My story is the story of America. In every one's memory there is a story of immigration and struggle, of learning new ways and a new language, of homesickness and hope. I'm just rereading Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club, a tour-de-force story of survival, a struggle to keep things normal, a faith in the future, and the unusual bond between a mother and her daughter. I cried the first time I read it; and I'm crying again.
But, I digress.
My story is quite simple, on the surface. My parents sent me to live with relatives in America as I pursued my studies. The plan was for me to return to Italy after a few years as a teacher. I did study; day and night, weekends and holidays, on buses, in closets, in bathrooms, at lunch counters. After four years I graduated with a B. A. in English. (not ESL)
I had great teachers at Immaculate Heart College in Hollywood. In the midst of the 60's revolutions, they sisters and lay faculty molded our dreams and characters. We were exposed to a liberal arts education and challenged to think boldly and ecumenically, beyond our religious parameters. We received world-class education while other campuses were experiencing unrest and revolts.
When I left Italy I had taken two years of English and was proud of my abilities. Maybe too proud. I had so much confidence that I fooled myself too. I thought it would be a matter of weeks before the mumble -jumble I was hearing would become understandable. With my relatives, I was forbidden to speak Italian. The uncle who had sponsored me did not want to translate for his wife. She had made that her first rule. You can imagine the many misapprehensions and misunderstanding the two of us had.
That, is another story, for another time.
I had been admitted to a junior college and attended it for a year before transferring to Immaculate Heart. My salvation? I knew the subject matter already. What I was doing was learning the vocabulary. By the time I transferred to Immaculate Heart I was managing well. It didn't hurt that two neighbor girls still in high school and with whom I shared babysitting duties wanted to be tutored in French and in Mathematics. My French was much better than my English. The arrangement helped.
To end the story, I never returned to Italy because I was hired to teach before I graduated. Catholic schools did not have enough nuns and priests to staff their classrooms, and they were recruiting among the graduates. I substituted for six months, in exchange for tuition during the last semester. By June, they begged me to stay; they prepared the paperwork to change my visa so I could work for pay, and I signed up for another year while I attended graduate school. I taught French, English, History and Philosophy. I postponed my return to Italy. By then, also, I decided to move out of my uncle's house and live at a convent with other lay teachers.
It was during that time that I met my husband, married and lived happily ever after. He wasn't even catholic. Italy and my family had to wait another two years before I could save enough money to pay for new family to visit my homeland.
During holidays though, the tug of homeland is still there, especially at Christmas and Easter.
Now, hubby and I have retired and live away from our own children. This Easter, we'll go up to Bandon Dunes for brunch and watch golfers tee-off at $300 a pop. We'll feel rich and spoiled. Life is good. It isn't perfect. It never was. We always have to give up something in order to reach a new goal. Maybe that's one of the reasons I like Easter so much: it is a story of death and sacrifice, a story of renewal, a story of transformation. However we see the parallels in our own lives, the anniversary reminds us of the arc of our lives, the ups and downs, the constant push to be fully present and in resplendent ascension in our humanity.