What's your Immigrant story? July 8, 2018 4:13 PM   Subscribe

The antidote to despair is hope. Hope is the heart of migration. I'd love it if we can share the stories of migration that brought us to where we are, wherever that may be. These stories are important. They are ours, our heritage. For the biggest umbrella that "our" can encompass.

It's five generations back for me, a Great Plains (u.s.) resident of Northern European origin.
posted by yesster to MetaFilter-Related at 4:13 PM (77 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

My dad met my mom while filming a movie of the week in Thailand, no joke. HE eventually married her and they moved to the States, where they eventually opened up a chain of wonderful Thai restaurants. There's a lot of privilege in my upbringing, which I try to recognize now, but as a kid I just thought it was the coolest thing ever. Dad worked in Hollywood long enough to have fun stories, and mom cooked wonderful food.
posted by Alensin at 4:28 PM on July 8, 2018 [15 favorites]

I was born in India in 1980. My parents decided to move to America, they chose Dallas, Texas as that is where my mom's sister was already living. We spent 18 years there and I watched my dad move from a clerk at a convenience store, to owner of the convenience store, owner of a dry-cleaners, and a home-owner. We got tired of the heat in 1999 and moved to Ontario Canada because we had more family up here as well and my dad wanted to get out of the dry-cleaning business. We opened up a family hotel in 2000 and we're all Canadian citizens now.

I never really know how to answer that question of, “Where are you from?” I guess I'm from a lot of places, but I feel like I understand that immigrant experience b/c my family made it work. We were lucky that way, and persistent in working hard to make our own luck when we hit road blocks in life. My dad is my hero. He has worked hard his entire life to provide me opportunities and privileges he did not have.
posted by Fizz at 4:44 PM on July 8, 2018 [16 favorites]

I'm a first generation Canadian. My parents came to this country in 1956 - my dad came ahead, and then my mom followed a few months later, with a 12 month old and a 6 week old. She took a steamer across the Atlantic, and then a four day train ride from Montreal to the northern Prairies. It was November, and already around -20.

About half an hour after she arrived in her new home, the neighbour came over with an empty laundry basket, and said, "you must have some dirty clothes from your trip. Let me wash them for you."

When I eventually came onto the scene, that neighbour became my godmother, and she, her husband, and my parents are good friends to this day, so many years later.

(And, less than a year after they themselves arrived, my parents sponsored a refugee Hungarian family fleeing the events of 1956).
posted by Rumple at 4:51 PM on July 8, 2018 [18 favorites]

My great-grandmother's married name was Baldwin. I grew up wanting pre-nutter Adam "My Bodyguard" Baldwin to be my big buddy. Baldwin pianos. My mom has a Baldwin deadbolt on her front door. Me having English or Scottish roots. 15-20 years ago my great uncle did some genealogy on the great-grandfather and found out that his real name was "Balduc," and he was French. Totally Ellis-Island'ed. He also got kicked out of the Army for some reason, which is the kind of juicy history I like to find.

Somehow he met my Iowan great-grandmother, made it to California, and that's why my mom says "warsh."
posted by rhizome at 5:03 PM on July 8, 2018 [7 favorites]

My dad (Ohio-born, with some Scottish roots and some vague (European) provenance) went to Mexico to study Spanish and met my mom. They fell in love, moved to California, and had kids, including my adopted brother (African-American-Vietnamese). I always wonder what it would have been like if we had grown up in Ohio or Mexico instead of California; in California we didn't stand out (much) and I never thought much about our multi-racial family our our mixed-immigration status family until I went to college and discovered middle America.
posted by correcaminos at 5:21 PM on July 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

All of my great-grandparents were immigrants. Well, my maternal grandmother was born in the US, but her family went back to "Poland" shortly after she was born, and then came back a few years later after my mom's aunt was born.

My dad's paternal grandparents were from Co. Roscommon and his maternal grandparents were from Quebec. His Quebecois grandmother lived with him for a time growing up and would insist that he and his brothers speak French to her, even though she could speak English just fine. Because of her, all the random phrases that we've always said in French in my family have always been conjugated with vous instead of tu.

My mom's paternal grandparents were from Co. Cork (her grandmother coming via Wales) and her mother's family was from Silesia. I know her grandfather considered himself Austrian instead of Polish, though. My mom's father was a mean drunk, so my grandmother and her four kids would talk shit about him in Polish right in front of him, until he caught on and forbade them from speaking Polish in the house. Dupa survived, though, so when I was growing up, it was always "sit your dupa down, young lady" or "get your dupa over here" etc etc.

In the Ruki household, Kid Ruki and I speak Spanish to each other half the time we're talking (I took Spanish through college and she's taking it in high school, so it's reinforcing her learning) and there's a smattering of French, Polish, Yiddish, and Hebrew mixed in with English. My dad's paternal grandparents did speak Irish and my mom's paternal grandmother did speak Welsh, but those languages died with them. My parents taught me how to swear in French, Polish, and Vietnamese, which is important, but I'm bummed that both of my parents grew up in bilingual households and I didn't.

The mister is 100% Ukrainian but has so little interest in his family background that he thought he was fully German until a few years ago.
posted by Ruki at 5:47 PM on July 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Records are sketchy - I was adopted at a time when great efforts were made to ensure that was so. Well at the end of those times anyway.

At any rate it looks likely that half of my genes (maybe 3/8s?) walked here
From Eurasia during an ice age. The other half followed oil field work from Texas to northern Alberta. It’s not clear whether she was a citizen here but if he knew I was born policy was to make it difficult for his family to stake a claim. Even now that those records are legally open it’s interesting what has apparently been mislaid or mistakenly destroyed.

Of the family I do know, who don’t look anything like me, the tree had several broken branches. A great grandfather who (at 14) ran away from something or, perhaps, towards something and landed in Canada from England never to return or speak of why. When he married and they had my grandfather and great uncle they never explained - wouldn’t be bothered by children and there was no other family to ask.

The other side of the maternal line left a concert career to marry a farmer (also in northern Alberta) and a uboat sank the ship carrying most of her possessions. There is little family lore predating that maritime disaster.

On the paternal side my English grandmother shuttled between relatives after he father was killed in the first Great War and eventually sold, I mean fostered, to a family in Canada where she was essentially indentured labour. She married my grandfather who was born here; his family in turn had fled the Irish potato famine and little is known about them beyond that. Even the hamlet he grew up near is now a field with no indications that people would have conducted commerce and received mail there. I have spoken about their land grant homestead before. They would have been 106 & 107 now but both died in the late 90s. Their lives truly seem like fiction from a different century.

In short - I can plausibly lay claim to multiple lineages non of which I can trace back more than 4 generations to any place or time. It’s possible that even the blood relatives who have lived in this land for hundreds if not thousands of generations could not recall the oral histories after generations of genocidal policy. Those ancestors whos children did rear me all immigrated here under dire circumstances. Those who chose did so desperately.

We all come from somewhere; this land was here before us and it will be here long after we are gone. It is the height of hubris to imagine that a few can rightfully claim its riches, or deny others their chance to draw nourishment here - to grow and farm and build and live - simply because a temporal accident had their progenitors here a geologic blink earlier than some.
posted by mce at 6:06 PM on July 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

My not sure how many greats back Jewish great grandfather and family immigrated to the US to flee the Russian pogroms. No records remain of where they came from.
posted by nikaspark at 6:07 PM on July 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

My great grandfather left Avellino, Italy in 1900 aboard the Spartan Prince, arriving in New York city but ending up in Watertown, MA for some reason. As far as I can tell from my research he traveled alone and didn't have much in the way of family here, though I think by that time there were some cousins. The census listed him as a "laborer." That's about all I know about that side.

My mom was born in Tralee, Ireland. She was one of fourteen, very few of whom survived to be adults. She left home for America to marry a professional golfer. Her plane landed in Boston just as the Cuban Missile Crisis was underway, which I'm sure was some sort of metaphor or warning or something. Eventually she broke it off with the golfer, became a nanny for a wealthy family, met my dad at a dance, had three boys, the youngest of which was me, and then went on to one day vote for Donald Trump.
posted by bondcliff at 6:09 PM on July 8, 2018 [6 favorites]

I posted in the Saturday night MetaTalk thread that I got some terrible news this morning. My Grandfather had passed away at the age of 98. He was a brilliant man. I think I can probably share his story here because he actually fled Pakistan after Independence (Pakistan being Northern Indian during British Imperial rule and was created after the fact). He packed up all his things, his young family and walked to New Delhi. A migrant of his own country, asked to leave a newly created one because of his religion. He raised a family and started a business, a hardware store.

He was so respect that some local business people asked him to intervene when they were being harassed by some local gangsters because of their religion. He waited one night for the gangsters to show up and try to shake down a friend of his, he refused and got stabbed in the ass with a knife. He was in the hospital for a week. A month after that, he found the guy that stabbed him and he beat the shit out of him. He found out a few weeks after that, the guy he beat (the one who stabbed him), got sick and died of internal bleeding. That's simultaneously the coolest/scariest/worst story I know about my grandfather. Shit was real back then and he did not fuck around. He was feared and respected.

