Editor’s note: Susan Bodnar is a clinical psychologist who works with people from diverse backgrounds and teaches at Columbia University’s Teachers College. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, two children and all of their pets.
By Susan Bodnar, Special to CNN
Last night I went online, clicked into my bank, and began to pay bills from three separate piles: must be paid or else, can wait a bit, and we’ll pay these whenever. I never used to have to juggle, but this economy challenges even the most fastidious of savers. Everyone I know seems to hurt a little at the end of the month. During these stressful economic times, I remember stories about survival from my family’s immigrant generation.
We framed my great-grandmother’s shopping list to commemorate her attempt to write in English using foreign pronunciation; becoming American with the tools she could muster from her home country. Baba maintained an allegiance to Czechoslovakia, but her heart came of age in the new country. She spoke in that sing-song melodic cadence of her birth tongue, substituting the English words she had proudly learned. Even when I was a young adult, she summoned me using that potluck language of hers, “Přijďte to your baba and řekni me about škole.” Assimilation was simple for my Baba – embrace it all and make it work.
My great-grandmother, Baba - grandmother - emigrated with little more than her shawl and a satchel. She came from a small village outside of Prague and moved into a miner’s patch town in Pennsylvania, along with the Ukrainians, Slavs, and Lithuanians who were populating the once Irish- and Welsh-dominated mining communities. Despite their discomfort with each other, when the whistle blew to indicate that a man was down on the job, everyone stopped work. The entire community stood by when the horse and cart pulled the fallen man away.
Baba married a miner. They already had two children and their third, my grandmother, was on the way when he died in the flu pandemic of 1918. This flu hit the anthracite coal mining communities quickly and harshly. It easily traveled on the newly installed rail lines from the hard-hit city of Philadelphia. Neither flu nor tragedy in the mines discriminated on the basis of ethnicity.
Soon after her first husband died, Baba met another miner, a Ukrainian, who was already the father of four. His wife had also died in the flu epidemic. Within months, they married. They believed that marriages were built of necessity, by hard work and thorough moral discipline - not romance. Those types of feelings were expected to evolve over time if the first three principles were in place. Together, they had three more children for a total of 10. Their intermarriage between ethnicities, unheard of in the old country, was becoming commonplace.
It wasn’t easy to break down ethnic barriers. Resistances often prevailed, especially when it came to strengthening workers’ rights. When all ethnicities eventually united behind the United Mine Workers Union of America, working conditions and salaries improved for all workers. The mines became safer pathways to the bold democracy that seemed a striking advancement from their European hometowns. Zdethy, my great-grandfather, hung photographs of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John L. Lewis, president of the union from 1920 to 1960, along the wall of the narrow stairway that led to his bedroom. Baba blessed them.
Years of hard mining and domestic work propelled my family from a patch town to a small, but comfortable home in McAdoo, Pennsylvania. Then the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. The community survived by working together and once again crossing ethnic lines. Men established wildcat mines where they could collect and sell available coal even though the collieries were shut down. Baba and other women fought back with an irreverent domesticity. They planted gardens, cooked on wood-burning stoves and established sewing circles. Everybody who could play brought their instrument to community dances at the firehouse. Even when her cupboard was bare, Baba had enough faith in her new country to insist that her kids attend the shared public school, where they would speak and read English. Some even received their high school diplomas. Later, she encouraged her sons to defend their new home when World War II started.
Individuals didn’t always like each other and stereotypes were common. In the mines, mills, and small schools, however, the need to cooperate often took precedence over ethnic parochialism. Partial to her Slovakian heritage and proud of her opinions, Baba still imparted to me the value of pluralism. Her eventual citizenship enhanced rather than detracted from her identity.
I once tried doing the laundry by hand on Baba’s washboard. I don’t miss it. Nor, am I pining for the insularity of small town communal life. Yet, I often long for the togetherness and citizenship that characterized my family’s struggles, like a strand in a web of meaning thick with lessons about how to live now.
Neither my Baba nor my Zdethy could have imagined on-line bill paying. But they made it possible for me to be part of this future through faith and commitment to the dream that was this country. So when I stare down that stack of whenever bills that need paying, I try not to dissolve into the anxiety fueled pessimism of lesser character. Rather, I keep preparing my family for the better world that once arose and will rise again from the labor and faith of every kind of American worker.
My Baba lived until I was 23 years old. All the immigrants in my family imparted to me the value of democracy. So many risked everything - country, stability, safety - in order to join the new venture of equality. Occupations have a long and noble history in this country. They began with men and women, laborers and their wives, who had the nerve to occupy this country and claim themselves as equals within it.
Hahaha, I read the shopping list and it's written the way alot of Macedonians pronounce words in Australia.
As someone who loves handwriting for all that it shows of a person's soul, I was thrilled to see your Baba's note here. She looks to be someone whose formal schooling was interrupted at a somewhat early age, although the deep and sharp points of her n's and m's show an innate intelligence and a quick mind. She apparently deferred to others as smarter than she – although she understood well. She was either writing this sample on a bumpy surface, or she had some neurological health issues that gave her a shaky hand. She also appears to have been a very caring person who didn't take kindly to being taken advantage of (her k's are pronounced), remembering the slight.
This was a lovely story. Thanks for sharing.
Wow, that was accurate. You totally brought her back to life, thank you.
Great article. My Babas settled in the same area of the coal regions. Although they are passed, we still visit around the holidays. Brings back great memories and I can still here the broken english accent.
And here I thought this was a piece about MEHER Baba. Silly me. 'Don't worry, be happy' will have to wait, huh?
MILLIONS TO BE ASSASSINATED FOR THE SAKE OF $$$ LIABILITIES(mk-ultra, chip implants, electroshocks etc. performed on them) AND NEW WORLD ORDER(multiculturalism = terrorism) POLITICAL AGENDA KNOWN AS "YOU ARE NEXT"(financial liabilities are 2 expensive for the government and it is cheaper to get read of you instead) !!! IF YOU WERE TREATED WITH ELECTROSHOCKS OR DRUGS USED FOR WIPING OUT MEMORY(numerous Americans and Europeans were and are) AFTER ENDURING FORCED CHIP IMPLANTS(or to retard individual = how homeless people are produced), YOU ARE SCHEDULED NEXT !!!
NOW YOU KNOW WHAT ORWELLIAN UNITED STATES CONGRESS(USSR#2) IS SOOO BUSY WHEN PLAYING/CLOWNING(acting) IN FRONT OF CAMERAS ONLY HOW SOMETHING HAVE TO BE DONE(deliberately omitting/delaying facts of genocide as seen on this complain) !!!
LEARN TRUTH ABOUT UNITED NATIONS, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL AS WELL AS NEW WORLD ORDER(MULTICULTURALISM = TERRORISM) GOVERNMENTS(Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) !!! NOT THERE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, BUT TO DENY YOUR RIGHT TO EXISTENCE !!!
ABDUCTIONS / FORCED BRAIN CHIP IMPLANTS / BLACKLISTING / FORCEFUL UNEMPLOYMENT / MK-ULTRA BRAINWASHING AGAINST WHITE(under "NAZI" lie) CIVILIAN POPULATION TODAY IN 2011/2012 ACROSS THE EUROPE AND NORTHERN AMERICA !!!
WHY TO ACCEPT LIABILITIES FOR CRIMES COMMITTED WHEN WE CAN SIMPLY ASSASSINATE OUR VICTIMS(YOU) THANKS TO HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS AND FREE PRESS/MEDIA(most severe censorship of genocide ever !!!)!!
http://www.youtube.com/user/BostjanAvsec OBAMA'S HEALTH CARE RECORDED LIVE IN 2009 !!! These are hard facts about lunatic Obama/Bush's twilight zone administrations(HORROR) or genocide against whites per ZIONIST Washington DC and in complete agreement with communist Moscow !!!
EXILING WHITES(US citizens) WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE AND IMPORTING NON WHITES IMMIGRATION REQUIREMENTS FREE !!!
