It’s only fitting to begin the new 2013 academic year with a fresh view of potential encounters. This academic year will be a different kind of journey, as these pages will witness. We will welcome children and families newly emigrated to this land of opportunity. As my grandparents, they have struggles untold which have encouraged them to keep silent for many reasons. In the culture of my grandparents’ time, it was not her place as woman and wife to speak too often or too boldly. Still today, many know “their place” and are reminded by society how much or how little they are welcome. There are many, different languages, different customs, uncommon “looks” from many who have settled before. And isn’t it strange how quickly people forget their places of origin and their customs.
I am certain that my grandmother, as a very young woman with a young child, vowed that she would never forget her land, her heritage, traditions, family and values, even though she was warned to be reserved, to fit in, to not attract too much attention in this land of freedom. She was thankful to be a wife and mother, appreciative of the hard work and difficulties her husband had to endure to support and sustain the family. It was her role to quietly support him, raise the children and take care of everything to do with the household. In Northern Italy, she had worked in the risaie, hours of back-breaking field work in rice-fields. Her father was a landowner, and the entire family, brother AND sisters, sacrificed and worked in those fields to harvest and sell rice. They knew how to plant, cultivate, raise crops, harvest them and feed their family. They were not wealthy, but managed to have money so that the girls were sent to Catholic school to learn reading, writing, and dexterity in the fine art of sewing, knitting, crocheting. My grandmother’s special expertise was creating men’s shirts from pure cotton and crisp linens. Their lives were difficult, fraught with labor and sacrifice, but they felt grateful for the blessings they were given and worked diligently, with pride and a sense that all labors were noble efforts of God-given strengths. Sacrifice and work were necessary and ennobling. This is how I remember how my grandmother embodied her life in Italy and in this land of freedom.
Her journey is where I can start, precisely because a large part of my upbringing came from her. Her fortitude shaped my thoughts, of yesterday and today. It gently sculpts how I, as teacher and adult-in-charge for seven schoolday hours and beyond, see the children in schools and wonder about their lives, the questions they have, the dilemmas of changes, across cultures, across time, across borders, minds and hearts. Some will understand because of where they are in time and that which they have experienced, either through their own cultural catharsis or the stories of their ancestors fondly recalled as children. Some might frown, disagree, deny and refuse to follow, mainly because their experience and upbringing have been restricted to a narrow view of life and living.
Still I wonder when will we as a people, as a country of immigrants, realize that we strive, we envision and question as the stories are gingerly woven into our own very personal views of history, but we control really quite little in our lives. Once we realize that there is a something very strong, but intangible, beyond ourselves, we may begin to tap into that strength and start to connect to an uncontainable power, beyond steel trap-doors of closed minds and bigotry where the land of freedom possibly and truly begins.