He was driving his car right up until the age of 89. He was once driving my parents around and he got into a car accident with some people in the neighborhood. They respected him so much that once they realized who had hit their car, they just said, “It's ok, you have the right of way.” His license was taken away from him a few months later, but straight up Godfather levels of respect.

He participated in civil disobedience, riots/protests, he wrote political tracts, he was a part of a local city council, he ran a business, raised three children, and died peacefully in his sleep. He will forever be the greatest person I know.
posted by Fizz at 6:28 PM on July 8, 2018 [27 favorites]

One of my earliest ancestors in America was the son of a Royalist Anglican vicar who had been jailed by Cromwell during the English Civil War and interregnum. The son also took holy orders, but decided that instead of a life in the church he would go to the New World and become a gentleman farmer. He settled on Long Island in the 1600s. One time, he and two of his neighbors rented a boat to take them across the Long Island Sound to Connecticut to get their grain milled. The boat sank, and all that was ever found was the three farmers' hats, which washed up on shore some time later.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:52 PM on July 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

My partner is Canadian. We met online and sort of fell into a relationship--it started with being friends and then jokes about setting up a household together and then an uncomfortable realization that somewhere along the line they'd become much more than jokes, especially because we were talking coparenting children. But I'd just started my PhD in Texas, so I couldn't leave the US, and we couldn't see any way for them to be with me.

DOMA went down and suddenly things became much more tangible: both possible and difficult, but worth it. They're eligible for citizenship as of last month and are still considering whether to apply for it. We don't yet know whether we will make a permanent home here.

Of my own ancestors, I am fairly certain that most of them wandered absently into the United States over the upstate New York border with Canada. That's where most of the oral traditions point to, except my family have an irritating tendency to gloss over just how legal (or not) that practice was around the turn of the century. I do know that one great-great-grandfather paid his passage here from Ireland by agreeing to take up the commission of a wealthy fellow who didn't want to serve in the Union Army, and then used his pay to bring his family over after him. Good old chain migration, right there. There was one great-grandfather who wouldn't tell anyone where he'd come from or anything about his life prior to the one he made with my great-grandmother--I'm not even sure he used the name he was born with, since

Most of my ancestors were, before Canada, poor Irish folks who were probably fleeing the famine. Of the reminder... there's an Italian great-grandfather, a Ukraininan great-grandmother whose mother fled the Cossacks, probably some French trapping sorts. Catholics, who by and large weren't exactly welcomed when they got here, but... got by, anyway.
posted by sciatrix at 6:55 PM on July 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

My mother's family has an immigration story that we heard for years. The story is that four siblings came over from Ireland and landed in Boston. Somehow the older brother & sister were separated from the younger brother & sister. After much searching, the older two had to leave for Iowa to find their other relatives and the four never reconnected. We heard about the 'lost brother & sister' over the years. Fast forward to the late 1990s. My mother's cousin went from Iowa to SW Minnesota to pick up a tractor. He told the dealer his name, who then said, "I know another Joe F who lives down the road." So my mother's cousin went to the farm and knocked on the door and introduced himself and asked if they knew anything about their ancestors. "We don't know much--when they came from Ireland, they were separated from their older brother & sister and never saw them again." That started the conversation! Lots of the same names in the two families, lots of stories to share. The families still meets every so often.

I love the immigration stories on Minnesota's Immigrants a project of the Immigration History Research Center (IHRC) at the University of Minnesota Libraries. I can spend hours watching them, tissues at hand.

IHRC collects and preserves the stories through the IHRC Archives and the Digital Public Library of America. The stories vary in their detail & intensity, but all share the hope for a better life. Many share the kindness of neighbors like Rumple's laundry story. The artifacts they share--airline tickets, x-rays, faded photos, a radio, objects--add to the stories immensely. Here are some of my favorites:
Kathy Mouacheupao
Saengmany Ratsabout (he is on the staff at IHRC, so his story has a promotional bent)
Chiyoko Toguchi Swartz

All are welcome to add their story using the Immigration Stories page.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 6:57 PM on July 8, 2018 [12 favorites]

Let's see. My father came to the States from the UK when he was about three years old, but how my paternal grandparents wound up in the UK is interesting in its own right. My grandfather's family noped on out of Poland sometime in the 1920s and settled in Toronto, because Poland wasn't a healthy place to be Jewish then. My grandmother's family got the hell out of Germany in about 1936, and settled in the UK, because it really, really wasn't a good place to be Jewish. They met when my grandfather came to Bristol for graduate school sometime in the early 50s (I should ask them exactly when).

My mother's family has been in the US since the 19th century, if not significantly earlier. We can do some pretty fun genealogy on that side of things; there's a mid-19th-century vice president back in that family.

And my wife, who is also Dr Bored for Science, was born in Crimea and came to the US when she was six.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 7:04 PM on July 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

One thing that I'm not sure everyone grasps as far as perspective is that when one says "all [Americans] are descended from immigrants," what exactly that means or feels like can be very different depending on whether you're from a diverse coastal cities of immigrants or descended from Midwestern or southern farm folks where you have to go back to the mid-late 19th century to get your first smattering of immigrant ancestors--it's a very distant and frankly not terribly salient past. I've got a great-grandmother who came from Quebec whose I'd never even heard mentioned until I started doing genealogy research on ancestry.com. At the great-great level, I've got 4 immigrant ancestors (2 Quebecois, 1 Brit, 1 German). The majority of my family tree immigrated in the 1700s, starting out in New York or Pennsylvania or Virginia, and moving their way across to Kentucky/Indiana/Ohio in the years before the Civil Word, then finally Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, what have you. And I think this is not especially unusual for a lot of people with deep roots in the midwest or South. I'm not saying this to be contrarian, but I think if you come from the other perspective where it does seem that everyone's an immigrant, or has immigrant parents or grandparents or at most great-grandparents and therefore have some kind of "immigrant story"--you may not be aware how many people are in the opposite situation where if they haven't researched their ancestry, they literally could not name a single ancestor who wasn't born in the U.S. and the only signs they have that their ancestors came from anyplace else is the various nationalities of their grandparents'/great-grandparents' last names.
posted by drlith at 7:05 PM on July 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

After realizing that I qualified for Italian citizenship through ancestry I did some background research a few years ago and ended up actually getting that citizenship recognized and a passport issued. In August 2012 I was lucky enough to actually visit my ancestral hometown and visit the town record office, where I have now been registered as an overseas Italian.

The migration story as far as I can tell:

1) From time immemorial people my Italian ancestors lived in a small village in Sicily. On the day I visited, it seemed that the document trail petered out in the late 1700s; perhaps the church record books had been lost and never transferred over to the civil ones, the records office employee thought. I saw at least six generations of people before my great-grandfather, who was born in the 1890s. Everyone's occupation for generations back was listed as 'contadino' - essentially, a peasant farmer. Yet at the same time, I cannot help but wonder who those people actually were - Sicily has been such a crossroads of people and culture that I am really curious whether I'm actually, DNA-wise, 1/128th Arab, Greek, or Norman. This is a follow-up I'd love to pursue, but my Italian is limited and my town isn't incredibly well-documented in English.

2) Just after World War I, it appears that my ancestors, married before the war, had two children, Alfio and Carmelo - but both of them died within months of each other in 1923, aged 5 and 1. I cannot imagine what this would be like. We never knew these children existed before my research; they mean my grandfather was not one of two brothers as we all thought. My grandmother in particular was surprised that this had never come up.

3) A few weeks (!) later, they emigrate as a couple, sailing from Palermo or Catania - the records are unclear - and land in New York. They never actually master English, living in an Italian-speaking neighborhood until well into the 1960s; my great-grandfather's death certificate lists his occupation as 'fruit and vegetable peddler'. Again, this is hard for me to imagine. Do you go...door to door? Do you have a cart? A market stall? How do you sell vegetables if you don't speak English well? Who's your supplier? Is there a mafia connection?

4) My great-grandparents naturalized as citizens in 1936 - after my grandfather was born a few years beforehand. This meant that he, my dad and I have actually always been Italian citizens because my grandfather was born to two Italian citizens.

5) My grandfather served in the Pacific in World War II, returned to New York, and almost immediately met my grandmother. She was hated by my grandfather's parents; they moved to California soon afterwards.

Today, it astounds me that a) my ancestors' journey led where it did and b) that I can directly benefit from their sacrifice and migration; in some way, it feels just that I can return to a more prosperous and freer Italy and live there if I choose.
posted by mdonley at 7:08 PM on July 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

On my father's side, the earliest American ancestor came from a village near Stuttgart, in what was then the duchy of Baden-Wurttemberg. They were prosperous Swabian farmers, but they and a bunch of people left that area in the 1760s after the Seven Years War, in the aftermath of conflict between the Hops Borges on one side and the Bourbons on the other. My ancestors adult sisters came over with their husbands first, and then he and his father made the Crossing a year later. The father died as soon as they got to Pennsylvania, and my ancestor went back and forth between his sisters houses until he was old enough to go work on the farm of another immigrant from the same village. This farmer had three daughters, and apparently this farmer took a liking to him and treated him more as a son than a hired man. He married one of the daughters, and one supposes they lived happily ever after. I have a copy of a faded old photograph of the three sisters, taken when they were widows in their 90s.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:14 PM on July 8, 2018

you may not be aware how many people are in the opposite situation where if they haven't researched their ancestry, they literally could not name a single ancestor who wasn't born in the U.S. and the only signs they have that their ancestors came from anyplace else is the various nationalities of their grandparents'/great-grandparents' last names.

