One of my favorite parts of being home is visiting my grandmother and indulging in homemade pizza, pasta and lots of bread and cheese. My Nona makes the best food, and her love language is to endlessly provide it. I guess that’s just a perk of having an Italian grandmother.
As I sat on the couch with my grandmother during Christmas break, she began reminiscing about her childhood back in Italy. Through broken English, she told me about being afraid and about deaths and U.S. bombings she witnessed during World War II.
She lived in a small apartment behind a church. She remembers when the large church bell was taken down so the metal could be used for the war. She remembers hiding underground and watching planes drop bombs on fields of soldiers. She remembers when the school system was halted while she was in first grade, before she learned to write her name.
My grandmother’s father came to America in the ‘20s, and travelled between Italy and the U.S. before calling for my grandmother in 1960. My Nona, then 26 and practically illiterate, traveled across the Atlantic by herself, leaving her comfortable and familiar town and culture.
My grandmother met and married my grandfather, also an Italian immigrant, in 1962. My grandfather was a hard worker. He began working immediately following his arrival in 1960, first for the city of Detroit and later for the Ford Motor Company, one of the largest American automakers in the world. He remained there for 25 years, contributing to the American economy.
My grandmother is not a U.S. citizen, nor was my grandfather. They are two of the many immigrants who have come to call America home. They came to this “land of opportunity” for a better life and a better future for their children. Because of my grandparents, I am able to be part of the first generation of DiStefanos to attend college, which gives us a power that no previous DiStefano generation has had. We can contribute to society and influence the world in ways my grandparents never thought possible while they counted pennies and stretched dollars as far as possible.
My grandmother told me she was never given new clothes as a child. Her family farmed and sold the bread they made when possible. She said she had nothing, but since coming to the U.S., she has been able own a home, raise four children and help raise 11 grandchildren.
I can’t help but believe that most immigrants — legal or not — are not much different than my grandparents. I don’t think most people are much different than they are. Who wouldn’t want a chance for a better life, a future and a safe place to call home?
My grandmother is a green card holder, but when I asked her if she still would have made the effort to come over if the government forbade it, she implicitly said yes. She is glad to be here. It was not a good life for her back in Italy. She said that her children were born into “heaven.”
Here’s to my brave and hardworking immigrant grandparents and to an America that welcomed people from every corner of the world to build their own American dream.