So lucky to have strong role models!

On both sides of my family I’ve had women that were pretty amazing as role models.   Some are still around and others are just in my family history, but had an effect on the formation of who I am.  If you divide my family into my four grandparents, you will find that 75% have descended from ancestors that came to the United States before the Revolution.

That last 25% was my grandmother’s family that came over from Italy in the early 1900’s.  My grandmother was the last of nine children with the first three being born in Italy and coming over with just my great grandmother to follow her husband as he came to the Clinton IN and Belgiumtown IL, joining a cousin and finding work in a coal mine.    My great grandfather came over first leaving his wife to come on a ship with three very young girls over to the US.  At that point the trip involved bringing everything you wanted to keep in a chest and staying in a small area for a long time with a lot of other people, in the bottom part of the ship. Then arriving at Ellis Island, where if you (and the kids) had managed to remain healthy, you were quarantined in dormitories until you were cleared to leave the island.

My family then went on to Clinton Indiana where one of the girls passed away.  Over time they lost two girls out of all their children, one even having the same name as my grandmother.  My great grandfather worked in a coal mine, and the boys went on to join him as they became old enough. My grandmother being the youngest was the only child that managed to go to high school.  My great grandmother thought that she wasn’t as healthy as the others and would end up needing to work in some field that didn’t involve as intensive work… My grandmother at one point said she had wanted to be a nurse.  The kids all pulled money together and grandma made it to high school.  She borrowed books and studied as much as she could, going on to be a school teacher at the point when a college degree wasn’t necessary.

My great grandfather had passed away when my grandmother was only two from the flu of 1918.  He was in the process of applying for citizenship at the time, so the paperwork didn’t get completed. I’m not sure when my aunt’s finished their paperwork, but my great grandmother didn’t apply until shortly before her death in the 60s.  She lived simply in a small house in Belgiumtown Illinois, grew her own food, and cleaned houses for the coal miners in the area.  Most of my aunts and uncles lived nearby – within just a few blocks.

When my mother’s father drowned while my mother was only about 3, my grandmother and mother moved in with my great grandmother.  When my grandparents married my grandmother had to quit teaching since women teachers were not allowed to be married at that time.  (It seems crazy now to think about the restrictions they faced!)  My grandmother went on to do several things to keep my mother and herself fed and clothed until she met her second husband.

Even having never met my great grandmother I can say she was pretty amazing.  Traveling to a new country with three young kids by herself, not knowing the language, then raising the kids including suffering the loss of two of her children – and then the loss of her husband, and keeping everyone fed and clothed is pretty amazing.  Part of the time this occurred was during WWI and WWII when Italians weren’t high on the list of favorite people in the United States.   I remember one day coming home to tell my grandmother a new joke someone had told me that involved Italians.  I had no clue what the term Daigo meant, I’m not even sure the kid that told me the joke knew what it meant.  But my grandmother knew!  My grandmother could swear up a storm, but that was one word I learned not to ever repeat again.  There were others, things kids called them in school, but that one was my first experience with what my grandmother faced growing up.

My grandmother when first married had lived in a little shack, using a drawer for my mother to sleep in.  My grandfather worked a coal mine with his brothers – my grandmother’s brother built the shack if I remember right.  I’ve written about the stories from when my grandmother met her second husband, and remarried.  Like my great grandmother she originally avoided getting remarried.

There are so many things I learned from my grandmother, and so much more I could have learned from her.  All my grandmother’s (and aunts) have served through time as strong role models.

Not 100 Percent any one Race?

Not 100 Percent any one Race?

I remember growing up being so proud that I was 25 percent Italian.  Every time I would say it though my father would get upset and point out that I was 100 percent American.  Yes I am and was 100 percent American and I am proud of my heritage and history in the US also.  My family on many lines has been in the US since before the US was the US.  That doesn’t stop me from also being proud of my genetic heritage also and how much my ancestors went through to get to the US.  My grandmother’s family left Italy in the early 1900s and came through Ellis Island with my Great Grandfather coming first. My Great Grandmother came over by herself with three very little kids, afraid that she would be turned back if anything went wrong – including a runny nose!   I feel I have to acknowledge ALL the strong amazing people in my history, not just the relatives that were born in the US.  In some cases the ancestors that fought to gain citizenship and then lived through being treated like second class citizens because of coming over to the US later than others have more to be admired for.  They have amazing stories that should be told also.

My great grandfather came to the US to make a place for my great grandmother and settled in Clinton IN (they later moved to Belgiumtown in Illinois). He took a job in the coal mines – which is not easy work, and made a home for the rest of his family to come over and settle at.  He passed away when my grandmother was just a couple years old of the flu of 1918, leaving my great grandmother a widow with 10 kids and no means of support.  My great grandmother went on to raise a garden – they ate what they could raise, clean houses for some of the widowers, and her sons that were still unmarried and were old enough to go to work in the mines took jobs.  At the time though, the oldest children were less than 18 years old….

My grandmother ended up being the only child to go on to high school and as the youngest all her siblings contributed some money for her to get to attend.  She finished high school and became a kindergarten teacher.  Grandma borrowed books and did what she could to get through school….

Each time I see the recent news against different immigrants coming into the US, I can’t help but be reminded of how my great grandparents were treated – especially during the World Wars when Italy was at odds with the US.  My ancestors had sworn allegiance to the US, but were still viewed as suspect.  I feel the times weren’t as dangerous then as they are now with the current acts of terrorism, but treating any American that has a certain genetic makeup as if they are not 100% American is not following the ideals this country was founded on.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

This country was founded to be a great American melting pot.  Everyone in the US (other than the Native American’s) is descended from an Immigrant.  They may have come before the country was founded but they still came over from another country.  It amazes me that being here first seems to give some people the feeling that they are able to choose how to treat other groups.

All in all though I do still feel proud of my genetic background, but I’m also proud that I am 100% American also.  Being American will not stop me from following the traditions and researching more about the groups that I descended from.