This is pretty much me. I just... don't care? I mean yes it has an impact on me insofar as I wouldn't have been born if they didn't immigrate from Europe to the US (and thus my parents and grandparents would also be unlikely to exist). But I'm just white. The fact that I'm Irish and German and ???? is really of no consequence to how I live my life and to how others perceive me (beyond my whiteness). My mom's family must have immigrated pre-Civil War (someone signed up for the Confederate army, deserted, and was branded a coward). There are rumors of Cherokee ancestry but... *eyeroll.* My dad's family came later, I think, whenever the big Irish wave was.

I'm not dissing other people's curiosity; I care very much about the history of the family I've met. I remember one great-grandmother very well, her husband and my other great-grandma only slightly, and the other grandpa died before I was born. I know that genetically I'm fucked when it comes to heart disease and cancer (and probably Alzheimer's, sigh).

My current last name doesn't even have anything to do with my ancestry; it was my ex-husband's, and it doesn't even reflect his ancestry; his father was adopted by someone of a different ethnicity. Anyway, I understand why more recent immigrants have an attachment to their stories and history; I don't really understand some white people's obsession with it.
posted by AFABulous at 7:23 PM on July 8, 2018

mdonley, he may have been a fruit and vegetable peddler with a pushcart.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:48 PM on July 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Looking at my family tree is one of the clearest indications why my parents' marriage didn't work. All four of my mother's grandparents came from Eastern Europe/Asia: Portugal, Poland/Russia, Uzbekistan/Russia and I think just Russia. They all came over on boats and settled in the Bronx and eventually moved out to New Jersey. My grandparents on that side spoke Yiddish and English. The big drama at the time was that my grandparents' marriage was Sephardic/Ashkenazic.

All of my father's grandparents were already in the US and I think even going back two more generations there was only one immigrant, who had come over from Ireland and was a stonemason. My great grandfather's family on that side were old school Vermonters (it's not my fault my grandpa left the state!) and most of them got to the US from Scotland and Ireland and England in the 1600s and 1700s. The family is a little stuck up about it. When I first moved to Vermont I found out that I was living one town over from where my great great great great grandfather lived and was buried (I knew nothing about these people beforehand, my dad was a closed book on the subject) and I occasionally wander around a lot of tiny cemeteries to see if I can find out where he was buried in 1806.

jamaro, I spend the summer one town over from Fall River, if there's a street address you'd like me to photograph or something you'd like me to look up in the library there for any reason I'd be glad to.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 8:02 PM on July 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

I’m an immigrant. I was born in the U.S. and moved to Quebec five years ago after falling in love with a Canadian.

Last week the government emailed me a survey about my immigration experience — whether I was comfortable speaking French and/or English, whether I had all the information I needed as an immigrant establishing myself in a new country, and whether I felt I had adequate access to government services.

My answers were generally positive. But, honestly, Canada gets big points just for asking the questions.
posted by veggieboy at 8:13 PM on July 8, 2018 [8 favorites]

Hey, while you're at it consider adding your tale to the Tenement Museum's Your Story Our Story digital archive.
posted by Miko at 8:42 PM on July 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Ann, my father's father's mother's mother, emigrated with her family from Wales to the US: she settled with them in Iowa. There she married an Italian fellow called Angelo, a fellow immigrant, and they had a daughter, Margherita. For reasons which have not been preserved, Ann left her husband and family, and returned, permanently, with her daughter, to Wales. Thanks to this episode of immigration gone wrong, I can sort of claim to be one eighth American.
posted by misteraitch at 12:45 AM on July 9, 2018

My Lithuanian grandmother had her final day of school when she was 16, and then shortly afterward the Nazis put her in Auschwitz. She lost nearly her whole family there. Meanwhile, in Warsaw, my grandfather was one of the lucky Jews. A Polish electrician spotted his talent and got an exception for him to work outside the ghettos and the camps. The rest of his family weren't so fortunate.

They met in a refugee camp in Italy, moved to Israel, and then decided to make Australia their home.
posted by daybeforetheday at 3:12 AM on July 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

My mother and father immigrated from South Korea to the U.S. My father came first, under the sponsorship of my aunt. I was about 2 years old and I actually remember him leaving us. My mom and I lived temporarily with some relatives on a farm and I can still see him walking down a long road (it looks long in my memories) away from me. Strangely, I don't remember our reunion a year or so later.

Due to language and accent challenges at immigration, my mom and I actually had a different last name from my dad for years and years until we got our U.S. Citizenship and changed our names to be the same one. My dad worked as a roofer, stinking of tar every night and recovering from at least 2 dangerous falls. My mom mainly worked in back kitchens for cafeterias and chain restaurants.

Because of these long hours (they would both regularly leave the house before 6 and come home after 5), my mother's parents came over and lived with us for a few years, to take care of me. When I was old enough to be a latchkey kid they moved back where they lived peacefully until their passing.

I moved to England over 10 years ago. It was only supposed to be for 3 and I think so did my parents. At my wedding, my father made the most beautiful speech in Korean that had the audience in tears. No one could understand a word but it didn't stop them from feeling the emotion in his voice. When my cousin read the English interpretation the waterworks started all over again.

He said that my life was constantly about pulling away from them, testing how far I could go on my own, culminating in settling over 5,000 miles away from them but how proud he was how independent I had become.

I wouldn't have the life I have if it weren't for their courage and convictions to move to a strange country of opportunity for the chance to give me a better life than they had. My father the first of seven children, my mom smack in the middle of 10, both children of poor farmers who never got more than a middle school education. Scrimping and saving and making do and doing without.

So when he said how he was proud, I hope some of that pride was in themselves.
posted by like_neon at 3:30 AM on July 9, 2018 [9 favorites]

My parents came to Canada from Germany in the late 60's because my dad wanted to study engineering, and the waiting list to get into a german university was years long. Their intention was to just live here while he studied at UofT and go back after he graduated, but they loved it so much they couldn't imagine going back. My dad said he felt "free as a bird" in Canada. Within a few years of being here they bought some land on a lake up by Parry Sound, and started building themselves a cottage. I think it's almost finished now. I love it here, so I'm very glad they stayed.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:52 AM on July 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

Thank you all, I love coming back here frequently to read the new contributions.
posted by yesster at 5:04 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

On my dad's side, my grandfather's family came over on the Mayflower and my grandmother's parents emigrated from Scotland. They both worked at Hospital Trust bank in Providence. My grandfather asked my grandmother if he could drive her home and she said okay so he took her on the bus to his parents' house where he asked his dad if he could borrow the car to drive her home and she was like "WTF who is this guy?". They were married for over sixty years.

My mother's mother was from a Portuguese family living in North Providence. Her father was born in Benfica and came over from Portugal to work for the consulate. Every other year the government paid for them to visit Portugal so they would fly over, stopping in the Azores to refuel (they wore nice clothes on the plane and changed before disembarking because that's what flying was like at the time). When my family went to Lisbon a few years ago we stayed in the Avenida Palace which my mother has described as righting a historical injustice because, while they stayed in an extremely nice hotel when she was a kid, all she knew was that there was a palace and she was not in it.

My parents met in college in Connecticut (my mom was one of the earliest classes of women to attend Yale -- the first class of women were seniors when she was a freshman). My mom moved to New York and my dad went to law school and then also moved to New York. He stayed with her while he was looking for an apartment and she used to hide the real estate section because she didn't actually want him to move out.

I was born in New York and my parents moved to Providence when I was less than a year old. When former Rhode Island Senator Chaffee died, I was one of the acolytes in his funeral which was broadcast on national television. I went to college in Chicago where I met my husband who is originally from North Carolina. Years before, he'd watched part of Senator Chaffee's funeral on television and eventually married me in that same church. We moved to the DC area after college for him to attend law school and we've been here ever since so this is where our daughter is from. Even though she will grow up in Maryland, I still think of her as being a Portuguese Rhode Island WASP.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:15 AM on July 9, 2018 [7 favorites]

Also, for Peak Rhode Island Content, my brother (Portuguese/WASP)'s fiancée, who is also from Rhode Island, is Italian, Irish, and French Canadian. Her grandparents used to get up every Sunday and go to different Catholic Churches a block apart. Any kids they have will basically be a pie chart of old-school Rhode Island nationalities (Rhode Island continues to have many immigrants, especially from the Dominican Republic and Guatemala although also still a bunch from Portugal. Good job Rhode Island!).
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:24 AM on July 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

My uncle wrote a book about my family's emigration to Chinatown in New York and how that neighborhood was shaped in its early days.

