life in and around NYC is insane

Saturday, April 27, 2013

another bubba meister

I was a young woman in my 20's when a group of us decided to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  I'd been to the Statue of Liberty before, it's hard to avoid it if you live in the NYC metropolitan area, but not to Ellis Island.    The Statue of Liberty is an icon, standing in the middle of New York Harbor, acting as a beacon...but you have to know where Ellis Island is...

I stood in the immigration museum, and my grandmother's voice was in my head...

She'd always begin her immigration story in Rotterdam.  She did not speak about leaving her home or her village, or her mother and youngest sister.  Her father was in America several years when he sent for my grandmother and her sister Shirley. Two other siblings, Florence and Al, came later.  But her mother had a limp and was afraid she'd be turned back, so never attempted to immigrate to America, and the youngest daughter stayed behind with their mother.

So Dora and Shirley found themselves on their way to America, with their aunt and uncle.  It was Rosh Hashanah, and the girls wanted to buy candy for the holiday.  The aunt and uncle said "no", and by the time the girls convinced them to change their minds, all the stores were closed.

Dora was extremely seasick for most of the trip. She blamed it on the sardines that the sailor gave her.  She was ill and weak when they arrived at Ellis Island, and was afraid she'd be sent back to Europe.  she failed the physical the first time, and was sent to the Ellis Island hospital.  Ultimately she recovered and was allowed entry into NYC.  I can still hear her tell me how the doctor made her walk back and forth, to see if she could walk a straight line.  

It was also her first meeting with an African-American.  He was a worker in the kitchen I think, assigned to serve food.  She must have been staring at him, because he told her "don't be afraid, touching me won't make you dirty."    The world was a different place in 1920, wasn't it?

And record keeping?  Apparently when they arrived at Ellis Island, the uncle made a mistake -- he said he had Shirley and Florence with him.  So immigration had Florence entering the country twice, and Dora not at all. 

As a result Dora had difficulty when she tried to become a naturalized citizen.  In fact , that didn't happen until my mother was grown up and able to figure out the problems with the paperwork.

The day she became a citizen, the judge tested her on American history.  "He asked me, 'Who was Abraham Lincoln?' and I said 'He was the President.'  the judge asked 'And what did he do for the people?' And I said 'He freed the slaves.' And I became a citizen."

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