Immigrants Leave Home




Edvard Pedersen, Emigrants at Copenhagen Harbor 1890


Young, strong, and adventurous immigrants lead the way to new lands They leave a hole in the hearts of  their parents, brothers, and sisters left behind in the old country. North American immigrants never expected to see their families again once they made the arduous and expensive journey across the Atlantic. While the travels of today’s immigrants are often perilous, U.S. immigration laws allow their extended families to unite so that the clan may all come together in the new land.

Late 19th and early 20th century North American immigrants often came from Northern Europe — my father, Hans Pederson, from Denmark to Seattle, my mother’s parents, Wasyl and Anna Huchulak from Ukraine. Too many people and not enough farmland drove them away. Those who stayed behind had a better chance of survival.

The immigrants worked at anything they could. Farming, logging, fishing, cooking, housekeeping, and building railroads from East to West. They arrived at New York’s Ellis Island faced with the ordeal of the dreaded examination. During one part, using the same tiny forceps over and over, immigration officials raised their eyelids to check for disease. After that, the families were often assigned new names using the English alphabet.

They joined their countrymen in squalid apartments to smash cockroaches, or they settled in dank basement flats to contend with rats. Work, work, work, until exhaustion drove them to bars and brothels, or to bed if they were prudent and self controlled.

The self discipled sent money home when they could. Few could afford to go back home to find a wife. Perhaps they married a woman of their own tradition who had come over to cook or clean in some American home where she could learn the language. Or they sent for a wife that they could afford if their families paid the fare.

Today’s immigrants may obtain assistance from the U.S. government as they get established. Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or African,  many have been traumatized by war. They face other challenges as they try to assimilate. Few settle in to the same profession that they had before.

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