Wow. It's interested, I just got to this article from an article about the black middle class and you wouldn't believe the racist comments on there. People were complain even that an article was being written about black people (as if black people aren't worth ever mentioning unless in a negative light)... yet on this article about a european-American... just a lot of positive comments. It's really saddening to see the racism that is allowed on the comments section (mostly targeted on the articles focusing on African-Americans). What is wrong with people!?
But about this article, I love how she wrote "toyled papper"... it's nice to see that you framed it and kept it up. People tend to throw away little scraps of paper. It's nice to have a piece of your history like that.
Thank you for our article. Very touching. I read your baba's grocery list. Are you sure your baba came from "outsite of Prague?" From the note it seems, she came from eastern Slovakia and is Rusyn.
All I know is what she and the family have told me. At the time she came here the boundaries In Eastern Europe changed a great deal. It seems plausible that what she meant by Prague and Czechoslovakia is something other than what would have been understood later. The list is her attempt to write English using Czech spelling, and I can only decipher some of it: two pounds of ground beef, a loaf of bread, a can of (plum?) jam, a can of peaches and toilet paper.
Your last name looked familiar to me. I had seen in my genealogy search–of eastern europe. Slovakia. But I guess it could be a name from prague also.
I loved your article about your baba. My baba came to the United States as a 13 year old orphan and worked for a family who took advantage of her. She quickly taught herself to read and write English and found a wonderful family who hired her to work for them. They put aside half of her salary and gave it to her as a wedding present which allowed her to buy her first home. Both she and my grandfather grew up in the Tatra mountain area of Czechoslovakia and settled in New Jersey in a tiny peninsula of land surrounded by the refineries where many of the Slovakians, Polish and Lithuanians settled and worked in the local chemical industries. I smile every Christmas when I bring out her recipes that call for five pounds of flour and five cents worth of yeast.. My baba was an amazing woman whose intellect and faith raised 10 granddaughters who are all strong women. We have all received degrees in the sciences or medicine. We all cherish the memories of our baba who raised us with love and faith.
Must have this link
Love, Love, Love this article. I had a Baba, she was slovak, lived in Coplay, PA...still miss my grandmother...your article was so meaningful...we need more "REAL" articles like this....
your story brought back memories of grandparents, but specifically my maternal grandmother. She was Bubba, who left the pogroms of Russia as a young woman and came to the US in 1905 and then left there for Canada. She never really talked about her life as a young woman (it was hell) but she told her daughter and my mom told me. Race riots, hate, and anti-semitism. I'm glad she made the decision to leave that hell on earth, and try to have a life of some quality here. It wasn't always good, but anything was better than what she had in Europe.
Very well written. People survived greater financial disasters than the one we are experiencing today. They married for different reasons and stayed together for the survival of the family. Humans do what has to be done in desperate situations.
Now about that grocery list; what is on it?
I like your story, actually how you remember your grandmother. I too think often of how times were for my grandparents, great grandparents and further back, the hardships they took as life.
I think my past relatives would think we have a very cushioned life and we make a lot out of things that we should deal with, we make a lot of grief out of nothing.
The poor little me.
Such rich thoughts, I am so glad you carry memories and cherish your family in such a way and chose to share it.
You're story parellels my own in every way. My Baba and her family came from Prague, lived in Carrolltown,PA a mining town, married and lost first husband to the flu, married a second time to a drunk, called me Hanichka (?) and my sister Katuschka(?) and taught me a few phrases in Czech that help me communicate to my Polish speaking patients. Thanks for renewing those memories....
Thank you for a wonderful story. I am currently learning Farsi and have taken to writing phonetically too! Reading this article was a great way to start the new year. Thanks again!
I am American but I live in Prague with my Czech wife. We just had a great time reading your Baba's grocery list! It is Czech-lish... phonetically how English would sound to a Czech speaker with some Czech words mixed in. We have Czech babicki and dedicki, and even prababicki and pradedicki, and they are wonderful. I would say that these people are not so committed to democracy as they are committed to each other. History has proven that governments cycle, some turn sour, and regimes and systems are never constant. For them, some having lived through 5+ major political system changes in their lives, family is #1. It is an amazing feeling to belong with them since my American family is so nuclear. The old country is still kickin'! I hope you make it out to Prague area again and keep the spirit of togetherness!
My Baba came from Slovakia with her husband and two children. She settled in Cleveland Ohio where she had my grandmother, bought a house and car and lived a modest life. In order to pass through Ellis Island, she had to have a sponsor with a job already lined up. Because she was of Slavic origin she had to take an intelligence test and pass a hygiene inspection in order to be admitted, while other European immigrants passed right through to the mainland. She got a job working long hours in a hardware manufacturing plant operating a very dangerous machine press and raised her family through the Depression and World War II without complaint. My grandma married my grandfather, who was Hungarian. I'll never forget how proud my Baba was of becoming an American or how dearly she held onto her Slovak heritage. Every Easter she baked bread, made pirogi and other wonderful treats that my family still makes today. She was a fierce advocate of education and hard work and I think she would be proud to know that two of her great grandchildren have made it into the professional world. I can think of no better example of the American dream.
susan bodnar, a very beautifull & heart-warming story.
my family origin is from russia & ukraine. most settled on the canadian prairie with very few that settled in upper mid-west of the USA. they are a great example for what family, committment, determination & love really means. i know my forebears did make our present generation very proud of them & we will in turn pass those same values to our up-coming future generations.
once again susan, a very beautifull story...thank you
JP they roamed freely from the tip of canada all the way down to tierra del fuego in Argentina and Chile. This was their land and many Mexicans are actually native american indian. So in their heart they feel this land belongs to them too.
Very few Mexicans are full blooded native Americans. Even if they are native Americans the land their ancestors settled in is now modern day Mexico. The native Americans who settled in north America are now American and Canadian citizens.
Agreed, but the environmentalists that many/most of them were/are, they believed that "they belonged to the earth" at least until fairly recently, not the other way 'round!
My grandma came from Croatia. I spent lots of time with her as a child but never called her Baba, only grandma. She spoke broken english and I'm afraid I picked up a few bad habits. She lived in what was once known as "hunky town" which is where most of the foreigners lived on the west side of town. She never did learn to read but knew her numbers and all 6 of her children went to school. Her husband died when her last baby was only a few weeks old and my mother, her oldest daughter, was 15. I watched her garden, cook on a wood stove, make plum jam and cook meals from practically anthing. She always baked bread and it was delicious. Babushka was what she would call a scarf in English. Even my mother continued using the foreign word to remind us to put on a babushka before going outside if it was cold. She told me about her trip on the boat to America. I have the leather packet that held her passport from the she she sailed on. She and her husband were dirt poor and worked "like dogs" in her own words. All her sons fought in WWII and Korea and got good union jobs in the factories. This article brings so many memories to me and tears to my eyes. She was a wonderful woman who loved America.
Thank you for such a wonderful article. All my Grandparents came here from Brekov, Zemplin County, Slovakia between 1888 & 1902. My maternal Baba taught me to cook some of my favorite foods. I sat and watched her make butter from the cream she scooped from the top of the bottle of milk. She made her own egg noodles, baked bread and had a hundred ways to make dishes from cabbage, potatoes and chicken. I thought about her today when I was making stuffed cabbage for dinner tomorrow. My Grandfather worked in the coal mines in Cambria County, PA until he developed black lung & moved to New Jersey. My Mother told me about the cracks in the walls of the rent house they lived in & how they would nail blankets to the walls in the winter. There were 12 children living in a two bedroom house. They collected rain water in barrels to wash their hair. Laundry was done on a wash board. I remind my children and myself, too, when we complain about petty inconveniences, of how well off we are. Everything we need is on a store shelf. We are a spoiled lot.
This brings back great memories of my Latvian Baba and Didi. They also fled Eatern Europe at the time of the Russian Revolution, came to the coal regions of Pennsylvania, and rasied a family of US patriots. My Didi died of black lung. All of his four sons served their adopted country in WW2. Their four sisters contributed to their society. Their off spring have served the country well.
