"I immigrati, the immigrati, no The Immigrants "my grandma said through her thick Italian accent as she studied the title of the book on my night table. I took my earbuds out, and she looked at me and said, "You are lucky you are not an immigrant," and proceeded cleaning as if nothing happened.
Before she left the room, I said, "Wait, grandma, what do you mean by that, how am I lucky?" She responded, “I always think of my country, but now it has changed there. I am a stranger here and a stranger there.” I wanted to explain to her that she did belong, that all her hard work and the risks she took to be here were worth it, but I said nothing and she left the room to continue folding clothes.
At 32 years old, my grandma Rosa decided to move to America with nothing but a fifth-grade education, a baby on the way, little to no English, sewing skills, her husband and some money. She found a job as a seamstress on Oak Street in Chicago and had to take a bus, a train, and then another bus to get to her job (Monday through Saturday), while she juggled two kids and night school. Despite the circumstances, she persisted through the long days, learned English, and even tailored a dress for Oprah in the midst of all that. I often wonder what my grandma was thinking on the boat to America, or what went through her head as customers babbled unfamiliar words around her.
Knowing my grandma, I am sure she was not worried. Nonna has always claimed to be "tough like bull" (her words not mine.) She is the kind of person that knows what she needs to get done and does it for herself and her family, without caring about the opinions of others or how hard it is. Her life has never been easy; it is this determination that inspires me to work harder in everything I do. I believe that hard work is always worth the sacrifice, even if the end result may seem impossible. I did not know how to respond to my grandma that day, but after reflecting on all her hardships this is what I would have said, "Nonna, thank you for all the big things like taking care of me every day when I was small and the little things like teaching me how to make the best Italian sponge cake possible. Whenever I find myself feeling discouraged by the roadblocks in life, I think of your story to remind myself that I too am "tough like bull," but I know you had to be tougher, and for that I am grateful."
This I Believe Illinois is an essay program for high school seniors to share their perspectives as they prepare to enter adulthood. Each year, a panel selcts ten submitted essays to be recorded by their authors for broadcast on NPR Illinois. Since 2007, the selected authors also deliver their essays at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise where the students receive scholarships from the organization.