On this page will appear past examples of my weekly newspaper column,
"At the end of the Line with Ed Kelemen."
Keep coming back, because it will be frequently updated.
Originally Published July 20, 2007
Under the Title Immigration
All the talk and controversy lately about illegal aliens got me to thinking. Just imagine a sixteen-year-old girl huddled down in the bowels of a steamship. For some people an ocean trip would be the adventure of a lifetime. For her, it was sheer terror.
She had been able to escape her war-torn country with little more than the clothes on her back. Everything she owned fit into a single cardboard-sided suitcase.
Yes, she wasn't one of the pretty people who had lots of money and stayed in staterooms on the upper decks. They were the first class passengers. Neither was she one of the less affluent persons who stayed in the below decks staterooms. They were the second class passengers.
From the time she embarked until the time she arrived, she never even got to see the sun. She was jammed in the hold with a couple of hundred people in like circumstances. She paid with every last copper coin she could scrabble together for this treatment. She was called a steerage passenger.
It was always noisy down in the hold. Babies were constantly crying, and so were a lot of the adults. A lot of people had never been to sea before and found the experience upsetting, especially to their stomachs. The smell of fuel oil and stack gas permeating everything didn't help. It was also damp with water constantly sloshing on the deck.
She found a small knot of people who spoke her language and stayed with them for most of the voyage.
At the end of her sea trip she was ushered, along with everyone else in steerage, into a big brick building on an island. Entering the building, she could see New York's skyline.
A man pantomimed, asking her her name. “Karolina Taskshas,” she replied. He wrote, “Caroline Takas,” on a tag which he put around her neck and sent her off for further processing.
After that processing was finished, she eventually found herself on her own in New York City, not speaking the language and even unable to read the street signs.
Ten years later found her in Pittsburgh, married. She had forced herself to learn to speak and write English and, after passing the test, was proudly sworn in as a citizen of the United States of America. Her husband and she started a small restaurant that was to provide for them and their children for the next sixty-five years. Neither she nor any of her children were ever on the public dole.
She never demanded that the United States provide her anything more than citizenship. She learned English as her first language and insisted that her children speak it as well. Although a large number of her friends were from her home country, she was anything but insular.
Her odyssey was just a bit more than a dash across a border to sign up for welfare and demand that her new country speak the language of her old country.
Her restaurant resounded with conversation, periodically punctuated with her admonition, “Speak English! You're in America now.”
She was my grandmother.