Apparently it’s “Immigrant Day” today.
My great-grandparents immigrated to the US aboard a sailing ship from Sweden, Norway, and The Isle of Man. They came to the USA for many of the same reasons folks immigrate here today, work, freedom, a better way of life. Times were tough for them. More difficult than anything most of us know or experience today. When they landed here, there was no government assistance. You were expected to learn English, to assimilate, to find a way of supporting yourself and your family. They succeeded in doing that against some incredible odds. There was little in the way of medical care – antibiotics had not yet been discovered, so I lost relatives to the Black Dyptheria plague of 1917. Settling in the UP of Michigan, there were long, cold winters, with only rudimentary insulation in the home they had built, relying on wood they had cut the summer before for heat. No electricity, no indoor plumbing, and food preserved from the summer before to take them until the next harvest.
Service in the First World War was met with pride and patriotism. The heyday of the roaring 20’s offered a brief respite from the decades of struggle and war, only to welcome The Great Depression. Wood lots and potato fields sustained them. Patriotism and pride of the American Way maintained faith that they would see better days ahead. Both of my parents grew up during this time, and told me stories of how difficult this time really was. I have photos that show my mom, as a teenager, weighing no more that 80 lbs, and looking on the brink of starvation. She told stories of having potato soup one night, and the next night having only potato peeling soup. They survived. They didn’t ask or expect the government to come to their rescue. They found work, made do, mended socks, wore hand-me-down clothes and shoes two sizes too big because that’s all they had. Very few alive today lived through this, but any one of them will tell you that nothing since has been so devastating as these times.
So, today is “Immigrant Day”, huh? My “celebration” is to reflect on the struggles of my immigrant ancestors and thank them for their morals, perseverance, assimilation, patriotism, hard work, and strength.