I never really knew about my family history. Maybe it’s because I didn’t ask, but what I did know was that my father's side of the family migrated from Italy while my mother’s side from Russia. To know the countries does not tell the whole story. This assignment helped me express myself creatively and also gave me more information about who I am.
The Italians migrated to the United States in the 1900s to escape “violence, social chaos, and widespread poverty” in their native country. Also, disease and natural disaster plagued the peninsula of Italy which prompted Italians to flee. At that time, the Italian government was unable to help the people so a mass exodus followed with four million Italians immigrating to America, three million between 1900 and 1915. This infiltration of immigrants to the United States, in particular New York City, posed challenges to families that had to struggle in a new country, with a new language, new rules, and had to compete with other immigrants for jobs and resources. From this experience, Italian-Americans had to create a strong family unit and do anything necessary to survive the harsh realities of living in a new country. Family was important to the Italian community. Many who arrived in the United States worked hard to send money back to Italy to support their loved ones with the hopes of eventually being able to give them the same opportunity to one day become an American citizen.
My great grandmother Lucy (Gigi) and my great grandfather Sebastian(Sal) migrated from Naples, Italy to New York City in 1910. Gigi was a petite woman with a shy personality she had olive skin and light blue eyes. She had tiny hands that allowed her to perform her duties as a seamstress. Sal, on the other hand, started as a maintenance man and worked various odd jobs in plumbing and electrical work. He was considered a jack of all trades. My great grandfather and great grandmother showed that opposites attract. While she was quiet and humble, he was known to be outspoken and described as a “piece of work”. New York City in the 1900s was not the city we envisioned today there were no bright lights no skyscrapers, but it was the land of opportunity in order for my family to succeed in America they knew that they needed to work hard. Coming off the boat with no money and no education it was difficult yet it taught them that family is the most important thing and that with hard work anything is possible. My great grandmothers and great grandfathers work ethic and values carried over to future generations although Gigi and Sal are no longer with us they have taught each generation to do better than the last.
My great grandparents on my mother’s side immigrated from Russia during the early 1900s in Brooklyn, NYC. My great grandfather, Louis was a milliner which means he worked in a factory making hats. His wife, my great grandmother, Lilly was a stay at home mom who raised 4 children and took care of the domestic duties. They lived in a small apartment and times were hard because they didn’t speak the language. Louis picked up English by working in the factory however Lilly never learned because she didn’t have to. This was typical of stay at home mothers who weren’t around English speakers. Similar to my father's families experience, my mother’s family came to America looking for a better life and seeking to escape oppression. Both sides of the family believed in the ideals of the American Creed that with education came opportunity. Like my father's side of the family where the children attended college, so did my mother’s family. Many of them went on to higher education and earned PhD's and degrees in law and medicine. Although my great grandparents on both sides of the family came to America with nothing, they ultimately made something by teaching their children the importance of hard work for success. Just like Gigi and Sal, Louis and Lilly were able to get their family members from the old country to American through something called the chain migration where family members were sponsored by relatives who were already living in the USA.
The most valuable lesson my great grandparents passed down to future generations is that education opens doors to a better way of life. From the American Creed, we learn that education can change everything that it doesn’t matter what humble beginnings a person comes from. What matters is that anything is achievable when you believe in yourself and defy the odds to pursue your dream or passion.
Molnar, Alexandra. "History of Italian Immigration." mtholyoke, 15 Dec. 2010,
11 June 2019.