Immigration Story revised draft

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. As Grace Chang author of “Disposable Domestics” describes that the cause of this tension between Americans and immigrants was that most Americans believed that immigration had caused male migrant laborers steal jobs from “native” workers. While my great grandfather and his wife immigrated to America for a better chance of survival they had no intention of stealing, manipulating, and exploiting the American system to rise above natural born people. His goal was to simply create a better life for his family.

Both of my great grandparents worked dangerous and meager factory jobs to support their family, they did jobs most legal residents refused to do to survive they were actually benefiting the economy by completing the least desirable jobs at the lowest cost. My great grandmother gave birth to my grandfather, John Sweeney, a few months after their immigration to America in 1918. She didn’t migrate to America to bear her son in America it was time in which my grandparents did not know if they would survive their migration and clung to each other with it resulting in her pregnancy. It was hard for my family to assimilate when everyone and thing told them to turn back and return to a home country that was no longer their to claim. My grandfather  John like Edith who was only fourteen in the collection of stories, “Papeles” was in fear that his parents would be caught y immigration in raids and that he would be stranded in a place where no one wanted him and no one could care for him. His parents fortunately were never caught by immigration and raised him to always appreciate the sacrifice they had made to bring him to a world full of opportunities. In 1939 when my grandfather was twenty one was drafted into the army to fight during World War II. John Sweeney was stationed in Germany at the time where he met my grandmother Matilda who would eventually become his wife. This would begin a new immigration story of a young woman who left everything she knew to follow a man to a distant land out of love and hope that her predecessors would never know the feeling of a land torn apart by war.

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 and the rise of Hitler. 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, the war had finally ended, but the aftermath was devastating. Families, school, jobs, places of business were all torn apart, the skies became gray as the mourning for the dead filled the skies. Knowing they could not raise a family in a place that was was so  deeply rooted in one of the greatest sins they immigrated from Germany to America, eventually settling in Southern California.

My grandfather was an American, so 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.  Mathilda  did not pursue a higher education because it took her many years to learn English and to be able to communicate with others. She had to sacrifice her dreams of becoming a nurse but eventually found a factory job which required her to work laborious hours. Her job did demanded her to 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. The number one thing my grandmother never got over was the lack of ability to continue her education. That is why she desperately encouraged me to use my resources a native born resident and to get a career, to make a life for myself and to be independent.

When I have asked my grandmother why she uprooted herself to reside in a foreign land her answer was so she could ensure that her future children and grandchildren would never have to live with the remnants of a war torn society.  She also explained to me that she never wanted her descendants to be related or considered a Nazi. She also told me that most social institutions had been deconstructed after the war including school and education. She has always been an advocate of providing her family with the best education possible. She knew if she married my grandfather her children and their children would have an opportunity to pursue the best possible education. Unfortunately, my father did not .pursue a higher education and so my grandmother begged me to complete my schooling. Her sacrifice and persistence is one of the major contributing reasons as to why I am pursuing my education at UCSC. I want to make her proud and to show her that moving to the US was not in vain.

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 descendants. 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.  

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