University School - Hunting Valley
Instructor: Jim Garrett
Five American Dollars
Five American Dollars
As I looked out over the port, I watched the ships come and go as I waited. "I had never seen the sea before," I thought to myself as I basked in the cool sea breeze. I reflected on my journey so far during my long wait to board. The days since I departed had been short, yet part of me longed to return. I was terrified, to say the least, as I left my entire community, home, and culture behind. Saying goodbye was the most challenging part, yet I knew that opportunity was upon me as I left that morning. All around me were the most people I had seen up to that point. The small countryside from where I was born only contained a collection of familiar faces that had surrounded my entire life up until now.
I made the choice, "There was no going back," I thought to myself as I stepped aboard the vessel. As we departed from the dock, I watched the land I once knew slowly drift into the distance as a memory of the past. All the cousins, all the uncles, and the parents were all left behind as I embarked on my journey. I remembered the farmer's daughter from the same village as me, whom I'd always visit when bringing my sheep up into the mountains. While it was never much more than long conversations as I went on my journey, I got to know her quite well. Sitting on the deck, I thought of what could have been if I had stayed back. I could've married her, continued shepherding, and had a family in my culture. However amazing this sounded, it was not enough for my hunger for adventure. I wanted to do something different and live a different life. While I crossed the great ocean, I thought about what I would do when I arrived, such as where I would work, whom I would meet, and whether this was all a good choice. Yet, as much as I could have regretted my choice to leave, I knew that my old life was not what I wanted.
The days on the ship felt like months; however, I enjoyed every minute of it. I was sure that this was the only time I'd be in the middle of an ocean in my life. On the ship existed a collection of the many peoples of Europe. A walk through the deck was a short tour through Europe, as I'd be sitting next to a family of Germans, eating lunch with some Swedes, and having dinner with some Polish immigrants. However, through all our differences, we were united in the fact that we were newcomers to what was to be in a few short days.
In the small, third-class bunk I had purchased were two roommates from Ireland named Cillian and Liam. Despite my choppy English at the time due to my eastern European accent, my other roommate from my country spoke clearly and translated our conversations. We spent our nights together discussing our backgrounds; coincidentally, we were both shepherds from different countries. As they shared their experiences in the Emerald Isle, I told them of mine in the mountainous countryside. They told of extensive green landscapes, small villages, and rocky coastlines. I then told of my homeland of giant mountains, farmland, and forests. I had never been to the coast before since I came from a landlocked nation. This was the first time I had met anyone, not from the continent, and I was captivated by their life stories. Yet, when asked, "Would you return?" They told me they never wished to step foot in their old country again.
On the final morning of my journey, I stepped on deck and breathed in the sea's fresh salty air as the city's skyline glittered in the distance. As we arrived at the island, I looked up to be greeted by the green giant that guarded the entrance to this nation. Leaving the ship, I stepped onto new ground, a new beginning, and life. The only reminisce of the old world were the language I spoke and the memories I had. I was nervous as I walked through the building and waited in line to speak to the customs officer. I observed the scene around me, as it seemed even more diverse than the prior scene of boarding the ship. It was as if the world had been shoved into one room as we all waited for our turn to enter the new world.
"Next!" I heard in a sharp tone as I stepped up. I was questioned more than I could answer. The only knowledge I could share was that I was traveling to Pennsylvania to meet with my cousin, who had immigrated a year earlier. I was asked my reason for entering, to which I said "work," to which they asked where to which I stated the town where I was to go.
The next day I walked about the city of New York, observing the hustle and bustle of the streets around me. I hadn't ever been to a city like this before, and I felt like an outsider for the first time. The tall buildings stretched into the sky, the street was filled with all types of people, and the ambiance of the chatter and noise was never-ending. It was loud and overwhelming as I had only heard about places like this. I got to a small inn where I had enough money to stay the night. My cousin had mailed me five American dollars to help me on my journey to pay for my accommodations. As I walked into the inn, a sharp voice asked, "What do you want?" his patience was not there for my choppy English, to which he said, "Can you not speak?" I responded to him with, "I ca-can speak, I need room for one night. . .please?" When he saw the money, I noticed his annoyance at my presence change into joyfulness. I handed him fifty cents for the night. I put my bags in my room and decided to walk about the city. I went out, wandering the streets.
I was first introduced to the fact that I was not viewed as an "American" but as an outsider. My language barrier and orthodox religion formed a clear line between myself and this new world. I walked into a street that seemed to be majority Italian. I remembered learning a few phrases one day on the ship with another immigrant named Eduardo. I saw a group of men sitting around a table outside a shop and walked up to say, "Come va signore?" They noticed my thick accent and began to laugh about it. A few came in behind me and began to push me around, I was a short man, but I wasn't weak. I decided to turn around and walk back toward my hotel, but they chose to push me around a few more times.
In a flash of light, my jacket had been swiped from me with my money. I took off after the group of young men who had taken it, as I needed that for the train. I ran down the street and followed them around a corner. As soon as I turned the corner, I felt a swift thud in my chest and found myself phased on the ground. My head was spinning, and I began yelling in my language. From across the street was a small family sitting outside an inn with an assortment of luggage. What seemed to be the father got up and walked slowly over to the men circling me on the ground. He asked me what the issue was in my native language, to which I told him that they had taken my jacket with all my money. In a quick moment, he proved himself strong by taking hold of the thief, reclaiming the jacket, and sending the young men on their way.
He helped me up and introduced himself as Pytor. We soon discovered that we were from the same country. He asked me where I was headed and said Pennsylvania. He returned my jacket and informed me that he had also been robbed earlier and could not afford to pay for the inn for the night. For the help he had given me, I handed him a dollar and told him to thank him for all his help. We shook hands, and I made my way back to my hotel. As I closed the door, I collapsed on the bed, exhausted from the day's events. As I drifted to sleep, I thought about how this new world would, or if it was possible, that this was all a mistake. Yet, as these worries arose, the excitement for what was to come silenced all other thoughts.
After another week of travel by train, I arrived at my cousin's residence and was set up with my job in the coal mine. The work was hard, and the pay was decent, but I was overcome with accomplishment as I completed my journey. To a pleasant surprise, the town where we lived contained many immigrants from the same region as me. My discomfort was settled as I could adapt to this lifestyle with many others. As the days went on, I thought about my memories of home, my family, my friends, and my old job. I found I missed those days shepherding in the mountains, but I knew that what I had now was just as valuable. A piece of my country will always live inside of me, but I would not let it restrict me from seeking opportunities.
This story was from many years ago; my children and their children are now native to this country. The culture of which I was before is now distant to me, yet it still lives within my earliest memories. I look around and see what I've built, a family, a home, and most importantly, achieved my opportunity. As I left my old country in those years past, I watched the world I knew drift away, bringing me towards what I have here today. My story, still one of many, is about taking a risk, finding oneself, and pursuing a desire. This nation is different than it was when I was young, the island is closed, and the boats are fewer, yet the green giant remains, guarding the arrival of those who come and those who came.