for my Brooklyn friends in diaspora, Throwback Thursday ~
The courageous immigrants of the elder generations cast the shards of their hopes and dreams across the landscape of this continent as prophecy. They worked hard and long for their visions. These people included my maternal grandparents with their first-born children, who arrived in New York in 1897 on a boat from Syria. They petitioned for Naturalization as citizens of the United States in 1925. Included also was my father who arrived here alone in 1919 from Turkey. He was just seventeen, eager to make good and to earn dowries for his four older sisters to guarantee them good marriages.
These were people who came to America in “the days of sail,” as the great New York writer, Irish-American Pete Hamill, would say. Today’s immigrants can and often easily do go home and connect with their families and their linguistic and cultural roots. This was something that was generally not available to the people of my grandparent’s generation and before. Among the many reasons for this was an often crushing poverty. In Ireland “American wakes” were held for the sons and daughters who were leaving for the United States. Heart-shattered parents knew it was unlikely they’d ever see their children again.
Because of parents and grandparents who were resourceful and brave enough to come to this country, we had as children, not just economic opportunity, but a wealth of artistic and educational resources. We used to go, for example, to the Leonard Bernstein‘s Young People’s Concerts at the New York Philharmonic. I remember Mr. Bernstein with his charming and contagious enthusiasm calling our imaginations to Peter and the Wolf. He was one of my first loves. We didn’t have to go anywhere to have access to the likes of Mr. Bernstein or to museums, cathedrals, art, music, theater, parks and so much more. It was all right there, ready to be plucked and savored like so many sweet and juicy summer plums.
Our schools were great. The libraries and theaters were rich and ubiquitous. The Hudson River, the Holland Tunnel, and the incredibly beautiful and historic Brooklyn Bridge were all magical, mystical, mythological, and monolithic to me. Brooklyn’s proximity to Manhattan added to its glory. The Cloisters. Central Park. The Zoos. How wonderful. How fortunate. I can’t conceive of a more enchanting place for any child to grow up.
I too lived – Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine;
I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan Island, and bathed in the waters around it;
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they came upon me,
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my bed, they came upon me.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892), Leaves of Grass