My Baba was born in a region of Macedonia which is now a part of Greece but called her home Bulgaria... (often wondered if it was like the North and South)
She arrived in New York ala Ellis Island on July 3rd 1921. the next day while trying to settle in her room was shaken by the popping noises from the streets... July 4th in New York
my mother chose to be called Grandma but my brother and I have taken the Bulgarian names of Baba and Dedo for our grandchildren
Thank you for your article and the many wonderful stories of the "other Baba's"
This is America. Thank you for this story. I am 3rd generation Spanish. My great-grand mother came to America as an illegal, however, she worked hard to become an American and she would never "press one" – she was too proud to be here, too proud to earn after many years of honest hard work, schooling, and commitment to American culture; her citizenship. She never took a handout. We do not know where she was born, who her mother and father were. But we do know what she gave us all – freedom. Thank you Great Grandma.
I've been doing family research since I was in Iraq in '09 and have uncovered a lot of interesting information and solved some family mysteries/tales. One is that my grandfather was a gunner on a plane in WWII, per his siblings, but he never talked about it. So I found a website and sent them an email and they replied back with the name of a gentleman in Ohio and a picture of my grandfather and his group. Found out from the gentleman when I emailed him that my grandfather was actually a bomb loader stationed in England and never saw any fighting.
I've also found out that my wife is related to King Richard (the Robin Hood King Richard,) Chaucer, the Plantagenant family of France. Some of her ancestors founded two of the oldest towns in Massachussetts, an acestor was a major in the Revolution, and she is related to General Grant and the Rockefellers. I, on the other hand, am related to a couple of Revolutionary soldiers, and there is a strong possibility I am related to either General Stonewall Jackson or President Andrew Jackson. I am also related to an Indian chief from TN, and possibly one of the first TN governors.
Family history is a great thing to learn. It's information that is priceless and can be passed down from generation to generation.
Beautiful. This brought a smile to my face and tears to me eyes. We love our Baba!!
My daughter is adopted from Russia, and although my mother (And all of us) are Irish on both sides, I had my daughter call my mother "Baba" as they do in Russian – short for Babushka. Your article is wonderful! I was wondering if you could post a translation of the list in English?
While I do and did love the story and am proud that immigrants actually tried to learn english, actually tried to work and making an honest living for themselves and their children, and I'm proud of them doing all this and still maintaining dignity, AND raising honest, hard working, morally and ethically driving productive citizens of the United States of America, UNLIKE the ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS of today. I doubt she will post the translation, if she'd wanted to she would have in her initial report. I'm also wondering what's wrong with the children HERE IN THE UNITED STATES of AMERICA that ppl don't want to adopt from within their own country. I could even probably understand a little more if you actually adopted from Ireland, not that I hear of too many adoptions taken place from Ireland.
I hear you. But you wont be seeing Europeans people sending their kids to be adopted in the USA or outside of Europe at all. THose Spaniards, Italians, French, German, UK etc dont need to give their kids up for adoption and if that was the case it would go to another European white person. IN Europe folks live longer and the children are healthier and with much lower mortality rate than the USA. Also they all get free medical and dental care and free education to some of the best schools in the world. SO why send the kids to North America at all with our terrible educational system or medical care 🙁
Only children from 3rd world nations like Asia, Africa tend to be adopted by folks in the USA. Hope this makes sense to you.
Thank you Susan Bodnar, and all who have contributed to this terrific blog. My Baba raised kids who all worked hard and procreated a generous diaspora of teachers, business people, professionals, and military. I have lost count of all of my cousins. Right after the 1929 crash, when business people gave credit to those who needed groceries and other essentials, my father, a young Daniel Bavolack, Jr., organized resources with his school-board friends to build McAdoo High School - complete with a marching band presenting semi-classical concerts, and basketball and football teams that would win a championship now and again. Changing demographics caused the McAdoo High School to be demolished some time ago, but equally determined folks are marking its past existence with a monument, a memorial soon to be complete. Us kids have been contributing. Contact Ralph Nicholas about "The Monument."
CNN needs to have more articles like this and fewer from chefs that look upon their own customers with disdain!
thank you so much for the article. My great grandparents came over from Austria-Hungary(in what is now slovakia close to the polish border). I never met them–sadly. And my grandfather did not speak much of them. But I do know they worked hard and raised 10 healthy and productive children. 4 of whom fought in WWII(one earning the purple heart). I hope all of our ancestors know how thankful we are that they took that risk and worked to the death to give us opportunity and freedom.
All of my grandparents were immigrants who came to America with nothing. My grandmothers were strong in their own ways. They both married without love; one ended up with a happy marriage; one did not.
My paternal grandmother came to America courtesy of an agreement to marry a man she had never met. She was 18 and he was 35. They were not in love when they met but came to love one another. They had two children. Both worked hard as my immigrant grandfather became a successful businessman in America. Then, they lost all in the Great Depression and the run on the banks. They started over. While they never reached the same financial standing that they achieved prior to the Great Depression, they did well and had a happy home. Their sons became successful, each in his own way.
My maternal grandmother married her husband because he wanted a help mate and she wanted out of serving as maid in someone's home. No love involved there. Just a marriage of convenience. My grandfather became successful and his son became a professional man. but there was no joy in their home. My mother married to escape her home life and was fortunate to marry a good man.
I learned from their lives how to endure hardships and to make something out of nothing. I also learned the value of marrying someone I love and respect and marrying someone who loves and respects me, someone who remains my best friend.
In the old days immigrants like these were required to grow this country. We have since developed tremendously and became the greatest economy in the world. Now we need the smart immigrants, not the dumb ones from Mexico. I keep hearing the same thing from the illegal lovers over and over. They keep saying it is soo hard to immigrate here so that is why they have cross illegally. Getting to immigrate to this country is not a god given right. We will only accept the immigrants we need and reject the ones we do not want. Immigration is a privilege, illegals have problems understanding that.
Jim31: "not the dumb ones from Mexico", "from the Illegal lovers over and over"
You sound like an uneducated redneck. Can we send you back too? Most of us would rather keep the compassionate and intelligent citizens in this country, and send the racists ignorants back on the boat their ancestors came on.
Dumb ones from Mexico!!!!!What makes you think you're so smart. We have met many Mexicans and they are far from 'dumb'!!!!
JIM one of the problems is that many Mexicans are actually Native American Indians so the many western lower part of the USA belonged to them. INcluding Texas which literally we stole from them. But we could use the sharpest and best from any nation specially law abiding citizens which will enhance our country. But how can you tell who will be bright and who wont?
People who have college degrees are always given preference over people with no education. Most of the Mexican illegals who cross illegally wouldn't have qualified for permanent residency anyway. That is why I oppose any kind of amnesty. Reagan made a big mistake in granting amnesty, we should not repeat his mistake. There are many highly educated people from eastern Europe who are dying to come here. Illegals are breaking the law by being here illegally. It is time to gather them all up and ship them back. It has been done before, just Google Operation Wetback
How I envy your knowledge of your Baba's immigration and life. My mother's great-grandmother (who was still alive when my mother was young) was a Roman Catholic from Bohemia. She somehow ended up in rural central Alabama married to a Hard-shell Baptist preacher. No one in my family knows how she got from Europe to Alabama. My mother (until her death) could still sing a lullaby in Czech that Maminko had taught to her though she didn't understand the words.
