A few weeks from now, when the aforementioned holidays arrive, many of you are going to be sitting around someone's kitchen table telling family stories. You will tell some of the stories loudly with pride. And, if your family is anything like mine, some of the stories will be told in a normal tone of voice that will hush into a whisper as soon as a child or "in-law" enters the room. (I used to try and hide under the table to hear the "good stuff")
If you are a personal friend who grew up with me in Queens, there will be mention of the "old country" or homeland--which in my childhood was Russia, Poland, Germany, Italy, Ireland or Greece. The mentions may or may not be nostalgic--probably a mix. As a child growing up, my grandparents called America-- the golden land--and we knew that all too well that if they hadn't arrived here, the family line would have been destroyed by the Nazis.
Since the 1970s, more family members have arrived by marriage from India and Taiwan and Yemen and Israel and Syria--and some had ancestors who arrived here as slaves.
Now that I have grown up and moved across the United States, and entered my fifties and broadened my social circle (or at least the circle of people that employ me) the talk might not be the old country itself. This week I had lunch with a lady whose relatives came over on The Mayflower. I did not mention that we have something in common--my relatives came here by boat, too. My great grandmother Zina arrived on Ellis Island in 1908 from Odessa with her infant son Raymond--after a trip in steerage aboard the Lusitania.
All of the above, is a long winded way of demonstrating that unless we come from Native American stock, most of us showed up here from someplace else. And in every family there is a storyteller or "keeper of the heritage." Find that person and talk to them this month. If they are older than you--and most likely they are-- record their words in sound and video. Most likely the laptop or I-phone will be right there with you at the kitchen table.
You can also take a look at other family's arrival stories in a book called: Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing edited by Ilan Stavans. It was issued by the Library of America in October 2009 and is 724 pages long. I just received the two copies I ordered from Library of America--and after looking through it last night--am going to order more for gift giving.
But don't take my word for it:
Says Maud Newton of National Public Radio:
For every tragic story collected here, there is one of joyful liberation or of perplexed amazement or, more commonly, of excitement followed by a long, slow adjustment tinged with hope, fear and regret."
The first essay is a letter home from an English settler in the 17th century Jamestown, Virginia colony.
Phillis Wheatley writes "On Being Brought From Africa to America."
There's also an essay about Brooklyn by my ethnic favorite and Nobel Prize winner, I.B. Singer.
Later entries include essays and stories by literary superstars like Junot Diaz, Jhumpa Lahiri,Gary Shetyngart and Richard Rodriguez.
There are over eighty authors represented--some of them are Redroom writers. Don't have time now to look them all up and link to their pages--but as I read through the anthology--maybe I will.
Attention book group leaders and members: If you have come to the United States from somewhere else, or your parents or grandparents did--there will be at least one story or poem here that grabs you. If your book groups are anything like mine--and your readers are fascinated by what it is like (in fiction or reality) to show up in a new place and start over--you will be introduced to a wide range of writers and writing styles. Most of these writers have written alot--so after you are introduced to them here--you can go on to read their longer works.
Prices range $25-$32 depending upon where you buy it.
There are lots of purchasing options here:
Library of America Website:
Barnes and Noble
Causes Lauren John Supports
Keplers Bookstore Circle of Friends (Menlo Park)
Friends of the Menlo Park Public Library
Book Group Expo
Marin Agricultural Land Trust...