Thursday, November 13, 2003

It may be you, one day.

I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
would harrrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
and each particular hair to stand on end,
like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

Wm. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act i, Sc 5

I've known a few immigrants with a tale to tell. Let me introduce you:

The Cuban Guy on the Train. In '84, I took the Amtrak from Chicago to Indianapolis. I was seated with 3 strangers for 4-5 hours.

When four strangers are together for that length time, they begin to chat. The gentleman on my right was about 28, soft-spoken with a slight spanish accent. He said he'd arrived in America with his family when he about eight. When he was in kindergarten in Cuba, his father was jailed for saying something Castro's men didn't like. Here is what he said about Cuban kindergarten:

His schoolroom had a large hole in the ceiling, like a trapdoor, which was opened on hot days to let the breeze in. One day, his teacher told the class to close their eyes, bow their heads, and pray to God for candy. So they did, and nothing happened. Then the teacher told the children to close their eyes, bow their heads, and pray to Castro for candy. So they did, and the trapdoors opened and candy rained down.

"All the other kids scrambled for the candy, but I couldn't. I just stood there, looking at it and thinking that Castro was the man who had taken my daddy away. I was afraid I'd get in trouble for just standing there, but I looked at the teacher and she looked at me and just gave a little smile. She knew, you see."

Tanya. Tanya's husband wanted to leave the USSR, although Tanya herself didn't. She didn't care about the politics/patriotism/nationalism one way or the other; she didn't want to leave her family, knowing the USSR government would never allow her to return and visit, and would probably even restrict letters and phone calls. Eventually, however, her husband wore her down, and they applied for permission to leave.

In less than two weeks, they both lost their jobs. They tried to, but could not, get new jobs. Eventually Tanya, though a professional, tried to get a menial job through a friend of hers. Her friend informed her that the business had been warned by the USSR government not to hire Tanya or her husband.

In the USSR at that time, it was illegal to be unemployed. Tanya's husband (though not Tanya herself) was thrown in jail. Luckily, about a year after they initially applied to leave, the USSR government relented and let them go. Tanya and her husband never found out why the USSR originally denied their application, nor why it had a change of heart.

These events took place in the late '70s/early '80s.

Dr. Kaufman. Dr. Kaufman came to the USA from China to study. The revolution occurred while she was in the States, working on her degree. The new Chinese government declared her 'contaminated' and would not allow her to return. She did not see her family again.

No comments: