Toward a Better Life: America's New Immigrants in Their Own Words--From Ellis Island to the Present by Peter Morton Coan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I grew up the great-grandson of Italian immigrants who passed through Ellis Island. The hallmarks of resourcefulness, toughness, and generosity surrounded my childhood and adolescence. I finished Peter Morton Coan's Toward a Better Life: America's New Immigrants in their Own Words with greater sense of who not only my great-grandparents were, but also a greater awareness of my grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins.
We are descendants of toughness.
And through this book, I realize that I (and we) have lost some of that toughness. We've becomes insulated with ourselves.
Our ancestors broke the rock, stacked the brick, and forged the iron...and we sit and enjoy the view while all around us immigrants are still engaged in the struggle and challenge to live in America and even become an America...so that one day, their ancestors can enjoy the same warmth and comfort that I have (somehow) ignored.
I bought Toward a Better Life on a visit this summer to Ellis Island--the experience humbled me.
The experience, along with this book, has made me more aware of who I am...and who I can still become. It has made me more aware of other men, and who they may still become. And I've come to see America a touch differently.
So many statements by immigrants caused me to reflect in so many different ways.
Ava Rado-Harte, Hungarian immigrant, touched on the American family:
"...I bought the house with the fantasy and the dream that my kids would be coming over on Friday nights for dinner and I'm going to have wonderful weekends with the grandchildren and have great Sunday brunches, but the reality is this is America...parents and grandparents are really not in the picture..."
Stella Dushats, Russian immigrant, echoed the sentiment of most of the immigrants in the book, "In America, if you work hard and you want something, you will get it. I am so happy we came here."
Jorge Munoz, Colombian immigrant, opened his heart to anyone in our country by feeding the hungry on nothing but donations, "You know, people think that we are a problem--the immigrants. We are not a problem! There are lots of problems with everybody, but we are not a problem...The only thought that crosses my mind is to share. My mothers has always been an inspiration, and my mother always says, 'If you share, you're OK with God.'"
Renata Nieri, Italian immigrant, spoke with...reverence...appreciation...gratitude...about the Statue of Liberty: "...I've been out there six or seven times...I took some cousins of mine who came from Italy. We went to Ellis Island, and I still get gooseflesh. I love that lady. She's beautiful."
I feel lucky. I am only now beginning to understand my family, adolescence...and future. Add to that, I am only now beginning to understand the true meaning of the word "grateful."
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