in most of the small town where they lived, and where my father grew up. I remember visiting these folks and my relatives for family functions on many occasions. My dad's side of the family had a number of children, and I have a host of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Most of them still live in the same area, and it seems like my father and mother were some of the only ones to "make it out of their hometown."
I suspect a lot of why my ancestors relocated to the 'States was due to the wars in Europe either brewing or happening at the time. I don't think much about what it must have been like to have lived in a European country at that time in history, unfortunately. Only recently have I become interested in moving there myself, but the countries of my lineage don't hold any particular interest to me. I may have distant cousins in Italy, for example. However, were I to make it to Europe Italy wouldn't be on the top of my list, nor do I feel any urge to track down the other branches of the family tree.
I think more about all the people still attempting to come to the United States. This would mostly be those coming from Mexico and Central America. The USA is responsible for kick-starting much of the political unrest in that region of the world. The climate - both environmental and political - is so bad that people are willing to risk death, willing to completely deplete their life savings, to make it into the 'States.
I'm sure that - particularly as far back as the late 1800s - the USA had gained the reputation as The Land of Milk & Honey. Much has changed since then. I've seen it written in more than one place that, "The American Dream has become the world's Nightmare." I've been convinced that this is the truth, regardless of how many people still struggle to emigrate here.