November 22, 2012
FROM THE ARCHIVES: EASY ASSIMILATION DOESN'T MAKE YOU ANY LESS AMERICAN:
A Pilgrim in Provincetown--Four Centuries Later: Immigration waters the dry garden of the Pilgrim story, keeping it from fossilizing into mere historical relic. (BORIS FISHMAN , 11/27/10, WSJ)
From JFK 22 years ago, we were ferried to the home of friends in south Brooklyn. It was somebody's birthday. So much about the table was reassuringly familiar: herring, salad Olivier, beet vinaigrette. But why was there a giant bird in the middle of it all? That was when we learned about Thanksgiving.
Our first week, we visited friends who shared their tables, casually showed off their English, and bragged a little about what they'd achieved in America. We felt crushingly inept by comparison.
Alone at last in our cramped, peeling apartment, my mother and grandmother burst into tears. We had left relative material comfort, familiar streets, a known tongue, and for what? These low-slung, characterless Brooklyn blocks? But we stayed. Grandmother went to wash floors for three dollars an hour, my father to paint room after room in freshly built high-rises, and I to school to learn how to speak English.
It may seem frivolous and disrespectful to compare the relative ease of our assimilation to what the Pilgrims experienced, but the difference is in degree rather than kind. Like the Pilgrims, my parents immigrated to escape harassment for their religious beliefs. On account of the Soviet information freeze, my parents also knew almost nothing about what awaited them in America. And like the Pilgrims, they knew they could never return.
Watching that video, I saw myself and my family. Immigration waters the dry garden of the Pilgrim story, keeping it from fossilizing into mere historical relic or branding fodder. In turn, the Pilgrim experience redeems immigration as that most American of rites.
Posted by oj at November 22, 2012 12:31 AM
[originally posted: 11/27/10]