- Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am Paul. I am nearly 42 years old and married. I live in historic Old New Castle in Delaware. I have worked most of the last twenty years in different facets of the medical field. I have had one of my short stories published, as of last year.
- What made you decide to do this interview?
I heard that Allison was doing this project and since my family isn’t very far removed from Europe I asked if I could participate.
- Where is your family from and why did they decide to come to America?
My father’s people are Irish Catholic. My grandfather’s people, on my mother’s side, were from Sicily. My grandmother’s people, on my mother’s side, were from Lithuania. As far as I know, they came here to escape different types of oppression: Organized crime in Sicily, the Russian overlords in Lithuania, the fighting with the Protestants in Ireland.
- What was life like for them in “the old country”?
As you can see above, it wasn’t too easy for them back at home so they risked all to come here.
- What did they have to do to get here (i.e. paperwork, money, etc.)?
I believe that they all came through Ellis Island. Two out of the three families had their last names permanently altered there, I’m told that this was a common occurrence.
- What hardships did they face coming to America?
There was still massive discrimination against the Irish. You may see those antique signs that read, ‘IRISH NEED NOT APPLY’? They weren’t antiques then. My Irish grandmother did find work in a leather-cutting factory that has long since been torn down. My great grandfather, from Lithuania, rode a horse and buggy to get around and sold moonshine out of his still to supplement his income.
- Once they were in America, what was life like for them?
It was hard at first but they not only adapted but thrived. My great grandfather, from Lithuania, bought a large patch of land in South Jersey and farmed it. My great grandfather, from Ireland, was a stone mason. Back then the names and designs on gravestones were chiseled by hand and he was one of the last true masters at it.
- How did different generations experience America (i.e. immigrant-born vs. American-born generations)?
My great grandfather, from Sicily, was sad to find that some of bigger cities in America, at the time, were just as corrupted by organized crime as the country that he left for that same reason. My mother was discriminated against in her small hometown in South Jersey because she was ‘mixed’! Lithuanian AND Italian, can you believe that?
- Did your family pass down their native tongue or preserve any cultural traditions, foods, or customs?
My grandparents were the last to be able to speak the native tongue fluently. There is the Italian tradition of gathering on Christmas Eve and eating fish. None of us really liked fish so we gathered and had pasta. 10. How many generations later did you arrive? I’m third generation American, on all counts. 11. Does knowing your cultural heritage affect your views on immigration? I’m very aware of my roots. I went all through school with other kids who had the same story as I. We were almost universally three generations removed from Europe. We were almost all: Irish, Italian, Polish, German, Russian, British, Scottish, French etc.or some mixture of those. Once I got into the world outside my community I found that a lot of people, my age and younger, were so removed from the ‘old country’ that they didn’t even know what they were. They have NO idea about the hardship of those that came before them. I guess what I’m saying, what I know to be true is that the more things change the more that they stay they same, yes? 12. What else would you like to share with everyone about yourself, your family, or about immigration in general? All good things that I am are because of them. They taught me how to be physically and mentally strong. They taught me that fear, any and ALL fear, can be completely conquered. They also put Jesus in my heart. For all this I am eternally grateful. 13. Paul, thank you so much for being willing to share so openly about your story. It was an honor and a pleasure.
Allison, this is a picture from a funeral in the 1920’s. The man and woman are my great grandmother and great grandfather. The three children are my great aunt, great uncle, and my grandmother Mary, on my mom’s side. This picture was taken at their hog farm in South Jersey. The baby in the casket was never named. They were originally from Lithuania.
Here are a couple pictures from Paul and his family at his wedding to his lovely wife, Valerie. 🙂