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A Day in the Life of an Immigrant

by Maryann Pisano on October 23, 2013

My grandmother (front) with her brothers Joseph and Dominic. My great-grandmother Filomena is in in the back. This was their first photo taken upon arriving in Ellis Island.

October is Italian Heritage Month!  At the age of 12, my grandma left her hometown of Calabria, Italy and took a steamer to America.  Like most families in the 1920’s, jobs were scarce in Italy.  Family stories also recall that my great-grandfather was afraid of Mussolini’s slow rise to power, which may be  another reason why they wanted to move to America.  From what my great-grandfather Antonio had heard, American streets were paved in gold, and it was the land of opportunity.

My great-grandfather Antonio came to America first.  After finding a job, he sent for the rest of his family.  My grandmother Catarina, her mother Filomena, and her brothers Dominic and Joseph came to America later.  From what I know, they waited in line at Ellis Island for three long days to gain American citizenship.  They came to live in Chicago because it’s where my great-grandfather had found work.

Life for them definitely wasn’t easy.  My grandma, a 12-year-old, was put in a first grade classroom because she didn’t speak English.  My great uncles, Joe and Dominic, couldn’t go to school because they had to find jobs to help the family.

My great grandparents embraced America.  They embraced the language, culture and country.  They wanted their kids to leave behind their Italian traditions and become true Americans.  In doing this, they learned English fast and absorbed the culture.

I have very wonderful memories of my grandmother telling me stories about Italy and coming over on a boat.  Unfortunately, my grandmother never returned to Italy after arriving in America.

My grandmother’s struggle made her a stronger person– and a proud Italian-American!

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