Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Granddaughter of Immigrants

If you've been paying any attention at all to the news, you know that there's a lot of angry talk in our country about immigrants. I'm not going to go into the details because it's just too tragic to consider what compels people to leave their home of origins and what compels people to want to deny the bereft, brokenhearted, or simply dreamers seeking a new home. These are difficult times.
But I'm thinking about immigrants because today is my grandmother's 126th birthday. My wonderful, smart, immigrant grandma who was born Zara Zlata Dienstfrei in Brody, Galicia, Poland on March 17, 1890 came to this country with her husband Abraham Pikarevich who was born in Kiev on May 10, 1888. He left his homeland with his brother and literally walked across Europe to Egypt, where they both learned to be barbers. They then went to Italy, France, and finally to Germany during World War I. That's where he met Zara. They got married and had a son, Jozef in 1917.
On June 2, 1921 they boarded a ship bound for America. They arrived via Ellis Island where they changed their names. My grandfather chose Adolph. My grandmother became Sophie. Jozef became Josef, although my grandmother always called him "Yussie." They settled in Newark, New Jersey, where my grandfather and his brother opened a barber shop. My grandmother was a dressmaker. My mother's older sister was born in 1923; my mother in 1925, and two more children followed in 1927 and 1930.

I hardly got to know my grandfather. He died in 1954. I do have a very distinct memory of him though. He loved to take my twin brother and me out for a walk in our twin stroller. He loved to sing a little song to us in Russian. I still remember the words, but I'm not sure how to even type them or what they mean.

I did get to know my grandmother. She was a remarkable woman. So smart, so political, so engaged. She loved to sew, cook, and bake. She was utterly serious about the world and always kept up with current events. She subscribed to the I F Stone Weekly. She taught us to be serious and to question authority.

It is truly amazing to think she lived to be 86 years old, but she did. It was a good life here in her adopted country. It hasn't even been 100 years since my immigrant grandparents and Uncle Joe arrived.  In those intervening years, though, my grandmother's mother and two brothers died in the Holocaust. Sometimes, it really is the most important thing to do, to let people move about the planet as if we are all one species. 'Cause you know that's just what we are.

I am the granddaughter of immigrants.

Happy birthday, Grandma.


18 comments:

  1. "I am the granddaughter of immigrants."

    So am I. So are most of us, actually.Granddaughters or Grandsons, anyhow.

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  2. I as well. My mother's parents came over from Italy in steerage. My mother was job hunting during WWII and would lie about her national origin, because businesses who were looking for employees specified that hung Germans and Italians need not apply. She's tell them that she was Spanish.
    Here's a great rockin' tune about immigrants:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPVhMtC0pns

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    1. !!!!!!!!!Can I edit that?!!! I can explain--I began to say that they hung signs in the window, then thought this would be shorted.Um, my mother wasn't hung.

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  3. Given that the birthplace of the Human Race has been narrowed down to most likely very small areas of Africa, we are all descendants of immigrants. For that reason, I hate the term "Native Born". Because someone was born a certain place does in no way make them more special in my eyes.

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  4. Susannah-- I think it's good to remember.

    CCorax-- When did your grandmother come to this country? How interesting that your grandmother had to say she was from Spain. The rhetoric if this political season makes me very uncomfortable. The future is a little bit scary these days.

    MRMacrum-- I absolutely agree with you. We are all the same species. We all came out of the same lands in Africa. Ah but we live in a time where crazy politicians and the illiterate masses who follow them deny evolution and climate change. Ignorance shall be our undoing, and sadly we may take the whole planet with us.

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    1. My mother's parents came sometime in the early 1900s. It was a marriage arranged in their home village of San Fele, but they didn't marry until they arrived here. My mother said that many people from the village came over together and settled in Greenwich Village. (That was my mom who had to lie about her ancestry in order to apply for jobs).

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    2. So if I am reading this correctly, your mom had to lie about her nationality, even though she had been born in this country. It's like what happened to the Japanese in California, only here it was worse and there were camps. Humans are such interesting (and scary) creatures.

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  5. Family stories are interesting. I was the 4th generation to be born in Kansas on the Gugler side but then I immigrated to Canada where my 2nd daughter was a 1st in the family to be born in Canada while my older daughter was the 5th generation to be born in the States.

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  6. love this story. My mother came over from Poland when she was 8 years old. None of the family spoke English...

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  7. Love this post. Looking at your Grandmother I can see your mom, you, your brothers and your sister. Strong gene pool there! My family came from Isle of Man, England, Ireland (both sides). My husband's from Russia (The Pale) and elsewhere. My daughter's great grandparents from Italy. Truly, we are an immigrant nation. It is what makes us who were are. Disturbing as the current rhetoric is, it is not new. As each new wave of people came to our shores, there was hatred quite blatantly displayed. People eventually get over it.

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  8. John-- Thank you!

    Ontario Wanderer-- It's so good to remember our family histories. I think of myself as 2nd generation, although some would say 3rd. The Sherman side of Roger's family trace all the way back to Plymouth Rock. How's that for a crazy long-time being in America!

    Binnie-- I still remember your mother after all these years. I called her "Reggie" but I'm not sure I know what her real first name was. I love our family histories.

    Tara-- So glad you liked this. I've been thinking about writing it, and my grandmother's birthday definitely inspired me to get to it. It is wonderful to remember our roots and also to remember our country's history. Over population will definitely make things harder in the coming years.

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  9. How wonderful that you have such an accurate record of your ancestors and their journey. We are all immigrants unless are Native Americans. That made this country great and I hope we don't lose that.

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  10. Yes, we are indeed all one. What affects anyone anywhere on our planet affects us all in some way. But too many politicians today want Americans to be like the pigs in Animal Farm...more equal than others.

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  11. Arkansas Patti-- My niece found the ship passenger document at Ancestry dot com, I think. What a cool find. We are all the children of immigrants; it's amazing to me that people seem to forget that.

    NCmountainwoman-- We are all one. I can never understand why that fact is so hard to grasp. Then I remember the politicians and the psychopaths who run everything.

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  12. Second generation Irish here! Born to tell the stories!

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  13. MandT-- It's a wonderful thing to pass down the old stories.

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