I took had a Baba actually two of them, my grandmother and great grandmother both from Czechoslovakia. I was born on my greatgrandmother's birthday and as such I was given her name. I vaugely remember her she barely spoke English but she was a strong woman. Her husband died young and she raised 10 kids. The story goes that she was out in the garden hoeing dirt on the day she died, strong woman. I did get to know my Grandmother, who lived until I was almost 30. She talked about how things were when they came to the United States. How she struggled to learn the launguage. She told me about how the home they lived in back home was a mud floor with ten of them, they had a goat for milk and the people next door would feel bad for them and give them bread. So although they struggled in the US, it was a much better life than the had had. She married a coal miner, later a steel worker, in a small coal mining town but in Western PA. She outlived her husband by 20 years and in those years she worked and drove on her own. Something she had never done before. I used to ask my Dad before his death, why does Baba always try to give me food when I come to visit, no matter the hour. Then she gets upset if I don't want it. He said because honey they never used to have food so if you came to the home and they had food to offer and you turned it down, it was considered mean. But if you had extra food you always offered to friends or family or neighbors because back then that's how people lived. In a society where we barely know our neighbors, leave far away from family and have more food and things then we know what to do with this touched me. I remember it frequently when life gets too busy that because of both of my Baba's I am what neither of them ever imagined they could be.
I also had a Baba from Czechoslovakia. I grew up understanding and speaking her language without realizing I was bilingual. These immigrants tried so hard to learn the customs and language unlike todays immigrants who seem to want to be catered to – voting ballots in their native language. My grandmother also described what it was like on the ship that brought her to America. Everyone lined up to see the "BABA" (Statue of Liberty) they had heard so much about. These were a group of grand people to be sure. Incidentally, No.1 on list ,I think, is two pounds of ground beef and the No.2 item is load of bread. Thank you for sharing this gem of recollections.
I really enjoyed your article. I am African American and from the South Bronx in the 70's it was a very bad place. In 1981 I moved to North Dakota. I love the state and the people. The reason I am replying is recently I have gotten acquainted with a neighbor she and her husband have recently arrived from Poland. My husband and I decided over 22 years ago to home school our children we have always tried to give them a global experience he is of German background. I love my Polish friend and we have made an agreement she will teach our one remaining homeschool son Polish and I will teach her english. How wonderful. I love the Polish language and it is so very nice to hear her call my son my grandson. So one day we will travel to Poland and in the meantime I love reading articles like this because it reminds me of my beloved friend Alina. Thank you.
Great story and some of your ancestors probably knew a few of mine as my Austrian great-grandfather mined in the Clarks Summit area of Pennsylvania – and when he died young, my then-nine-year-old grandfather followed in his footsteps into mining (no child labor laws then.) Somewhere over the intervening decade the family name changed from Kotsala. My paternal grandmother's family were French Canadian and their name went through a few changes too.
A absolute great article. I was lucky, and was defined for lack of a better word ,by my greatest Generation parents. I worshipped them and their generation, realizing their parents or grandparents in my instance ,where immigrants. I listened closely to what they and their friends talked of. I followed their ideals and patriotism.
My great-grandmother Delia died in the flu epidemic in 1918-1919. She was a lone Irish immigrant, he was a lone German immigrant, they got married and soon had a baby. She died when my grandfather was 2. We don't even know what her last name was. There weren't single fathers then and wife #2 had little interest in the memory of wife #1. The flu got her so fast we know nothing about her but her first name and country of origin. More people died in the flu pandemic than WWI.
Thank you for this beautiful article! I AM from McAdoo so this, of course, reminded me of my Polish parents & grandparents. One thing that strikes me as amazing as I grow older is the common sense and knowledge my ancesters had even without much of an education. They managed to do so much with so little. I am very proud of my ancesters!
One of the best articles I have read in a long time. Thank you.
Wow, what a small world..My great grand-mother lived on Grant St in McAdoo, and now my grandmother lives in the same house..right in front of what was a open pit strip mine.
My mothers family was Czech/German. We forget how hard they had it coming to a new country. They did better than most and had their own propertry and business.
I envy you. I don't have such luck. All I know is I am black and I am from Africa. I went to Southern Africa few years and cried when people ask me what people I belong to. I know I am African American but I wish I knew more like where my great grandma comes from. I don't know but I feel a void and I don't know how to feel it.
I am sure you can trace your roots - there are many Afr.-American geneal. societies and groups out there. Read Alex Haley's ROOTS and follow his and others' stories.
Have blood tests done.
I lived in South Carolina for 20 year and understand, through my friends, your sense of loss. You know there are now DNA tests that can actually establish not only WHERE in Africa your people came from, but the actual, individual tribe they came from? They cost under $200. It's much easier to determine the particular background of Africans because they are "purer" and less diluted by movement through Europe and intermarriage among nationalities than whites. Oprah had hers done and was surprised by the information she received.
Lovely story. I am bothered though by the first paragraph: that a Manhattan college professor is deciding which bills to pay in "a bit" or "whenever" when our grandparents scrimped by with so little, with "cupboards that were bare" and gardening and sewing circles. I don't think they lived on credit, and something society-wide needs to re-prioritize. But, God bless this country in which female grandchildren of miners can become doctors!
So basically every country int the world today except Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and couple spots in Africa?
She lives in Manhattan. I have seen as much as 50% go to taxes in a paycheck(borough, city, state, fed; it's all in there.) The rents are outrageous in that city.
Really like this story. I had a Baby, too. But we know practically nothing of the heritage – didn't even know why we called her Baba; technically, still don't, but we did finally learn that Baba is Slovak/Croatian, etc. As far as we know there's know background/heritage from any of these countries; we're Dutch/Irish and who knows!!! But she was our Baba. Nice to get a glimpse into a part of our lives (possibly) we haven't experienced.
Had to laugh at Auto-correct... *Baba* – not Baby!!!
I also had a Baba. Very nice story, reminds me of mine. She was also from the same region. Where I grew up, Northeastern Ohio, most friends called grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa. I never knew of anyone else that had a Baba.
My grandma called us her idjits... clearly Irish. I already knew she was full Irish, but it was funny to realize she used words from Ireland, since I was much older before I realized idjit and some other words she used were not English. My dad had an Irish name, but had been expelled to German as troublesome chieftains by the British... who later hired them as Hessian soldiers and gave them a free ride to the new world. My mom's side were potato famine Irish. My son is doing our genealogy with much help from the Mormon genealogy center. It is fun to read about ancestors.
as info, "Baba" actually means "old lady" in several east-europeean countries .. I surely hope you didn't name your baby that
Actually, in Czech, there are two types of 'baba' that differ by pronunciation.
Bába , pronounced something like 'bahba', with a long first 'a' is a term for grandmother. An endearment version of 'bába' is 'babicka'. Russians have a 'babushka'. A Czech grandpa is either a 'deda' or a 'dedecek'.
Most Czech families develop their own endearments for their grannies. We called ours 'babi', pronounced -sort of- like 'bahbi'.
Baba without an ' over the first 'a' and, therefore, pronounced as a short 'a', sounds something like 'bubba' and is a rather abusive alternative expression for an old hag. In Russian it's more or less the same but the word can also carry connotations of an old witch, as in "Baba Jaga', a -beautiful- musical poem by the Russian composer Mussorgsky.
Thank God for simpler languages 😉 .
Beautiful article. People came from all over the world, sacrificing, working hard for the promise of a future. They came from all walks of life and anyone willing to put in the blood, sweat and tears benefitted (either themselves or their family). What she is saying is nothing is easy and in everything we have to work hard. We came from believers that worked hard: in order for us to survive it is our turn to put in the blood, sweat, and tears regardless of our ancestory, or beliefs. As Americans our dream is work hard & prosper.
What's the problem with holding on to your heritage and traditions while being American? That's the richness. What is "American" - one definition? America is a very young country compared to the European ones from where the immigrants came then. You can retain your heritage and still be a patriotic American. No conflict. It's a real shame that people thought they had to get rid of the past so thoroughly. Their grandchildren regret that.
My babas were Ukrainian, from the same vintage. Lovely story.
