The Life of an Immigrant

Life isn’t easy, and that’s that. There’s always obstacles around every corner, new challenges as time goes on, and so many choices to make. Life as a four year-old immigrant in a family of nine? Well…that’s a different story.

In Portugal, she lived on a very small farm in a very small, poor village. At four years old, she doesn’t remember much, but she remembers enough. She shared a single, small room with her six other siblings; she shared one side with her sister, and the other side, separated by a curtain, was for her five brothers. Their house, more of a hut, was made of stone bricks with a dirt floor; she recalls feeling the wind of the cold night coming through the cracks of the walls, and how itchy it was every night sleeping on stacks of hay with handmade, itchy, wool blankets.

After ten years of being on the waiting list, her family was finally was given a green card to go to the United States. This opportunity was the one they have been dreaming, and waiting, for. The girl’s aunt and uncle, along with her two cousins, were already in the United States after going there as refugees from Angola, and as the family’s relatives, they were able to bring them over to America.

Though barely, life was starting to get better for this Portuguese family. They moved into a tenement house in Pawtucket. She recalls it being a small home, very cramped, and run down, yet exceptionally better than their home in Portugal. In this house, she and her sister were able to get one room for themselves, although it was even smaller than their half-room back in Portugal.

She recalled it happening during the winter. It really wasn’t an unusual situation for her parents; she, however, felt betrayed, and confused. She was six years old—only two years had gone by since her family had emigrated from Portugal. Inner city Pawtucket in the late 1960s wasn’t an easy place for them. And despite the beliefs of people in the present-day, being Portuguese was not a privilege, but a reason to discriminate. She says that everyone was always yelling at them, whether at school, in the neighborhood, or at the corner store.

Like any six year-old, the world is perfect, filled with infinite and wonderful dreams, and always happy and joyful. She even had a pet chicken named Chi-chi. Living with five brothers and a sister seven years older than her, she sometimes felt isolated from the rest of her family. That’s where Chi-chi came in. Chi-chi was her best friend, and she loved her so much.

One day at dinner, after she had come home from school, she didn’t see Chi-chi. So she asked her mother where she was. And the answer broke her heart. Her mother said that she was on the plate that she was eating from. Yup—she ate her own chicken.

You would think that after two years immigrants might start to become more accustomed to the “American” lifestyle. However, it was just the opposite. Her family was striving to hang on to all of the things that made them Portuguese, despite what everyone else around them thought. In fact, her entire family, herself included, hated the neighborhoods in which they lived. She lists many factors, such as the long, tiring, daily walks she had to take to and from school every day (over a mile each way), the terrible, crime-filled areas they lived in, and the cramped, poor living conditions that they had to live in were more than enough to motivate her family to come up from the ocean in which they had been drowning and breathe in the fresh, crisp air that they had long desired. And that’s exactly what they did.

Today, every one of the children, the girl included, have made lives for themselves. They all own their own houses, some of them even a second in Florida. All are employed, some even self-employed, and all have worked so hard in their life so that their children can be even more financially secure and comfortable than they are.

This little girl, now a woman, explains how her family was at the bottom of the social chain, and they didn’t have anything certain for them in life when she was younger—not even dinner. She and her siblings didn’t have any education whatsoever, and neither did their parents. All of them, too, realized that the only way to get out of this life and into a better one was to make it themselves.

They all went to school, got an education, made a living for themselves, and achieved their goal for a better life. She says that they didn’t complain about where they were—they were fighting for where they could be.

The girl is now married, with four children, two of whom having completed college, and the other two following suit. She went to college, then became a stay-at-home mom, and now has gone back to work.

She turned her life into something better than she could have ever imagined, and now, because of her, her children will have a better life.

All I have left to say is thanks, mom.