I sometimes feel like my own family history is in kind of a weird middle ground. All of my great-grandparents were immigrants, and all of my grandparents were born in the US. So I'm not exactly "new American," but I'm also not trace-my-lineage-to-the-Mayflower American. I have lots of first-hand stories from my grandparents about their parents and grandparents (mostly yelling at each other in other languages), but those aren't my stories. I'm not quite sure where I belong sometimes.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:04 AM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Great-grandparents came up from Mexico in the early 20th century to work as much-needed labor in Southern California agricultural fields. When the Depression hit, they were told to go home. While in California they had given birth to a daughter, my paternal grandmother.

My grandma sometime in her later adult life realizes she is an American. She rounds up her kids and brings them all to the US. She was proud to be an American and learned the language as fast as she could. A fiercely independent woman who encouraged us all to make the most of what we had been gifted. God, I miss her.

The other side of my family is also Mexican but unlike my darker-skinned fathers family they are mainly white families who had emigrated from Europe. My great-grandfather on my mom's side has a name that is common among exiled Portuguese Jews. On that side of the family I am also distantly related to Gildardo Magaña, Zapata's second in command and his successor - my mom's mom who is also a Magaña Cerda from the same village (and who is alive and turns 106 this year) is from the same family.

Now I've got my own immigrant story. I moved out of the US and to the UK and stayed there long enough to become naturalized as a British citizen. That is on top of my American and Mexican citizenship. We left the UK last year because of the changing anti-immigrant climate there. So, true to my family history, I am moving across borders, part of the flow of people not penned in by nationalism, but looking instead for societies who share our sense of common humanity.
posted by vacapinta at 7:19 AM on July 9, 2018 [11 favorites]

One thing that I'm not sure everyone grasps as far as perspective is that when one says "all [Americans] are descended from immigrants," what exactly that means or feels like can be very different depending genoon whether you're from a diverse coastal cities of immigrants or descended from Midwestern or southern farm folks where you have to go back to the mid-late 19th century to get your first smattering of immigrant ancestors--it's a very distant and frankly not terribly salient past.

Or, you know, neither. The vast majority of my origins are from slavery (the rest are remnants of genocide) and its many knock-on effects. If I trace back far enough the trail disappears into a familiar void or turns into bills of sale and very racist census records for mixed race ancestors. But I really enjoyed reading all these stories, maybe because I can't relate to them. It's fascinating to see all the patchwork and how things intersect and diverge.
posted by Freeze Peach at 7:22 AM on July 9, 2018 [15 favorites]

Nosey Mrs. Rat: I love the immigration stories on Minnesota's Immigrants a project of the Immigration History Research Center (IHRC) at the University of Minnesota Libraries. I can spend hours watching them, tissues at hand.

Have you read the 1981(?) book "Bring Warm Clothes" by Star-Tribune writer Peg Meier? It's been reprinted a dozen times over the years. It marries primary historical documents with approachable writing about the immigrant experience, and concentrates on specific, real life messages among families separated by oceans. I still take it down from the shelf once in a while and read through it.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:52 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

On my dad's side, my grandfather's family came over on the Mayflower

John Alden and Priscilla Mullen of Mayflower fame (as do about 2 million other people)

Including me! What's up dude we're cousins!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:01 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Even though she will grow up in Maryland, I still think of her as being a Portuguese Rhode Island WASP.

Your daughter is a Southerner. She will eat grits. She refuses now, but I'm working on convincing her. I offer her grits often when you're out of the house.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:22 AM on July 9, 2018 [10 favorites]

I grew up in a country of immigrants (Canada) but I was always the odd one out, as I have always been the least immigrant of my social circle. I was born in Canada to parents born in Canada. My grandparents all were as well, along with seven of my eight great-grandparents (the odd great-grandmother out arrived from the USA).

As a kid, I felt left out that everyone I knew had great family foods to choose from and a secret language to talk to their family with; as a young adult travelling, I felt left out that I was only eligible for one passport. As an older adult, I am pissed off that let-us-say special interest groups try to hijack my roots to advance a nationalist/white supremacist/fascist agenda. Last year Kellie Leitch, running for federal Conservative leader, was trying to push Trumpian policies under the blanket of "Canadian values." I sent her an e-mail:
"Dr. Leitch: my grandfather's great-grandfather immigrated here from a starving Ireland the better part of two centuries ago, and we have been here longer than there has been a country called Canada. Your 'Canadian values' are repugnant to this old-stock Canadian. Now off you fuck."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:23 AM on July 9, 2018 [10 favorites]

I offer her grits often when you're out of the house.

Is this true you coward
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:57 AM on July 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

She hasn't wanted them, but yes. If food is the indicator though, her love of pastéis de bacalhau means her identity is Portuguese/insatiable sea monster.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:04 AM on July 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

My great^8th grandfather came to Goochland, Virginia from England in the 1660s. He shared his last name with Judge John Bradshaw* the juror who condemned Charles I to death and while we don't know if we're related that more infamous Bradshaw, we've read that a lot of Bradshaws decided to leave England in a hurry when Charles II restored the throne. It's probably significant that my ancestor named his first son John.

*Judge Bradshaw was executed by Charles II in 1661, which is remarkable considering that he'd dropped dead of natural causes two years earlier.
posted by octothorpe at 10:21 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I offer her grits often when you're out of the house.

Is this true you coward
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:57 AM on July 9 [+] [!]

She hasn't wanted them, but yes. If food is the indicator though, her love of pastéis de bacalhau means her identity is Portuguese/insatiable sea monster.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:04 PM on July 9 [+] [!]

Following this discussion has been the second best thing about this thread. :)
posted by blurker at 10:32 AM on July 9, 2018 [6 favorites]

My mother's father's family is from Scotland, based on the last name (Dunnam, bastardized from Dunham), and have been in Mississippi forEVER. No idea when they got here. Mom's mother's family is English (Browning and Faulkner {yes, that Faulkner, distantly} being principle among them), no idea when they got here, either.

My father's family is a bit of an enigma. His mother's family is easy enough; her grandparents came over from somewhere in England before her mother was born. His father, however, came from somewhere in Germany, probably in the 1880s. He ended up in the Chicago suburbs, where he met my grandmother. He refused to ever talk about where he came from or why he came to the US. We do know that he changed his name from Muller (don't know how to do umlauts) to Miller when he got here.

And my husband's family is a bit tricky, too, because there are rumors of possible Jewish ancestry but no one really knows for sure. There's a distinct Polish thread running through it (all the last names are Polish, some of them have clearly been shortened), and they're all Catholic here in the US, but all the elders were vague enough about their origins back in the day that the rumors persist. The fact that they all arrived just as the war was breaking out, and then all split up and went to Canada, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and never talked about it after that...well, maybe someday we'll find out. It's a very, VERY uncommon last name. So much so that I am literally the only person with the distinct combination of my first name and last (married) name in all of North America, quite possibly the world. There's also a street with the name in rural Pennsylvania.
posted by cooker girl at 10:46 AM on July 9, 2018

Under different circumstances, I would be happy to share my personal American immigration story. I think these stories are important, and need to be told. I am so proud of how my family and I came to live permanently in the US. I was only three when we arrived, but I know the story so well, I feel like I can remember it.

But hearing that American immigration officials are starting to review naturalization papers dating back decades scares the living shit out of me. What if I have a detail wrong? I've never been accused of or charged with a crime since I naturalized over twenty-five years ago, and as far as I know, my country of birth isn't one under scrutiny, and there shouldn't be any hiccups with my naturalization process, but who the fuck knows anymore? I haven't always lived in the US, and my passport can look a little sloppy, what with so many smudged stamps in and out of the country. Who's to say that isn't suspicious to someone?

I'm proud to be an immigrant. But I'm also a scared immigrant. I'm not afraid of being sent back to my country of birth. I'm worried how the presumption of "permanence" is up for debate, and how nefarious this all feels. How can I watch the arrival of immigrants and refugees along the southern border, see them labeled immediately as criminals, and not feel scared?

Maybe this isn't the place for my immigration rant, but I bet I am not the only mefite nervously waiting to find out if our names come up in some of these fucking searches.

I've been debating writing this since this post went up the other day. I've been happy to read other peoples' stories. I love them. I want to tell you my story too. It seems important to tell you why I don't feel comfortable drawing attention to it right now, because other people may feel the same way.
posted by msali at 11:00 AM on July 9, 2018 [14 favorites]

* My father's father's family is a little shrouded in mystery; at least, the records are a little tricky to come by. Dad vaguely remembers the family coming from somewhere in Vermont, and according to family legend everyone with my surname in the US is descended from a father and his adult son who came over on the same boat in the 1600-somethings. (Dad did an Ancestry.com test and found a lot of Great Britain, which is no surprise given the WASPyness of that name.)

* Dad's mother was Grandpa's second marriage; she was part of a family who'd come over from Krakow, Poland in like the turn of the century. This ancestry didn't really manifest in my father until we met some neighbors who were also Polish and Mr. P took Dad under his wing and introduced him to a Polish takeout place in Hartford, and then introduced him to a Polish liqueur called Krupnik which is HELLA strong. ....One of the few Polish expressions dad knows is "Na Zdorovie", which has been used as the family toast as long as I can remember (my six-year-old nephew has started chiming in when we say it now).