I am a 1st generation immigrant and have tried hard to learn and adopt what I consider America's virtues, but also retain unique and good things from my heritage. That is, to merge the two cultures' strengths. Initially it was confusing and conflicting, but I think I have found the balance that works for me. Now I consider myself a self assured American with diverse cultural background as a strength, and no longer conflicted, being very thankful that this country and many people (certainly not all though) have adopted me. Some consider me as the 'model immigrant'; I have gone to a college, got a professional degree, work, pay tax faithfully, participate in political process, and spend time volunteering for causes (and I consider this charitable work as America's often understated yet powerful strength).
What I see disturbing is some people here blindly complaining how the immigrants do not try to assimilate. What they see on the surface without looking into their daily struggles do not properly portray the difficulties the immigrants experience. And many are over simplifying the complex reality as one dimensional event. Throughout the American history virtually all the immigrant groups have struggled to master English language just like grandma Baba and had to fight against the bigotry of the previously settled people; Irish, Italians, Chinese, and others suffered from stereotypical prejudice. My parents still struggle and feel very frustrated that they can't remember the English words and phrases that they just learned nor pronounce certain sounds that do not exist in their native tongue. It's tough to learn new language, especially when you are already into adulthood. Try it. I've been studying other languages and it is really difficult now that I am in my 40's. So before criticizing the new comers for not trying, have some empathy how hard it must be for them to learn the language, culture, law, and environment. And all the latter are even harder to learn when you can't understand the language first.
Have mercy, have tender heart. That is what America is about.
Beautifully said. My ancestors arrived in the 1600s, but my family still has traditions that came through the family these many, many years later - especially for holiday celebrations. It is what makes us Americans as you say - the ability to embrace this country wholeheartedly while carrying on the traditions of family blood heritage.
Welcome to America. I also think many people don't realize that many immigrants also get homesick. I lived in another country for years and sometimes it could be very difficult. At first I didn't speak the language at all, but did eventually learn. I remember when some small kids were laughing so hard, because my new language sounded so terrible!! I learned a lot in those years I lived there, but was so grateful to come back home (I was tempted to kiss the ground when I got off the airplane after years of being away); where I speak the language, know the customs, and know the culture. I admire all immigrants who give up so much of who they were to come here to the USA to build a new life. That is true courage and speaks volumes of how great this country is to so many, that one is willing to come here and never look back. I have learned what it feels like to be on the other side: the immigrant in a strange land who is not always welcome. It can be so very hard, and sometimes feel so very alone, and many times make you wonder, what were you thinking when you left your country, to start a new life in a country so different than your own.
I wish you and your parents health, happiness, and prosperity in your new home. May the USA be to you all that you dreamed it would be.
I enjoyed your story very much. I, too, am from the coal regions (Freeland) and my grandparents are from Eckley, PA. I called them Baba and Zedthy too. I, my cousins and my Baba were in the movie The Molly Maguires which was filmed in Eckley. Keep up the great work.
Thank you for such a wonderful story....my great-grandparents came over from Czechoslovakia, settled into a mining town on the shores of the Ohio River outside of Pittsburgh and my great-grandmother was my Baba. It's so nice to hear that loving term. I can relate to the warmth and love associated with Czech words, old family recipes and cuddling up to a Baba. Thank you!
Same. Great-grandparents were also from there, but unfortunately I didn't get to meet them. They died before I was born. Wish I knew exactly where they were from.
Susan, what a great article and so well written. Thank you. It brought back a lot of memories of how our family came to this country and worked so hard to to support and educate their families. They learned the language and abided by the laws of the land. They did not try to change them. There was no complaining either....just hard work!
This article brought up memories of my own grandmother who emigrated to the US from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, of which Czechoslovakia was a part. I learned more from her about life than I ever did in school. I learned history, languages, cooking, culture, you name it. She told me about Emperor Franz Josef, whom she admired and about her grueling journey across Germany and the Atlantic Ocean.
Thank you for provoking those wonderful memories of grandma on this New Year's Eve. have a wonderful New Year!
Enjoyed the first few paragraphs until it became a pro-union manifesto using great grandma as the bait.
Seriously? That's all you took away from this wonderful story? How sad.
Clearly you do not understand the necessity for unions. I expect in this economy we may again see the day where they are necessary to protect the workers from greedy businessmen.
Sorry, my reply was meant to be to "Me". A brain-computer glitch put it under the wrong message.
The unions, whatever we think of them today, gave our ancestors a fair chance and allowed them to live the American Dream. My steel mill ancestors worshipped Union leaders because the unions gave workers fair pays, decent hours, medical insurance, and sick leave with pay so they could still feed their children in hard times. When they carried my Great Uncle home dead from the mill on a plank due to an accident, his death benefits (won by the Union) helped his wife and family. I think unions got carried away in the 70s and 80s and asked for more benefits than companies (or governments) could afford to give. But the unions of our immigrant ancestors were what put most of us into the solid middle class.
Exactly the way I see it. Unions today are far different than what they began as. today it's to protect the union workers from having to do a full days work for a full days pay. Some union workers I know sit around all day contributing nothing. Any attempt by supervision is met with a threat of arbitration that leads to nothing because the unions are also protected by local politicians that look to the union members vote to stay in office and the company loses needed effort.
A losing proposition all the way around. The union itself is frowned upon by non-union members of the workforce. The union workers lose self esteem because if they try to get the job done they're harassed by their fellow union members. The company loses needed resources that sit on the shelf where they cannot be sold to the customer.
This could go on and on but I think we all knows what goes on. SAD!
When my grandparents immigrated from Poland during WW2, it was up to them to learn English (at their own expense) and learn and adapt to American customs when necessarry. There was no free money, free english classes, special rights for foreigners, and no bi-lingual signs all over.
This is where this Congress has again failed America, by catering to special interests of foreigners for their votes. Little wonder they have no interest in being Americans, but only recreating the same dismal culture they left behind here. Littte wonder they can't read traffic signs and cause majority of accidents in their cultural neighborhoods. Little wonder why their stores don't have prices – so they can charge Americans one price and their foreign buds another (lower) price.
Parents of immigrants, who never worked a day in this country, get more federal aid than any American on Social Security. Does that seem right?
Bottomline – Immigrants should bring their recepies, their dreams, but leave their politics and wars behind. And if they don't like the States, and if they say the American Flag "is not my flag" - there is always a boat headed back. Get on it. Time to get realistic.
Actually, there have been free English classes for immigrants all over America since the days of the Settlement Houses in the cities. Big industries like steel also provided free English classes, and many colleges and univesities did the same. Much of the government commodity food since the 1800s has been given to immigrants, starting with the large masses of Europeans in the waves of that century (from which you are probably descended. You write about the "parents of immigrants" getting services from the government. That's a little odd, since the parents of immigrants would also be immigrants themselves. I receive way more help from Social Security and Medicare than any current immigrant. If these people were getting so much, they wouldn't be poor anymore. Use your head and not your pejudices when you speak.
Absoltely loved this story. All of my relatives also came from Czechoslovakia so this rings so true to me. Unfortunately, most of my grandparents with the exception of my grandfather had already passed away when I was born in the 40s, however, I remember him, his kindness, his patience, his wonderful sense of humour and most of all, his work ethic. He thought that America was the greatest place on earth and he felt incredbly fortunate to live here, to learn, to assimilate and to work. He taught his children the same and they taught us as we now teach our children.
Wish she would have translated the list
So cute, you can make out some of the words by just sounding them out. She wrote in half english & Czech. Lofa Bred = Loaf of Bread, etc. I think there is a few canned items and possibly "beef" as well. Our grandmother migrated over to the U.S. just after the turn of the century from europe, put herself through night school, bought a duplex and was interested in politics. She worked as a garment finisher or button sewer in an apparel company in downtown L.A. and supported herself plus my mom after her husband died. She loved this country and appreciated the opportunities it offered. I would love to have writing from my grandmother!
From my Ukrainian, I decifered plums of some sort "Slivki" and toilet paper "toyled pajper".
What a teriffic story, Susan! I thought of my Irish immigrants and my husbands Scottish ones and how they came through Ellis Island-and spoke English when they got here. Lucky them...and lucky me for being related to them all!
