My Grandparents immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands in 1955 with their 8 children. My mother was 2nd born, the oldest girl and at age 12 (almost 13), had a good perspective on the journey to the USA and the transition to life in the midwest.
Throughout our time in South America, I've often thought of my family's journey in 1955 and what I would ask my Grandparents if they were still with us.
My Mom has been a great resource for answers to some of my questions, but the perspective of an immigrant child versus that of an adult can be strikingly different.
On a recent trip back to the USA, over lunch with my cousin, we talked about this very thing and it never fails to make me cry (tears welling now). I would ask my Grandparents:
- What were their goals (for their family, themselves and their children)?
- How long it took them to really feel at home in the USA?
- When did they start speaking English at home instead of Dutch?
- Did they feel like they had options of where to live or was the USA their only choice?(Many Dutch also came to Argentina during that era, including the family of my Mom's classmate)
- What would their alternate future in the Netherlands have been?
- Did the USA meet their expectations?
- What were those early years like for my Grandmother in particular (In the rural Midwest, with young kids in an old farmhouse)?
- What would they have done differently, if anything?
- What were the strangest things to them in the USA (food, customs, English phrases, etc)?
- What is their perspective on our move to South America and our abilities to live/work virtually anywhere?
Our experiences, while similar in some regards, are very different given the 50+ years that have passed. Theirs was a permanent move where we have much more flexibility. They left the Netherlands not knowing if they would ever see loved ones again, where we have had 3 trips back in the 3.5 years we've been in South America. My Grandmother went to the mailbox every day hoping for a letter from home. We have frequent Skype calls with family and can share photos and video easily online.
In fact, I just called my parents via Skype and asked my Mom if she would email some photos for this post. She has been wonderful recounting the experiences of her family as she remembers but I wish my Grandparents were still alive.
The discussions I would love to have with them as an adult! I miss you Oma and Opa...
We now have the flexibility and options that come with a technological world. It has never been easier to move to a different country. In fact, we have friends all over the world that are in near-constant motion (as singles, couples and families). After a few years, it is time to move on or move back 'home', only to move again shortly thereafter.
Is this the start of a nomadic generation, all thanks to technology?
On the days that are hard, when the cultural differences seem too great or the distance just too far, I have to remember my family history and the strength of my Grandparents and all of the other immigrants around the world.
Today we have it easy. We have the world at our doorstep. We are thankful for those who have made the tougher journeys before us.