* On my mother's side - someone traced my maternal grandfather's family all the way back to 1550-something, and the couple who came over from a town called Burford in England. I know nothing about them save for the fact that they existed.

* I also only know the name of my Irish ancestor, who most likely came over during the Famine; the first American-born person by that name was born here in 1849, so that's most likely what happened. We do not know the town; but the family name is most common in County Cork or Kerry. ....My uncle does have a copy of an arrest warrant from 1849 for someone by our Irish ancestor's name, for "dancing and fiddling on a Sunday". I don't know if it's OUR relative, but I hope it is.

* My maternal grandmother was part of a large family that emigrated to Massachusetts from a small town in Acadian New Brunswick. She was only about six and didn't remember much about it (we asked her once about what Christmas was like in Canada, and the only thing she could remember was a story about her and her brothers and sisters sneaking out for a sleigh ride with the family horse and crashing it). ...The limited research I've done into her family history suggests that her family actually bopped back and forth a couple times when she was a child, and finally settled here. It actually made for a bit of a paperwork snafu when Grandma went to get her passport for her honeymoon; there was no clear proof that she was naturalized along with the rest of her family when they'd been naturalized several years prior. After 2 weeks of struggling with the red tape trying to sort it out, Grandma said to hell with it, went down to the City Hall and asked how she could be sworn in as a citizen properly. She was naturalized in time to get her passport and go on her honeymoon, so it seems to have worked out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:17 AM on July 9, 2018

I bet I am not the only mefite nervously waiting to find out if our names come up in some of these fucking searches

hello yes
posted by poffin boffin at 11:29 AM on July 9, 2018 [7 favorites]

My dad was born and raised in various parts of Canada. His dad was a salesman and at one point got transferred to to Southern California, right around when my dad was starting high school. That's where he met my mom. Dad became a surfer and as far as I can tell they lived inside a Beach Boys song for a while. But then dad decided he should probably get his shit together and he applied for university back in Toronto. When my mom was 19 and my dad was 22, they got married and settled down in Toronto and dad went through undergraduate and then graduate school. (Can you imagine my poor mom going from Southern CA to Toronto??? She said she cried every day during the winters.) I was born in Toronto.

Dad was hired by an American university and when I was 3 years old we moved to the US permanently. I'm a dual citizen and hold two passports (I never felt the need to have a Canadian passport before but I got one this year because, well, you know). My dad never naturalized and has had a green card for 40 years. On Twitter the other day I got told to "pick a side" or go back to Canada, so there's that. I told that dipshit that if they have a problem with the dual citizenship treaty between the US and Canada, they can take it up with the State Department.

My mom's family is originally from Ireland and have been in Kentucky for quite some time before offshooting to California and Michigan (mom's been doing some research and apparently feuds and moonshine are involved--"not sending their best" indeed). One of my ancestors was a French physician who started the first North American leper colony. My grandparents were a French Catholic and Scottish Presbyterian from New Brunswick who so scandalized their families with their relationship that they had to elope to Alberta, which is one of the most Canadian romances I've ever heard.

The Italian side of my husband's family is classic early 20th century Italian immigration. His great-grandfather is the one who came over, along with a bunch of brothers and sisters, and there was also some transatlantic back-and-forth as fortunes rose and fell for a while. They have a fairly uncommon last name and basically everyone with that name in central and western PA is related.

Am I expecting more badness to come at legal permanent residents, naturalized citizens and dual citizens? Yep. Brace yourselves.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:33 PM on July 9, 2018

My dad’s family all came over long enough ago that nobody recalls the stories, although we do have some names and dates. Like a Graves, who was at Jamestown. Not the FIRST Jamestown wave, when things were so scary and difficult. Later.

Another came over with Lafayette to fight in the Revolutionary War. This fact didn’t really resonate much with me until I saw Hamilton with my son, and the two of us found ourselves cheering Daveed Diggs as Lafayette as though he were personally responsible for our existence on this continent.

My mom’s family history is more opaque to me due to a schism. Family lore has it that certain ancestors were passing as white. I’m fascinated, but don’t know how to find out more without opening myself to Family Drama around other matters.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 3:07 PM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've got a Spanish middle name and a Spanish last name, from the Philippines and Mexico respectively. My Filipino grandfather came over in the 1920s. The picture he painted of his arrival was of a diverse community of Asian immigrants. Things we difficult, of course. He experienced the anti-Filipino violence on the west coast first hand. He was beat up by white people. My Mexican grandparents experienced similar racism in the 1950s. I'm of the second generation born in the United States. My grandparents worked hard to get a better life for themselves and their children. They succeeded! I dwell on the adversities that my grandparents and parents faced because it brings strength in face of the racism that's going on in the 2010s, but our history is also filled with lots of good food, cute babies, and other normal stuff. I see my responsibility as to working to make it all stick past a couple of generations and keep our history from being sanitized or erased.
posted by Mister Cheese at 3:30 PM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

All my great-grandparents were part of the vast crowd of Eastern European Jews showing up in New York around the turn of the century. (My parents used to rib each other about being in a mixed marriage--a Litvak and a Galizianer.) My grandparents were a professional ballroom dance instructor, a ballet/opera fanatic who sold frozen spinach wholesale for a living, a high school history teacher, and one of three sisters whose relationship would have made a wonderful novel if I'd been old enough to ask them more about themselves while they were living.
The all-Ashkenazi blend is changing in this century--my cousin's wife is a black woman, my husband is Japanese. In that sense I'm an immigrant myself. (One of the things on my when-I-quit-my-job list is to do more research into immigrants in Japan, Korean and Chinese and Vietnamese and South American and others, because, while not on anything like the scale of the US, by damn there's plenty.)
posted by huimangm at 4:09 PM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

> Mom's side traces back to John Alden and Priscilla Mullen of Mayflower fame (as do about 2 million other people). Dad's side came over from Latvia to avoid becoming cannon fodder for Russian army in the early 1900s

Cousin! My great-times-ten-grandfather was the first governor of Massachusetts. My mom's family all came over from Lithuania; for her dad, it was to avoid serving in the czar's army (he promptly joined the US army and served in WWI).
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:02 PM on July 9, 2018

I immigrated in the 90s when I was 4.

Boy, was "learning about immigration" in fifth grade awkward; the textbooks haven't been updated to say that immigrants can come from JFK, not Ellis Island, and that some Americans have only one nation of ancestry, and that there is nothing to research when it comes to your ancestry.
posted by batter_my_heart at 7:09 PM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm German on my mother's side. My grandfather, her father, had a bit of wanderlust and came to America in the early 1900s. Wound up working in a factory and learning English (and spending World War I in America as a German citizen to boot), but decided to go back to Germany, start a business, and then marry my grandmother. Two kids later things start to get bad in Germany due to the terrible inflation in the 1920s, my grandfather loses his business, and decides to go back to America, since he already knows English, and my grandmother, having been a teacher, also knows some. My grandfather goes over first, and then my grandmother and the two kids come, in 1930, so things were not exactly peachy in the U.S. either due to the Depression. My mother was 6 when they came over and knew no English, though she learned it quickly.

They settled in Philadelphia, PA since others in the family were already in the area, and my grandfather went back to work in a factory for General Electric, and my grandmother caught what work she could. Early on, she taught herself to bake, and my 6 year old mother went door to door with a basket selling baked goods. Mom also remembered being give clothing and stuff out of church charity donations. Sometimes my grandmother would work two jobs, and catch a nap between them by going into an all night movie theater (which cost about a nickel at the time).

At one point, they were worried my mother might be getting TB (really I think she was just thin because money for food was tight), so she was sent to a sanitorium, where she was given as much food as she could eat and gained some weight and got better. She always marveled that it was the government who paid for all of that sanitorium stay, and the family were not even U.S. citizens at the time. They eventually did become citizens, and though they experienced some anti-German sentiment during World War II, it was nothing compared to what happened to the Japanese-Americans. My grandparents eventually did well enough to get a modest row house, and both kids went to college on scholarships. My mother and her sister wound up marrying brothers (go figure).

On my Dad's side, they are kind of the classic stew of 17th and early 18th century Northeast U.S. immigration ... English, Scottish, Welsh, Pennsylvania German, and French Huguenot, coming for either religious freedom (there are Quakers and Baptists in the mix), for land to farm, or as political refugees (sometimes all of the above) ... one of the English immigrants even wrote a book on "The Working Man's Political Economy" ... but that's another story.

I don't have kids, but my (double) first cousin's first wife is a Japanese immigrant, and his second is Filipino-American, so the two kids carrying on the family name in this next generation are not WASPs.
posted by gudrun at 8:11 PM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

My father's family came to Australia with a bunch of religious (with beliefs not appreciated by the state) Germans in the 1850s and started farming outside Adelaide. From what my dad tells me (he's fairly heavily into genealogy and has told me lots that I have then forgotten), they identified as Germans (spoke German at home, named their kids German names) until the first World War, when being German became understandably unfashionable. My dad has a slight memory of this identity, but I do not. They were from a part of Germany that is now Poland (Silesia), and we went and drove around the tiny towns looking at German headstones in what are now very Polish towns.

