Immigration Story Draft 1
My Immigration Story
I wonder what it feels like to cross over to a country by boat, train, or plane and to have to assimilate in a place where everything is different. Sometimes I try to imagine myself in an alternate universe, where I cannot understand anyone and no one can understand me. What does it feel like to have a voice that people cannot hear or opinions that are disregarded based on some cultural distinction. There sometimes becomes a literal and figurative wall that keeps people from belonging anywhere. I have not personally experienced the great burden of migration but my grandparents and great grandparents have. Their own immigration to the United States has paved the way for me to have accessible resources and to have a better future.
The first of the paternal side of my family to arrive in America was my great grandfather. He left Ireland and immigrated to America in 1918 with my great grandmother after his service in World War 1. They also migrated to America because of the growing tension in the UK that ultimately led up to the division of Ireland into the Northern and Southern parts in 1919. They eventually settled in San Francisco in an Irish community and had to create their own cultural space because at the time there was hostility from legal residents in America who were becoming exasperated by all the immigrants settling in coastal cities such as New York and San Francisco. My great grandmother gave birth to my grandfather, John Sweeney, a few months after their immigration to America in 1918. Both of my great grandparents worked dangerous and meager factory jobs to support their family which was especially burdensome during the Great Depression. In 1939 when my grandfather was twenty one was drafted into the army to fight during World War II. He was stationed in Germany at the time where he met my grandmother Matilda who would eventually become his wife.
My paternal grandmother, Matilda, was born in Germany in 1929 near Munich. She had four siblings and most of which either stayed in Germany or passed away. Areas around Munich and other parts of Germany were becoming increasingly unsafe especially with the oppressive Nazi regime. She met my grandfather in one of the mail facilities when he was sanctioned near Munich. A couple months later in 1945 when she was sixteen they were married. After the war they immigrated from Germany to America eventually settling in Southern California. Since, my grandfather was an American, my grandmother gained citizenship through matrimony. Although she was lucky to have legal status so easily the actual cultural assimilation in America was very challenging. She had no friends or family in the states, she knew no one who spoke German, and she was initially very resentful. It took Mathilda many years to learn English to be able to communicate with others she eventually found a factory job which required her to work laborious hours in which she often had to be away from her children. She gave birth to my uncle John Sweeney the II in 1949 and then gave birth to my father Michael Sweeney in 1961. Eventually my grandparents were divorced but luckily they had stayed together long enough for her legal residency to go into full effect.
For my grandmother to assimilate to an entirely brand new country with discrimination and people referring to her as a Nazi is really meaningful to me. She traveled vast seas to give my father, my siblings, and I a better opportunity to pursue a successful life where the economy and country was not so war torn. She has worked hard all her life to prove she belongs to America and that America is the home of her children and their descendents. If she had not married my grandfather and stayed in Germany I would not exist as I today. This means everything that I am pursuing would have no meaning in this universe at all. Her sacrifice to leave behind the only life she knew ensured the best opportunity for me to have the most successful life. It takes innumerable strength to assimilate to a new country whether people come through visa, marriage, or as undocumented immigration is not meant for the weak of heart.