Our VoiceImmigration

Cross-Post: No Going Home


Imagine 2050 Staff • Jul 04, 2010

The New York Times gathered the stories of a group of historians and writers to discuss immigration and Independence Day. All the stories are good and worth reading; the one featured below stuck out as an especially poignant reflection on how America becomes home.

No Going Home

Joshua Halberstam teaches at Bronx Community College of City University. He is the author of “A Seat at the Table: A Novel of Forbidden Choices.”

On the Fourth of July, our house was conspicuous.  It was the only one on our Brooklyn block that featured a huge American flag we suspended from the upstairs window and let drape across the façade. The house was conspicuous the rest of the year too. This was the home of that ultra-Orthodox Hasidic family.

‘Never take this country for granted,’ my father repeated to me.

The unfurling of the flag became one more tradition in our life, already steeped in traditions.  But for my father who arrived from Poland, and my mother from Czechoslovakia, this was an annual celebration their forefathers could hardly imagine. Here, for the first time in Jewish history, was a country in which you could truly adopt new, national rituals without relinquishing your own.

My parents were immigrants unlike most other American immigrants. The elderly Italian couple across the street regularly traveled back to their old neighborhood in Palermo where their relatives still lived.  The Puerto Rican family around the corner engaged in a  constant exchange of visitors with their cousins in San Juan, and the old Irish fellow who worked in the grocery store waxed poetic about the beauty of his village in Limerick where he hoped to return after retiring.

But there was no returning to the old country for my parents, their siblings, or their extended community. The family properties had been expropriated, the communal buildings burned to the ground.

To continue reading this article, please visit http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/03/how-we-adopted-the-fourth-of-july/

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