Looks just like the lists and letters my Grandma made. She was from Hungary (croatia then) and settled in Aliquippa PA. We used to love deciphering her letters and lists. We loved her soooo much and miss her even more. Thank you for this reminder of who we are.
Great story, one that needs to be read and thought about today. We are all immigrant families, and that is why America is so unique in this world. A culture that won't accept new people with new ideas will wither and die. The immigration problems we have can be solved, but not by pulling up the drawbridge and closing the gates. A rational approach will allow those who are eager to be American to do so.
So odd to hear the word Baba used. I lost my Baba in 1972, I loved her dearly. My grandparents ended up in Perth Amboy NJ. I think the men worked in the steel mills. But my Baba was a shirt presser for years. Her husband died young and she was on her own from 1950 on to her death. She was a great woman. I only wished I had learned more slovak when I was young. My mom and dad spoke it but us kids never learned it. Everybody wanted to assimilate to english.
My Grandparents and Great Grandparents were immigrants from Norway and Sweden and were recruited for farming to open up the new territory in South Dakota. They suffered many things including horrible snowstorms, Having to spend a day's travel to get to a store and another day to get back, walking ten miles to a church so they could worship with others and knowing not one word of English and having to change their names to fit American style. My great grandmother cried every day for the old country and never learned English, but her husband and children did and they became prosperous as farmers could in those days. None of us can speak either Norwegian or Swedish anymore. I tend to think that is what will happen to other immigrants. Each has their own story and they will do well. We should not be so critical of them. It is hard to be so far from all you have known and many are refugees from war and it must be awful! Thanks for the story of your Baba, Susan.
"Susan Bodnar is a clinical psychologist who works with people from diverse backgrounds" in NY. If you live or work in NY, to state the obvious is redundant.
As the author of this piece, I am reading and will continue to delight in every single one of these comments. I agree that moving forward so quickly may have disconnected us from the important life lessons of those who have preceded us. I am also gratified that the reader debate about the current state of immigration policies has been relatively respectful. I think most people in this country are trying to figure out how to remain loyal to our respective ethnic origins and still be part of something larger, something communal and whole, something American, a country everyone seems to love.
Susan, Thank you so much for this article! I hope you don't mind but I shared it on facebook. I see somewhat the same story in almost everyone's background. It always gets better one way or another as long as we keep trying. Thanks again Susan and a Happy New Year to you and yours..... miss New York : )
I am the descendant of Swedes and Germans who came to the MN area in the 1860s to work in the lumber camps. They learned English because if they didn't they didn't work and they didn't eat. I was born 100 years later and the only German I know is from my service there during my military career so I could communicate with the Germans. I never spoke English unless the Germans asked me to. I do not mind immigrants as long as it is legal and those who do come here stop speaking their languages once here. If they want to speak it at home so be it. In public it's more polite to speak English.
Thank you for sharing such a wonderful and powerful story, originaly from ukrain my grandma and grandpa story is so similar to your greatgrandma life when they arrived to Argentina, thank you for making me remember them.
Susan: Your 'window' into the timeline common to many of us is a beautiful example of life as it was lived and had to be experienced to appreciate. Both of my parents married late in life and I, as the only child of a Hungarian father and Anglo/Welsh-American mother, was never known to my paternal grandparents who died before my birth.
As Jewish immigrants during the turn-of-the-century migration (c. 1902) my father's family (from near Budapest) settled in the Western Pennsylvania coal mining area. Mother's ancestors, father took to the rails on the B&O) relocated from Ohio to the young State of West Virginia.
During the depression, 'fate' brought my parents together and they fell in love. Only problem...my mother was Protestant/Methodist. This was not welcome in a working Jewish home. Lineage from as far back had followed correctly on the maternal side and this was the first time (as best any could recall) there had been a deviation.
Fast forward to today...you can fill in the "blanks". As a result, I only knew what was agreed to reveal about the past and the rich European history which wove through the generations. Ancestors were known to have traveled across Turkey; north and east through what now exists as Yugoslavia, Serbia, Croatia, Austria...and, finally, Hungary.
Reading the story of "The List" evokes many "what could have been" scenarios. My disappointment now in later life to learn from distant cousins whom I have never met...that my heritage was full of adventure, familial history and generosity. As the family (on my father's side) came to know the "Land of the Free" there was never an effort to make their adopted homeland as "...it was where they used to be". Instead, each adopted the language, customs, and assimilated into the America and among the Americans of which they soon became, also.
Reading and re-reading "Baba", has been a warming experience. I am thinking now about the cousins to whom I may be able to turn to find out if what yarns had been passed down to me and others are, indeed, true. Learning I have a common bloodline with "notorious", "famous" as well as "infamous"...while it will not convince the waitress to cut the pie a little larger for you...will fill in the voids and answer questions which have been rattling around in my head for longer than I want to admit.
Again, thank you for the fine article...
It would do us all a bit of good to do the laundry by hand on Baba's washboard! So often we take for granted the good things that we have!
Thank you for telling your Baba's story. I also have ancestors who came from Romania, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, and Russia. My husband had a Baba too. My mother-in-law's maiden name was Bodnar.
Who is she? Are we related?
My grandfather, William Tekverk, emigrated from Czechoslovakia as a 13 year old boy to pave the way for his family's arrival. The area in which he lived was referred to as Bohemia, also a small area near current Prague. I wonder if there was any connection between our ancestors...?
That would be fun, right?
Bohemia is not really a 'small area near Prague' (well, strictly speaking, it is if you take into account that some counties in the USA probably cover more square mileage than the whole of the Czech Republic...) but simply another -antiquated- name for all of the Czech lands. It is related to the German name 'Böhmen' for the region and also to the term 'bohémien'. The Czech lands encompass all of the present-day Czech Republic except for Moravia, the easternmost portion of the country. The importance of these geopolitical differences has, however, become kind of moot today but occasionally still pops up. For instance, the Czech TV weather forecasts differentiate between weather for 'Cechy' and that for 'Morava' or the Czech lands and Moravia respectively.
My "source" DNA "haplogroup," according to http://www.nationalgeographic.com/genigraphic goes back 45,000 years to central Lebanon. But because a my mother's Rusyn father came from near Moravia, there is a Celtic component, making me look like, and be related to the Irish of McAdoo (freckles, blue eyes, and red hair).
What a wonderful story! Loved it! All the components of the "American Dream"
Wow. This touched me. Your Baba even looks like my Baba. The story lines were so similar. My grandaprents setlled in a steel town outside of Pittsburgh and worked very hard to create a new life for their families. We need to remember them, learn from them, and honor them.
Yes Slavic people blend in much easier than any group I have seen. But the reason is because their culture and tradition is rather identical to English, German, Irish or French. Most holidays are the same, Christmas Easter and stuff. Clothing is the same, and they are white. They don't need to change much, to blend in. Russian/Czech/Serbian/Polish words are almost the same as english, despite the difference in writing or pronunciation.
THANK YOU= DENKIE which sounds the same.
Three bottles of milk= Tri botze mlieka
Two pounds of meat= Dve pounde mesa
Words MILK=Mlieko, BOTTLE=Botza , MEAT=Meso, TWO=Dva, THREE=Tri
So that shopping list in Czech would be very similar to English shopping list.
I am really more impressed by Asians that blend in, than Slavic. Asian languages aren't even close to European. The way they write, talk or logic isn't even close. Russians have identical words to English, but they have a weird way of speaking them, relative to English. For example, the word WATER= WODA. Where do you think word VODKA comes from? They drink that stuff instead of water. Chinese word for Water is SHUI and Spanish AQUA. Again, you can see just close Russian is to English. WODA sounds just like WATER the way they say it in south. Slavic people are just Germans that mixed with Asians.
Slavic people were NOT Germans who mixed with Asians. Do some research before making such statements.
I seriously suggest you look into origins of Indo-European languages (or Indo-iranian languages), of which English is one of about 450 languages, that originates from the Iranian plateau and don't just "mix and match" it with Uralic and Slavic languages.
