The Modern Immigrant
My husband and I recently relocated from Sonoma California just outside of San Francisco to Philadelphia—South Philly bordering the Bella Vista (Italian) neighborhood to be exact. Leaving the land of vineyards where wine making and tasting is a way of life was a difficult decision. Sonoma is a cozy place where the harvest season is a heralded event and consumes the town’s conversations. One could sit under the huge autumn moon and drown in the sweet perfume of the grapes waiting to be plucked while sipping a dry Chardonnay. Why would we leave to come to a city where there are no vineyards and getting a whiff of anything natural is like winning the lottery? Our reasons for moving are very similar to those of my relatives who arrived on Ellis Island as immigrants from Italy and Ireland. By no means am I comparing our move to the brave souls who left their homelands without any idea of what to expect—after all I have Google and You-Tube to show me where I am headed. People migrating to the United States between 1850 and the turn of the century had only the conjured tales that floated across the sea.
We came to Philly seeking a better life—a life where work is abundant and you don’t have to work twelve jobs to pay your rent and feed your children. Of course there were other reasons such as family and living closer to New York (being a writer I dream of lunching with my literary agent—once I land one) that contributed to our decision. After all how long can one sit in a wine stupor contemplating the wonderful weather? We knew the move would entail hard-core sacrifice—like living without a garbage disposal and wading through trash on the sidewalks. Although there are spotless streets of Philadelphia lined with aging trees and gorgeous brick houses—there remains sections of the city where litter is an art form. I imagine my ancestors who landed on Ellis Island eager to establish a new home—only to find tenements and cellars to occupy. If you wore your traditional dress—you fought incredible prejudices and finding work other than manual labor was a miracle. Fortunately—we blended in with our American clothing—and I promised not to wear anything remotely Berkley like.
Change of any nature is challenging at best—starting over is humbling like the immigrants of old—you have to earn trust and work hard to prove yourself and even then—those that have lived loyal and long in an area get first pick of employment. My husband was let go, the reason—“not enough work to go around—need to keep my guys busy through the winter.” The employment climate in California reminded me of water circling a drain. Here in Philadelphia—despite the economy—there are more opportunities if you are willing to travel outside of the proverbial box. The cost of living is less and therefore it is possible to take a risk or two—like living without a garbage disposal and having to go to a State store for wine—which is an article unto itself. The language remains the same—English—although the dialect here in Philly is unique. I never heard water pronounced “woodar” before. But unlike my ancestors who spoke only Italian or had a thick brogue that labeled them Irish—my husband and I are understood and we’ve kept the “hey dude” lingo to ourselves.
As far a religious persecution—we had none in California and it does not seem to be an issue here in Philadelphia, regardless of the excessive amount of Catholic Churches. They are indeed gorgeous stone structures that remind me of the gothic like cathedrals in France and Italy. Traditions are important and Philadelphians savor theirs. The struggle for religious freedom that so many immigrants of varying denominations endured—now stands as a testimony to my own choice to practice as I please. I thank my ancestors for being part of a movement towards justice—and I want to find a way to imitate their fortitude. I think I will start by picking up the place—and sharing my views that dumping is not fair to our Mother Earth. And perhaps I will start a vineyard—like that of Sonoma so the folks of Philly can sit in their clean streets—whiffing the bulging grapes that will one day be sipped under the city’s harvest moon.
Causes Karen Devaney Supports
Eve Ensler and any organization that deals with issues supporting women and children and the advancement of their education.