My mum emigrated from England when she was 20. Her parents come out because my grandma had chronic lung issues due to the weather (she lived to 92 in Australia, so they made the right choice there). Mum wanted to stay, but she wasn't considered independent, and her aunt wouldn't agree to be her guardian for the 6 months or so till her 21st birthday. I really admire her immigration story. She got dragged to the other side of the world with no real likelihood of going back to even visit for at least a decade (gotta wait for long service leave and pile up a large amount of cash - even in the 70s it was 5 weeks on a boat), but restarted her teacher training and made the best of it. She embraced the hand she was dealt, and ended up with a pretty nice life.
posted by kjs4 at 11:36 PM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

I owe my family nose to my paternal great grandmother who immigrated to England from Corsica at some point (my family isn’t great at keeping records or talking).

My wife is Malaysian Chinese Canadian, born in Kuala Lumpur, the family immigrated to Vancouver, B.C. in the 70’s as a result of the prevalent environment at the time where the Malay majority was stirred up against the Chinese minority. My Singaporean father in law narrowly avoided getting macheted by some proverbial angry villagers, luckily 2 of his Malay students vouched for him and he escaped without a scratch. They moved to Canada because the visas showed up earlier than the Australian ones.

We’ve lived a fairly migrant life, lived in 7 countries so far, moving with work. Never felt particularly rooted to the UK or anywhere until I set foot in Canada. I didn’t realize the mental impact being so rootless was having on me until that day in June 2014 when I landed at Pearson airport and got approved for my Permanent Residency. This privileged white anglo-saxon male was moved to tears at the sense of belonging I felt when the Immigration Officer said “Welcome to Canada”. Just imagine how it feels for refugees when they arrive.

Currently waiting for my notification to sit my Canadian citizenship exam and can’t wait to become a citizen. This country means everything to me.
posted by arcticseal at 1:07 AM on July 10, 2018 [10 favorites]

There's a fair bit we don't know about my family history - in truth we may be one thing while our last names say another. Both sides went to America to escape persecution (generally from Russia, or things close enough to Russia that no one differentiated) in the early 20th century, though, well before WWII and thus I exist.

Myself, however - I came to Toronto three days after my wedding to someone those of you who've been around awhile would know. While the marriage did not last, I cling to this country. Canada isn't perfect but I love it and I belong here.
posted by wellred at 5:27 AM on July 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

Kjs4, my ancestors on my Mum's side also came to South Australia from Germany! I think they were on the second boat and the Pioneer Memorial Garden in Hahndorf was donated by my ancestors. My Aunty has done a whole lot of research on the background, but I'm afraid I don't remember a whole lot. I worked with someone who had my Grandmother's maiden name and my Aunty's family tree showed we were related, which was a little weird. Never brought that up with the person I worked with because I didnt know them that well and thought it would be a little creepy.
posted by Kris10_b at 5:51 AM on July 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm one of those southerners referenced above. I mostly know where my ancestors came from because 1)they have (mostly) not left the place they settled in the 17th/18th century (where there are still old papers, bibles and family cemeteries) and 2) I have grandmothers/great-grandmothers on the both sides that did the whole DAR thing and have kept copious track of who we were/where we were from. As best I can tell, the most recent immigrants on either side of the family were my great-great-grandmother's family, the Sullivans, who came to New Orleans from Cork in the great wave of Famine Irish, and went upriver into the Delta chasing work or land or both, and somehow landed in the same middle of nowhere spot on the map recently settled upon by other members of my family (who'd recently come west from North Carolina, where they'd unremarkably spent the last 150+ years, since leaving England/Scotland).

The best immigrant story is on my mother's side. My 5x great-grandfather, Valentin, came from Germany. As a young man, he went north to Hamburg and apprenticed himself to a shipwright at the end of the 18th century. Once he there, he signed on as a bondsman for a shipbuilder in Virginia, and would spend most of his first decade in the New World employed in the shipyards around Hampton Roads. When he'd payed off his debts, the shipbuilder offered him a position to stay on, but instead Valentin bid farewell to the sea and traveled far inland to the mountains, where he settled on land beween Christiansburg and Blacksburg (not far from Virginia Tech), and famously proclaimed that he would die happily if he never saw a ship again. And given that most of his extended family still lives within 60 miles of Christiansburg, Virginia, one would have to assume he did.
posted by thivaia at 6:21 AM on July 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

My mom is from South Yorkshire, met my dad, who's from Chicago, at Cambridge and moved to the US to marry him. In many ways, this is the event that defines my life, even though it happened before I was born, because it was, I think, difficult and traumatic in ways that are usually missing from conversations about immigration. I had a childhood filled with peculiar rules, spoken and unspoken, and "Americans do X, but we're not American" was how I made sense of it (because that was often the explanation) and I'm only now realising that there are a bunch of cases where that simply makes no sense. (So much was about class.)

I have an extremely uncommon surname, courtesy of my dad's mystery relatives. I find myself having a genealogical interest in these people that I feel no connection to (that side of my dad's family is small and doesn't really talk to each other--the other side is large, but... we don't talk to them either) because people demand explanation of my name. There's probably a mildly interesting story there but it angers me that I feel like I'm giving in to people who interrogate my background (and that of people I know virtually nothing about and feel no connection to!). Occasionally I have a positive interaction with someone Hungarian hoping they've encountered another Hungarian, but mostly it's people mangling my name, telling me it's "interesting" or demanding to know if I'm Russian. I'm actually currently exchanging emails with someone in Austria, trying to figure out my grandfather was one of their mystery American relatives they lost track of.
posted by hoyland at 7:28 AM on July 10, 2018

I have two immigration stories, one of my biological family, one of my adoptive family. The biological family seems to largely have been economic migrants from Ireland, as they came here before the famine, but for my biological father, who, as far as I can tell, is an as-yet-unidentified English agricultural engineer who went to Alaska for a few years in the 1960s and fathered a child he likely doesn't know about. So, on my paternal side, I am the first American. I am the anchor baby.

On my adoptive parents side, it's all Eastern European Jews who fled to America in the late 1800s, early 20th century to escape rising antisemitism.
posted by maxsparber at 8:21 AM on July 10, 2018

...they identified as Germans (spoke German at home, named their kids German names) until the first World War, when being German became understandably unfashionable.

Yeah, it was immediately after the sinking of RMS Lusitania that Harpo Marx changed his name from Adolph to Arthur, and Groucho dropped his then-trademark comedy German accent from the vaudeville act.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:37 AM on July 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

No idea what my immigrant story is. I mean, I'm so pale I'm basically minty green, and I've benefited all my life from that, so in a very real sense my immigrant story doesn't matter to me. But it mattered to those who came before me, mostly in the ways they tried to avoid any possibility of being identified as non-white or illegitimate. There are a lot of "different" children and creative birth records if one goes back too far with my family on both sides.

My wife has a fascinating multi-tiered immigrant story that spans multiple immigrations and native assimilation. But that's her story to tell.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:23 AM on July 10, 2018

My grandparents from both sides of my family were part of the Nationalist/Republic of China's exodus to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War. I recall one detail about the retreat that happened on my father's side of the family. Somehow my grandparents got separated during the journey across the Taiwan Strait and had to ride in separate ships. My grandmother's ship got onto Taiwan first and my grandfather was on a second ship, which she found out was blown up on the journey across by Communists. But it turns out that grandpa wasn't able to get on that ship too, and ended up on the ship after, one that fortunately was not blown up. One of the other things I've slowly realized about their story is that they were also refugees, a realization that has become increasingly relevant in these times.

My parents and my migration story happened under much better circumstances. Basically my mom's grandparents later moved to the US and our family joined them. I came to the US knowing only Mandarin Chinese and got Americanized watching cartoons on television. I find it interesting that Mandarin is the first language I learned, but it's not my strongest language, which is now English.

Finally, I along with my parents were born in Taiwan. And even though I have more nuanced thoughts about my own background and I know it may be more proper to say that I'm Asian-American, I'm more likely these days to foreground my Taiwan-ness by simply saying I'm from there or that I'm Taiwanese. This is my own attempt to counter the ever growing influence of China and the attempts of it's government to erase Taiwan from public recognition.
posted by FJT at 10:48 AM on July 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

For years, the story was that my great-grandfather came over from either Russia or Poland, escaping the pogroms that took the rest of his family. He had enough money to avoid steerage, his name was changed to something that was neither Russian nor Polish (though still Jewish), and learned English as fast as possible. His children didn't know exactly where he came from, and he'd tell them it didn't matter, they didn't have any family left over there.

Anyway, my brother did some geneology research and found my great-grandfather's World War 1 draft card, which listed his birthplace as Nemyriv - probably the one in Ukraine. He hadn't managed to dig up any genealogical records older than that, and it's doubtful that any still exist. This is all from memory, but prior to World War 2, there were something like 5,000 Jews living in Nemyriv. Only 200 lived long enough to even get on the train car to a concentration camp.