I am going to guess u are hungarian (you mentioning uralic languages and your handle name)..correct me if I'm wrong, is it not so that uralic is in fact also a Iranic language...and magyars (hungarians) had close contact with Iranian nomads? So it sounds like the language groups don't have such a big difference as you tried to point out. At least not indo-european and uralic...Just saying...
Peter all Europeans from Spanish, ITalian, French, Slavic, german, anglo, nordic etc ARE ALL WHITE!! When the Spaniards landed here over 500 yrs ago they brought the first black slaves with them which was like 150 yrs before the English follow suit. Yet when the Spaniards, French, Portuguese and the Brits returned to Europe they left them here. That is one of the reasons Europe had stayed white all those centuries. WE are a melting pot of white, blacks, asian, indians, and folks from Latin America which can be of any race.
What a difference between the days when my grandparents came here and today...there was no welfare. People didn't come here to peddle drugs or live off the dole, they worked hard, and suffered, and tried to become PART of America instead of expecting America to adapt to THEM. None of this "press 1 for English" garbage. And they helped BUILD America instead of tearing it down. We need to return to that!
Great to read!! Pardon my ignorance but TO CAPNMIKE: SO IGNORANT.
I had four extremely intelligent grandparents from eastern Europe who came here as teenagers near the turn of the century and spent their lives struggling in sweatshops with no education to speak of for their hungry minds; no little luxuries for their tired bodies. It was learning that they missed most of all, and I am glad that they lived long enough to see most of their children grow to be literate people. I don't take the riches of education, easily available books and time to read them for granted. We honor them by educating ourselves and keeping our minds open.
This is a great story, BUT, it sounds like the author is using the word "Occupy" to mean just showing up and claiming rights. There are TWO categories of occupiers. First is the LEGAL alien and second is the ILLEGAL alien. It is with the second group of "occupiers" that we, the people, have a problem. Legal aliens have always been, and hopefully always will be, welcome in our country. But the harsh reality is that our country can no longer (if we truly ever could) afford to provide for the millions of people that would like to be here. We have a system that allows certain numbers of immigrants into our land. When you bypass that system, we all lose!
Unfortunately, that reality means that unless Mexicans have large amounts of money or already possess a high-level degree, they have zero chance (not a small chance) of getting in. Check with the immigration department - there are NO general immigration visas open to the general population.
Now, if they have relatives here, they have a chance - they must pay something like $5000 and wait 4 to 9 years, and then there is a pretty good chance they can be re-united with their families.
I won't pretend to have the answers. But don't look longingly back at the good old days of legal immigrants if you aren't willing to face the fact that we are no longer a country that lets hard-working people from other countries come here and add to our population and work force.
If someone cannot scrounge $5K and afford to wait for the visa, we probably don't need them here, anyway.
Edwin – you miss the point of the article. Stop whining.
Cadopa - I do not think I missed the point. It was a WONDERFUL story. The family faced hard times and worked to make a better life. I appreciate the story. I was simply telling Bill he was wrong.
Actually, I think Bill missed the point. And CSnord, too, for that matter.
Great piece thanks for sharing, all the values that made this country what it is, hard work and determination lets hope 2012 will bring better opportunities.
Of course they entered the country legally. There was no immigration law as we know it.
The bar was pretty low. The latest restrictions in 1907 were excluded:
"imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, unaccompanied children under 17 years of age, and persons who are found to be and are certified by the examination surgeon as being mentally or physically defective, such mental or physical defect being of a nature which may affect the ability of such aliens to earn a living" - Immigration law of 1907
That year over 1 million people, just like Baba and Zdethy, entered the United States with a population of about 90 Million. I think we are all happy they came here. In 100 years time, I think our descendents will be celebrating today's immigrants, all of them.
It is hard to see future tolerance when the country is so immersed in hate and prejudice right now.
Sure, we no longer hate eastern europeans or chinese now. Instead we hate latinos and immigrants from Africa. Maybe you are right - in 100 years we will welcome them as part of the American fabric - but we will hate some other group instead.
We only hate the poor latinos if they are not white. White LATINOS dont have that problem in the USA. I dont see Cameron Diaz, Andy Garcia, Eddie Cibrian or white looking latin having those problems. Only if you are of native american indian like most MExicans and brown and mowing the lawn or doing dishes in a restaurant.
I came from Cuba in 2001 when I was 24. I quickly realized that to triumph in this great country one must and should speak English. It hasn’t been easy but through discipline and dedication I now have learned a lot. It’s a constant task of self-improvement and I always learn new idiomatic words and phrases. It is all and interesting process. I think all immigrants who come to this country must and should communicate in English. I must say, learning a new language is not an easy task, it has its challenges but one must respect the laws and culture of the new adoptive country. I love my adoptive country and this doesn’t mean that I don’t feel any attachment to my country of origin. I just rationally, see the virtues and problems of each and try to always improve myself to better help society. Again, I love USA, the country of opportunities and freedom.
Fantastic comment! Even though you weren't born here you have become an American. Welcome!
Great post. My family story is nearly identical.
Susan, this was a really beautiful piece, thanks for posting.
What a wonderful article and how lucky you were to have such a grandmother. My grandmother came from Poland and my memories are quite similar. She was a proud woman who lovingly expected best effort from her family. Now that I am much older and she is gone I channel her often! It surprise me at times. She assimilated, and learned the language but never forgot her heritage. Lucky me to have had such a woman in my life and lucky you to have had your Baba!! Thank you for the article and the rememberance!!
Great story. Most of us are here in the US because of our immigrant ancestors. They endured much hardship and discrimination,but they were tough and previailed.
Very heartwarming and enjoyable writing.
This one is a keeper; thank you for sharing.
I also grew up as a child of a coal mining grandfather who then started a farm with 10 kids. I learned more from my grandfather, a man who was born in 1921, on how to deal with modern problems that I did anyone else. Your example is another part of what makes the American melting pot so sweet.
Reminds me of my Russian Grandma...the black and white pictures of the Ladies in dresses and men wearing their hats, standing in the public garden, probably after church– looking like a family. Family so important, she would tell us.
My Grandma would tell me it doesn't matter how much of these clothes you have- just so they are clean and ironed. And I remember her saying, save, save & save a little more but first a kiss.
....her attempt to write in English using foreign pronunciation; becoming American with the tools she could muster from her home country.....
that was when immigrant came to this country and try to learn "English", but now this country has bend backward and try to learn how to speak immigrant language...!!!
What language do you think Baba spoke when she went out shopping in her community? She probably spoke her native language, not English. Because another language other than English is spoken in the community does not mean people are not trying to learn English. If you were involved in the Latino community, you would know that there are not enough English classes to meet the demand. Second generation immigrants, depending on what age they are upon arrival, speak English.If you knew the community, you would know this is true and not base your opinion on your one or anecdotes.
As usual whining and making excuses. Where I live there are tons of English classes for the motivated and respectul people.
Windy, I am sorry that you miss read this article and feel that you never shared in the real building of America. Thank goodness that there are people like yourself out there because you were mentioned in the article many times. We struggled with you for decades and will continue to but remember this. You are also very important to the survival of the immigrants because your negative comments drive us to prove you wrong and as an immigrant I welcome your comments because your negative force plays and has played a vital force for us in looking passed you and creating an America country beyond your lessor evolved thought process. Thank you and keep up the good work, you too are just as important as the ones building this country into the place we all call America.
Do you really think the negative comments and prejudice are important? Wouldn't you strive to assimilate just as much (or more) if you were welcomed rather than spit on?
Maybe you are right - social forces are tricky things to analyze– but I would like to keep hope that it is the BETTER aspects of Americans which help immigrants, not the worst ones.
You are more than right. The good out weights the bad in America. From the start I have noticed something quite unique to America. In the United Kingdom the challenging of the mind is there but in a weak way. Here in America it is so potent that if one does not recognize it one will sup-press oneself.
