Immigration from the Tops of Trains

By Richard C.

Click here to view Enrique's Journey in the SPL catalogEnrique’s Journey
By Sonia Nazario

I remember so vividly the beginning of Moby Dick when Ishmael says “…whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul… then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.” The full quote is truly golden. Like Ishmael, whenever I have a similar drizzly feeling – lately about the news – I make my way to the library.

Recently doing so, I found Pulitzer winner Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey: The True Story of a Boy Determined to Reunite With His Mother. Enrique is a sixteen year old boy in Honduras who sets out to find his mother who’s working in the United States. From the tops of trains to run-ins with criminals, crooked cops, and other perils I can hardly imagine, Enrique’s story humanizes a topic that, while not new at all, is so currently notable in the news today. An updated version of the story adapted for young people is now available, too.

Continue reading “Immigration from the Tops of Trains”

Genealogy 101: Why are genealogists fascinated with our immigrant records and why are they so hard to find?

With the exception of Native Americans, we are all descendants of immigrants from some other country.  Arlene Eakle projected that between 1607 and 1980 “Over 40 million persons came from other places in the world to settle in the U.S”   (Eakle, Arlene H.  “Tracking Immigrant Origins” in Eakel, Arlene. The Source:  A Guidebook of American Genealogy.  Salt Lake, City, UT., 1984.) Therefore, genealogists are curious about where their ancestors came from.

Why did your ancestors decide to leave their homeland, the people that they knew, and choose to come to an unknown place?   They may have been seeking religious or political freedom.  They may have wanted the opportunity to own land, which most of them could not do in their country of origin.  The biggest factor for many was that they wanted a better life for themselves, their children and grandchildren.  It is amazing to see what they were willing to go through in order to accomplish this.

You may learn from family tradition or a U.S. record that your ancestor came from a particular country. However, you usually cannot go directly to that country to try to locate your ancestor’s records.  The researcher is most likely going to need to locate some record in the U.S. that will provide the information, or at least a very solid clue, as to the exact place of origin, i.e. the village. 

Why do we need to know such specific information about the place?  We may think that a family name is uncommon because it is not found frequently in the U.S.  However, in the homeland country Continue reading “Genealogy 101: Why are genealogists fascinated with our immigrant records and why are they so hard to find?”

The Visitor and Little Bee

Two of the most powerful stories that I recently encountered were stories about immigrants and refugees. One was in a film and the other was a novel, but both left a strong impression on me.

In the film, The Visitor, a widowed, burnt-out professor in Connecticut, Walter Vale, (played to perfection by Richard Jenkins, who garnered a Best Actor nomination for the role) travels to New York for a conference and finds two strangers in his Manhattan apartment. Someone rented his apartment to this young couple, and when Walter enters at night he is accosted by the young man, Tarek, (Haaz Sleiman) who believes Walter is breaking in. When Walter lets Tarek and his girlfriend Zainab stay until they find a new place, their lives become intertwined in ways they never would have expected. Walter forges an unlikely friendship with Tarek, and his secret love of music flourishes. Walter learns that Tarek, who fled Syria with his mother, and Zainab, who fled Sengal, are both illegal and fear deportation. The more he gets to know Tarek, the more he cares about his fate, and it is this growing compassion that grounds the film.

Directed by Tom McCarthy, who also directed The Station Agent, another understated, charming independent film, The Visitor feels like a short story. It is riveting, artful, restrained—and over too quickly. Its strengths are the subtlety in its storytelling, and its clean focus on the characters and their relationships. There is no happy ending here, but Continue reading “The Visitor and Little Bee”