(It's one of those things I think about with concentration camp and oven talk, especially on twitter. It's statistically unlikely that anyone that was related to my great-grandfather in any meaningful way died in a concentration camp. They did a good enough job killing them off in their homes, shooting them in the middle of the streets where they lived).

My mother's family came over from Ireland to Canada, stayed for a couple generations, and for whatever reason, chose to end up near Detroit around 1920. They smuggled in small amounts of liquor over the border by placing them with the dirty diapers.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:20 AM on July 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

Yeah, it was immediately after the sinking of RMS Lusitania that Harpo Marx changed his name from Adolph to Arthur

Harpo never liked the name "Adolph", apart from its German-ness, and had had it changed several years before the Lusitania or widespread anti-German sentiment (but Groucho did drop his German character because of the War).
posted by Etrigan at 12:24 PM on July 10, 2018

Not to derail, but did he really (legally) change it? In Harpo Speaks, he marries his wife, Susan, in 1936, and signs the license as Adolph Marx.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:15 PM on July 10, 2018

I came to the US as a refugee from Vietnam with my parents, older brother, and great uncle. We left Saigon on one of the last regular flights leaving the airport. A couple of days later, the helicopters began lifting off from the US embassy roof. I was a newborn -- three months old. My mom overheard a GI who was loading her suitcase onto the plane wonder whether her bag was so heavy because she was taking gold out of the country. She wasn't; it was cans of my baby formula.

But I really want to talk about our refugee sponsor. Members of a Methodist church met us at the Army base in the States where a bunch of us refugees had been taken. They found us an apartment, filled it with furniture, handed down clothes, found my dad a job at a convenience store, and taught my mom to cook Thanksgiving turkey. And leading that effort was a retired English teacher and former WWII nurse whom we came to consider a member of our family. She comforted my mother when her parents died without her in Vietnam, five years after we left. Later, after we had joined the church that sponsored us, and she found out I had been picked to give a bible reading, she came over and gave me public speaking lessons. When she died, her only asset was her house. In her will, she directed that it be sold and the assets divided this way:
1. to our church,
2. to the Association for the Blind, where she volunteered every week reading books and newspapers,
3. to the Red Cross, where she also volunteered,
4. to a nephew in Iowa, her closest blood relative, and
5. to my family.
Her name was Kathryn Wagner. But when I was learning to talk, my parents taught me to call her Grandma. I called her that for the rest of her life.
posted by hhc5 at 1:50 PM on July 10, 2018 [25 favorites]

Not to derail, but did he really (legally) change it?

No, I don't believe so. I think he just stopped using the old name and started using the new. A few relatives of mine have done the same.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:55 PM on July 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I come from a British family that had various colonial addresses: British India (including what are now Pakistan and Burma), Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), South Africa, etc. I may yet have family in Zimbabwe or SA. My father was born in Calcutta (Gandhi era, 1920s). Eventually the family moved back to Britain. My father (navy) and mother (ack ack) killed Nazis, or tried to, and then met and married in postwar Scotland, had a couple of kids, and eventually moved to the US to escape the doldrums of postwar Britain. My older brother took American citizenship but then was drafted for Vietnam, so he's now the head of our western Canadian branch. (My younger brother's kid now teaches in Hanoi, of course.) I was the first in the family born on American soil (Kennedy administration), but I eventually left all behind and migrated to post-communist Poland, where I have settled and started my own family. My kid could end up anywhere or stay right here. That's our migration story so far.
posted by pracowity at 4:33 PM on July 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

Immigrants are liars, at least the immigrants in my story. There are three in my family who've told me their stories and I later discovered they all made significant changes to them that weren't true. I didn't know my father's biological father and I was told he was a Polish immigrant who killed himself not long after my father was born. My immigrant grandmother told me that story, and she was the worst of the liars. That wasn't true. He may have left or abandoned my father and grandmother, but he didn't die until years after my father's death. And the man who raised my father and married my grandmother was actually her third husband, not her second as she told everyone, even my father. But that man who raised my father was also an immigrant, an Italian one, and one of the most gentle, caring, and loving human beings I ever met who adopted my father when he was five, but I later discovered that he lied too. He told people that he was born in the US and wasn’t an immigrant. He claimed he didn’t have a US birth certificate because it was burned in the San Francisco earthquake. Truth is, his parents used that as an excuse and it worked. They claimed they came to San Francisco from Sicily without him and that he was born the following year. That got him papers that got him an education and eventually into the army as a medic, but none of it was true. I’m not sure he knew that. It meant he was actually older than his parents told him and older than he thought he was when he died.

On my mother’s side of the family there’s my maternal grandfather. I understand he was a real piece of shit who molested my mother’s sisters. I only met him once and I was so surprised at how much older he seemed than my grandmother. He lied to her about his age when they married and apparently was thirty years older than he claimed. That wasn’t his only lie though. Turns out he wasn’t a Norwegian immigrant as he claimed, he was actually born to newly arrived Norwegian immigrants in Canada, who then moved to the US almost immediately after he was born. He may also not have been aware that his parents used ambiguity to fudge his citizenship. I think I hate that grandfather for what he did to my aunts, but I’m not averse to using my Canadian heritage should I deem it necessary to flee the US and attempt to gain Canadian citizenship.

But I need to get back to the biggest liar, my father’s mother, my grandmother. I loved that woman so much and miss her more than even my father. And I’ve been thinking a lot lately about her lies, and why they happened, and what I might learn from them. I grew up in an extended family home, and I highly recommend it for a kid. I’m not so sure my mother was crazy about living with her in-laws but I loved being in the same house as my grandmother and grandfather. I learned so much and felt so enveloped in love. And today, as I reflect on what I learned, I think learning the truth about their lies doesn’t make me feel vindicated or like some super-sleuth, it makes me love them even more, and want to hold them and remind them that they are always at home with me.

When my grandmother lied to me, I’m not sure she was aware of it, at least not that late in her life. When I asked her where she was from she told me the name of a two-word eastern European town. But I didn’t look it up until after her death and when I found it on a map, it turned out to be two different towns, about 50 miles apart. How could that be? How can you be from two places at once?

When asked her nationality she’d say she was Bohemian, but Bohemia has never really been a place, which again, I didn’t learn until after she passed. The story she told was that she was from the old country, Austria-Hungary, and her mother died during her birth and her father soon left for America, leaving her to be raised by her people. When she was nine he money sent for her to come to the states, but here he had remarried a Polish woman and had two step-kids with his new wife. So, at 9, my grandmother immigrated to the United States, not knowing English or Polish, and had a new step-mother and two step-sisters who didn’t speak in any language she knew. Only her father knew her mother-tongue and would get angry with her for speaking it, presumably to force her to learn English.

From her stories about it, it was a Disney-level miserable childhood. Replete with an evil step-mother, evil step-sisters, and enough chores to ensure she’d never leave the house, let alone go to a ball. And she mentioned constant taunting but was never specific about it.

Years later as a late teen, I heard my grandmother speaking to a neighbor’s mother in a language I’d never hear her use. She knew English, of course, and had learned a little Italian from my Sicilian grandfather, and picked up quite a bit of Polish from her steps, but this was none of that. Eventually, I asked my neighbor what language her mother was speaking and she said, Romani.

It was many years later that I started to put things together. Romani isn’t the language of the non-existent country of Bohemia, it’s the language spoken by Eastern European gypsies. It was my grandmother’s constant use of the word gypsy as a pejorative that threw me off. It was hard to reconcile. But then I remembered her telling me about the taunting she got from her step-sisters and step-mother. They called her a gypsy. That’s why it became a pejorative. That’s why not only would she hide it from her family, she herself would deny her connection and would use the language of hate hurdled at her as the word to describe anyone who seemed lazy or willing to cheat others. That cruelty of a slur forced her to bury her true self and to reinvent herself as an entirely different person. As a vaguely eastern European immigrant, without any real origin, but born in a caravan between two cities that sound like one.

I fault none of my ancestors for their lies. I’ve learned that the source of those lies isn’t a desire to deceive, it comes from shame. Shame at how they were treated, and shame in who they’re not. It was self-preservation in the classic American tradition of reinvention. I miss them all, well maybe not my mom's real father. And oddly enough, that horrible piece of shit may be my insurance policy should I ever have to emigrate from the United States as a second generation Canadian immigrant to the US. But then again, it's not really about blood or country or even truth, it's always been about love and the home we make.
posted by Stanczyk at 5:31 PM on July 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

I've got Irish famine refugees and pogrom refugees and just plain Scottish and English poverty refugees among my ancestors. I enjoy being a hybrid, and I keep finding distant relatives who share family stories. My first ancestor to arrive in the US was a teenage girl from Ireland named Johanna. She saved all her earnings and went back to get the rest of her family but they had either died in the Famine or moved so far away that she was never able to find them. She came back to the US, married, and had 7 kids. She and her husband, another Famine refugee, scraped out a pretty meager existence in rural frigid upstate NY but their many descendants have done well.