For example: You are spit on with," your not a born American! you have no say", comment...That is trash right there and you should turn the other cheek. But there is energy there in those words created by the mind called feelings. One action creates one reaction. Now if one was to take those words and roller coaster it around in our heads which we all do the reaction is known as (HEAD TRASH...+/-). We all have it programmed into our human DNA processor, a system program called Head Trash. What I have noticed here in America is that people say and will consistently remind one of not being born here that one will always be viewed as a wash ashore. And I could write an essay on all the things that people have said to me since I have been here and all of it has been said with a polite smile.
All those comments build up and drive you crazy or build you up depending on how ones mind would spin the head trash. I have started welcoming the comments and return it with a smile. The action from the verbalist which behind my returned smile is hurt and pain of separation becomes a reaction of my choosing. I have chosen to take that free created energy and turned it into my own little energy plant because these subtle comments are more frequent than not. The extra created energy could become anger and resentment which I see a lot of or it can become ones drive. Head Trash is very important to all of us and we all get so rapped up in it that it breaks or makes us.
What I am trying to say it ever time I hear some one bash the third world where I grew up in and received a dollar I would be retired at a young age. I would just walk around and tell every one where I am from to collect the dollar. But I do not get the dollar I get the pain of why would you say that and some energy to spin however I want which in turn I choose to make it oh yeah watch me an immigrant create my own American Dream from nothing to how do you like them apples.
It is not my focus but I have noticed that I will always be made to feel like an outsider so I might as well embrace it with love and use it to my advantage to become part of the idea that we are all trying our best each day to create a country where building a better society for our children takes Presidence.
you know what I mean:-)
Lovely memories. I, too, am the result of more than one immigrant mesalliance made possible by the New World. Luckily, I learned to cook from my maternal grandmother and every day I have her with me in the kitchen, looking over my shoulder. Tangible links to the past indeed!
Only 1 generation and already assimilated, you shame your culture.
What a dreadful person you are to say such a thing!
peng you, you are the one who is shameful. To make such a remark is just plain stupid.
Apparently, sarcasm is a lost medium. ;o)
Why come here at all if you have no desire to be anything other than what you were before? Assimilation is part of the American culture.
I think it is the other way around...
So, if the children of immigrants learn English and assimilate to the larger culture in order to survive and thrive and become Americans - you slam them. But if they don't assimilate - they get slammed again for NOT wanting to be "Americans." Damned if you do and damned if you don't. Someone's always going to slam you for whatever decision you and yours made. I applaud the writer and her family.
You WILL be assimilated. [/Borg]
SOUNDS TO ME LIKE WE COULD ALL TAKE SOME OF YOUR SHARED ADVICE
That's great, but we still don't know what's on the list, do we? Did I miss something? What a waste of time!!
I could make out most of the list. Two pounds of ground beef, a loaf of bread, catsup, can of peaches and toilet paper. What more do you need? I found this to be interesting and I don't speak Czech, but if we all try hard we can understand each other and appreciate our world.
Thanks for your insight, even though it had all the depth of a cookie sheet.
The important thing is the column included the now obligatory use of the word embrace.
Sad that you are so jaded that you can't share the author's happy memories. So they don't fit your agenda. So what? This author shared a story with us about her life. Common courtesy (a foreign concept to most Americans) is to thank her for it, or to be silent.
Sadder still is that you were unable to read it and learn. There was no strong agenda in the author's story, though there were a few points she stressed. But we grow as people when we share REAL stories about lives. It makes us more human, more connected. And Americans need more real connection to each other - otherwise we will collapse as a nation.
I, too, have similar memories/stories....a zdethy...the patch town of Eckley, PA...stories of 11 kids in a two bedroom home, outhouses in winter, listening to songs with lyrics that now sound like Klingon. We can never comprehend what they experienced; however, we need to be eternally grateful that they did.
They came here stood in line and wntered legally. They brought a love of life and a work ethic second to none. They worked to make a better world for themselves their children and their communities. How wonderful that you knew them and learned their values. We need more to remember what they did, honor it and continue what they started, The building aof the greatest nation on earth.
Not to belabor the point, but they came here legally because they could. Nowadays most people from foreign countries CANNOT come here legally. Check with the federal immigration laws. Basically, rich people can come here; people with advanced degrees or specialized jobs can come here; those with relatives can eventually come here (after waiting four to nine years); and people from under-represented countries can come here.
That means other types (the poor, for example) from countries like Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, England - they CANNOT enter legally. There is NO path to citizenship available to them.
Sound crazy? I thought so, but it is the truth. Don't take my word for it, look it up on the US government web sites.
So... don't get so upset that Mexicans try to come here illegally. They LITERALLY have no other option for gettiing in America.
Over the last 20 years the US has admitted, on average, just over a million people a year. See " http://www.numbersusa.com/content/nusablog/cbreiter2/may-4-2009/does-united-states-admit-a-reasonable-number-legal-immigrants.html " for the numbers. This does not include temporary visas for employment, latest figure around 900,000.
Oh the good old days when unions protected and promoted the rights of workers.
unions were great when their sole purpose was too protect the worker. Now they want to influence children – I have 2 mommies through the NEa and presidential politics and paying people way too much so that we can not compete globally
Unions have always been corrupt, even then. It's just that then the companies were even more corrupt than they are now. Early union formation was not pretty - largely because companies hired goons to threaten and kill union workers.
Faced with that start, it is not surprising that some unions have maintained a hostile relationship with employers. In my home state, Wisconsin, I have recently lost the actual right to form a union. Oddly, my salary and benefits were also cut at the same time. My employer saw an opportunity and took it.
Unions are not agencies of good. They are agencies of necessity. Remove the greed and corruption inherent in capitalism and you remove the need for unions.
Wonderful story Susan! I have a wonderful-feel good smile across my face as I read it... There is hope!
It is so important for us to keep our ancestors, our heritage, and our lineage, our unique individual family histories *alive* for our children and grandchildren. Pass them down through ORAL HISTORIES, oft-repeated family tales told to children on a cold winter evening, or when, each summer, I would declare a 2-week period "The TV FREE ZONE" and oh! how the family stories got re-told then, as board games were played, card games indulged in, or we luxuriated in long, listless walks around the neighborhood! Put the family history down in journals, so it passes on in physical form, too. You cannot know how to chart your future if you do not know your past, if you are not comfortable with where you've been.
Inspiring family legacy. I can picture it as a great romantic novel or mini-series. Times seemed more trying then.People perservered for hope for the future generations. My ancestors were brought here in bondage,but tried just as hard to assimulate. Took a long while.
How easy it is to forget how incredibly difficult it was to carve the veins that became the United States of America... And how easy it is to forget.
Oh the good old days when immigrants came into the country legally and eagerly learned the language of their new country....sigh.
Don't fall into the old prejudices... they learned the new language LESS than modern immigrants do. Text messaging has guaranteed that second generation immigrants nowadays ALL become fluent, at least in TextSpeak (just like native-born Americans). The older generation struggles, just like it did before.
And as for legality... they came legally because they COULD. The U.S. has since set very harsh limits on immigration. Immigrants today are illegal because there REALLY is no other option. Look up U.S. immigration law.
Are you sure all of them came here legally? I think it would be difficullt to prove. Can you prove the legal status of all of your ancestors? Unless you are 100% Native American, I think you probably cannot. Record keeping in those days was not so accurate. People come to the US because conditions in their countries are intolerable. They are unable to find work and often suffer persecution. Our beautiful Statue of Liberty welcomes them. I imagine she would be outraged by your comments. PS: Most immigrants ARE here with legal status. Often it is the impossibility of getting permission to legally leave THEIR countries that causes them to come here without legal status, not any restriction by the United States. In many countries, the expense of bribing officials causes them to use other means of getting here.
Native Americans – do you mean the people who came here from Siberia?
The mess we are in now is because the Native Americans did not have an adequate illegal immigrant policy.