Mom In America


The author, Bill, and his mom.

On a cold November morning in 1950, five refugees from Eastern Europe got off a bus in the South Side of Chicago. They had taken a boat across the Atlantic Ocean because they were too poor to fly despite the fact that the father of the family had been a well-to-do judge in his home country. Circumstance had not swung in their favor.
The only girl in the family, only two years old, wore a frilly pink dress to greet her new home and would now have to learn a new language besides the native language she had just started to learn. Like so many, this family new to America had a lot on their minds. One of those thoughts was where they were going to live.
That little girl was my mother. Over the next three decades my grandfather would work three different jobs around the clock to pay off the family home, my grandmother working as the family caretaker. Like so many immigrants before and since, family came first. They were in a strange place with people whose language and culture they did not completely understand. Who could they trust? What unspoken rules would they break without knowing? How could they make a better life for themselves? All of these questions loomed large.
The key to the family’s transition to a new home was, of course, trust. The local Slovenian community in Chicago had sponsored them to enable them to come to America, and once stateside gave them access to a network of people with a familiar language, familiar culture, and familiar food, if not familiar faces. All of this made their transition easier and more secure.
Today many of the home countries that migrants come from are different than in 1950. They speak different languages. They have different cultures. But the common element is they’re all looking for a better life. A better life for their family. The fact that there is a friendly face on the other side of a vast ocean, or in the same city, makes a world of difference. If it were not for the local immigrant community in Chicago over half a decade ago which welcomed my mother’s family, I might not be here today. I owe something immeasurable to total strangers. Wherever they’re from, immigrants and their families share the common heritage of being from another place, of coming to a foreign land, of making a new life for themselves. And wherever they’re from, immigrant families owe something to the new arrivals just as others once cared for us as well.
In my neighborhood in South Philadelphia, there is still a strong immigrant community. My neighbors frequently sit outside in the evening, excitedly speaking Italian and it is common to walk outside and smell the scents of delicious Mediterranean foods wafting through the air. It speaks to the history and strong ethnic character of this city and the history of the people who have for the most part long forgotten the land of their predecessors. It also makes me proud to represent people making this city their home or moving to a new part of it. In this city with it’s layered and complex history, and whether people continue to celebrate their heritages or these traditions have faded from view, it makes me happy to help them in the process of finding a home in their new home.

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