I recently saw the movie “Brooklyn”, based on the book by Colm Toibin, about a young woman who travels from Ireland to America seeking opportunity. I immediately thought of my great grandma, Mary Healy, who left her home in Riverstown in County Sligo, in 1907 and arrived five days later at Ellis Island.
At the young age of 11, Mary accompanied her aunt Bridget in search a better life but mostly the unknown. Unknown because there weren’t televisions, iPhones, computers and barely a telephone. I can’t imagine the hope and fear they must have had similar to Eilis (pronounced Alish) in “Brooklyn”.
Eilis arrived at Ellis Island around 1950 all alone with no family or friends except for a Priest. He helped her get a job, a home with other Irish immigrants and eventually an education.
I don’t know if my great-grandmother had a plan laid out like Eilis but most importantly, she survived. Mary found a home in Newark, NJ, eventually met my great-grandfather (O’Hare), started a family and had six children.
My grandmother is now 95 and had a family of her own, one son who died shortly after birth and three daughters; one of which is my mother. I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m telling this story!
First, let me say that I think the evolution of my family is amazing. I think I get my fire from my great-grandmother and grandmother; smart, witty, wise cracking and family above all else. That’s where I come from.
Second, you reading this are a relative of an immigrant. If you don’t already know your story, find out. You might be amazed.
Lastly, the world we live in today is a scary place and very different from 1907 and 1950. ISIS and other terrorist groups are threatening our freedoms. As an American, we are the land of the free and home of the brave which will never change but I’m very conflicted on the topic of refugees.
We have our own citizens that are sick, dying, homeless and without food. Syria is a place of terror and poverty beyond our imagination yet I fear for our own safety of terrorist. I don’t have an answer, but if we didn’t have immigrants then you or I wouldn’t be here.