The only one of my grandparents who wasn't born in the US was my Jewish paternal grandfather who was born in Bialystok which is now in Poland but might have been in Russia then. He came over to Ellis Island around 1905 as a child and benefited from the public schools and libraries of New York City. His mother and sisters worked hard so that he and his brother could go to college. My grandfather became a Spanish teacher and eventually a high school principal in the Bronx. When waves of Puerto Ricans came to NYC my grandfather did what he could to help their children - the students in his school- succeed. He greatly appreciated the help he received as an immigrant boy from his teachers and he believed in passing that on.
posted by mareli at 2:21 PM on July 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I know a lot about my ancestry, because my grandmother was into genealogy and she gave me our family history when I was 13.

She had me looking up my mother's ancestry, the French side. And I wrote to my Grammie, and then lo and behold, some cousin on her side married a woman who was a Mormon and he wrote to me and told me lots of things.

Dear Cousin , he said, and he had all the info. It was astounding, This is all type written things.

I am also a descended of the Warrens of the Mayflower. Oddly, I lived in in a house that was started by a descendant of John and Priscilla Alden.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:50 PM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

On my mother’s side I may be descended from a witch:
Isabel Babson (1577-1661) was the first Babson in America, and she and her sons Richard and James are the progenitors of all with that name in the country. The earliest known record of her in this country is dated 25 September 1637 and appears in the Salem town records: “Isabell Babson desires admittance to become an inhabitant.” Isabel probably first settled at Salem as it was her port of disembarkation. In 1942 [sic] she moved to Gloucester where she was greatly respected as a nurse and midwife. After July 1642 Isabel purchased land at what is now 75-77 Front Street, Gloucester, and it continued in the family about a century and a half. Her dwelling on Main Street, a little to the west of Porter Street, was located at what is now 69 Main Street. She died and was buried in Gloucester, although the exact location of her grave is unknown. A simple stone has been placed in the ancient Bridge Street Burying Ground in memory of this honored and beloved citizen of Gloucester. As a tribute to her memory, Roger W. Babson established the Isabel Babson Memorial Library at 69 Main Street, which specializes in books for expectant mothers. She is also remembered through the Isabel Babson Maternity Wing at Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester. Roger Babson believed that conceiving and rearing children, as well as the health and well-being of women, were critical to a stable society. All books in the library reflect this philosophy. Every challenging aspect of family living from prenatal through grandparenting and the golden years is covered. Books catering to men’s issues are also available.
So, to recap, arrived alone in the New World with two young sons, her husband and the children’s father having died during the crossing, sustained herself and her children as a midwife, and set the stage for 12+ generations of Babsons to come.

Maybe not a witch. Definitely a badass.
posted by notyou at 7:51 AM on July 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I missed this!

I am a tenth generation American. I just pulled the family tree my aunt gave me out of my desk drawer and counted back to make sure. That guy ten generations back at the top of the sheet, Thomas Smith, I'm actually not sure whether he was the immigrant ancestor or if that was just as far back as they could trace. There is no further information about him on the sheet but his son was born on July 26, 1723. I am told that our people came over from England with William Penn.

I start in this manner mainly to amuse myself because I am a sassy little jerk, but it doesn't really have the same effect unless you can see my Asian American face as I'm saying it. I have identified my whole life as fourth generation. Counting generations is very important in Asian American culture, it's this whole identity thing (especially for Japanese Americans who have very strictly defined generational cohorts). And being able to say you are a FOURTH generation American is a little bit of a defense (usually ignored) against the people who ask where are you from, where are you from. It never even occurred to me to count generations on the white side until the FPP about Tammy Duckworth's baby girl identified her as an "eleventh-generation American" and I thought, "Huh."

I've told bits and pieces of this here, but my Japanese great-grandparents immigrated back in the Meiji era. My great-grandfather came first, in 1905, at the age of 19. He spoke no English and had $10 to his name. In 1915, my great-grandmother (who was also 19 at that time - she was ten years younger) followed him. (I think she was a picture bride. My mom disputes this.) They were both from Niigata Prefecture, which was my flimsy reason for requesting to live there when I applied to teach English in Japan in 2010. My grandma speaks mainly Hawaiian pidgin, my mom speaks only English, and I learned Japanese by my own damn effort and then translated everything for my mom when she came to visit me. (My Japanese isn't so hot, but I can rattle off the entire preceding spiel flawlessly in Japanese, since I have had to explain it to people so many times.)

I do think it's interesting what people know and don't know about their immigrant ancestors, the stories we tell, and why. You would think the reason I have more information about the immigrants on my Japanese side because that was more recent, but that side of the family is a complete mess with no one speaking to each other, and I found most of that stuff on Ancestry.com after dragging names and birthplaces out of my senile grandmother. The white side has family trees and old letters and photographs all carefully documented. But people ask me about my Japanese ancestors, they ask what generation are you, they ask about my great-grandparents. (Who ever thinks about their great-grandparents? Do you? I have no idea who my white great-grandparents were, but I have their names, dates and places of birth and death on this sheet right here.) They asked me so much that I felt like I should have the answers. I can count on one hand the people who have asked about my white ancestors, and every one of them asked only after asking about my Japanese ancestors, without enthusiasm, as if they wanted to be fair. I don't resent this, really; I would never have gone to Japan and had two of the most fulfilling years of my life if their questions hadn't kindled in me such a burning need to know the answers. (I didn't find or even look for the answers while there; I mostly snowboarded a lot and ate ramen and learned from hanging out with my English friends how utterly American I am.)

I love my story, I think it is so American, and I'm kind of rambling here. But I'm used to stating the bald facts and having people draw their own conclusions, and I wanted to share a little about how I think about it instead. :)
posted by sunset in snow country at 7:52 PM on July 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

I wasn't sure if I should bother with my story here - my mom escaped the Hungarian revolution as a girl, my wife was a Canadian immigrant but those aren't my stories. They're their stories.

I live in the USA with a non-US passport and a green card which would make me an immigrant to most people, but really I'm not. I'm an ex-pat really - I have no long term plans to stay here, but having said that I may well stay here until I retire.

It's a pretty privileged position, but it's not even very interesting along that angle really. I don't exactly live some Jay Gatsby life. The path of Canadians moving to the US to make money is well-trodden. I think there are enough Canadian passport holders in the SF bay area to make this one of the top 20 Canadian cities by population. But I got a green card easily because there isn't a decade-long wait to get one based on my country of origin, unlike China, India and Mexico.

What's nuts is that it should really be this easy for a lot more people. With a rational skilled immigrant system the US could have tons of people filling all sorts of jobs. If an American could have been hired into my position I'm pretty sure they'd have gotten it over me in a second. The US has 6.6 million job openings and apparently it may now have more job openings than job seekers.

The only things interesting about my easy-breezy immigration story is that it really should be a lot more common.
posted by GuyZero at 11:01 PM on July 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

None of my ancestors, as far as anyone can tell, ever lived anywhere but England, certainly back to the seventeenth century and very probably since the Dark Ages (in London, ancestry this monotonous is pretty much unheard of).

However, my kids have immigrant blood as my wife’s people came over from the USA.
posted by Segundus at 6:06 AM on July 13, 2018

My great-great-whatever were Jews from Belarus. They left for Poland, where my grandparents where born. My grandfather traveled to Argentina and over the Andes by donkey to come to Chile, where he eventually met my grandmother and had two kids with her, my dad and uncle, before splitting up so that I never met him.

In 1973, after Pinochet took over, my parents decided it was a good moment to leave the country, we weren't exiles but my mom was rumored to be on a government list, so we spent 5 years in the US, 2 in NYC and 3 in Ithaca, NY. We were a poor student family, but had a blast, especially in Ithaca. We spent another year in Guatemala then moved back to Chile.

My wife's mother's mom was born in Syria. Her husband was born in Palestine. They both travelled to Chile where they met and had my wife's mom, who can cook the crap out of all the Arabic stuffed goodies you could want.

My wife and I have a son, who is one quarter Jewish, one quarter Arab and half standard Chilean, which means Spanish, Mapuche, maybe some Aymara, with a dash of German, Italian, etc.

These past years there's been a lot of immigration to Chile, from Colombia, Venezuela and Haiti. There's a lot of ugliness around it, a lot of xenophobia and racism, especially related to the African-descended Haitians. I'm firmly on the side of the immigrants, and feel that we need more immigration, in Chile, not less. With my family history, any other position would be completely incoherent.
posted by signal at 9:30 AM on July 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

One of my family's favorite tales goes back to the 1850s on my father's side. One of the brothers left Norway and came to America to check out the farming opportunities. A couple years passed with little word, and then a letter that more or less said "Come on over, it'll do." The next brother packs a bag, jumps on a boat, comes to America, gets a train ticket out to Chicago. He gets there, asks around, and finds the next train he needs to be on and shows the conductor the letter. The conductor tells him not to worry, so off they go. The next day the train stops near a river in a million square miles of grass in western MN and the conductor tells him "That's your river. Follow it north and you should find the farm." So he walks. Several hours later he sees his brother working out in the field, so he drops his bag and starts working. In the evening they go back home and he moves in.

These Norwegian farmers are all about the excitement, I tell you.
posted by Cris E at 11:31 AM on July 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

These Norwegian farmers are all about the excitement, I tell you.

Ya you betcha!
posted by rhizome at 11:46 AM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

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