What’s the story of your first days in America?

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Some immigrants spent their first nights at the YMCA. Others saw snow for the first time. Some people didn’t mean to end up here at all. What do you — or your parents or grandparents — remember about your first days in the US? Submit your story.

(Having trouble? Email ashah@pri.org.)

From Jamaica, in 1968

12puncie:

From India to USA on February 19, 1971

firstdays-globalnation:

I was a young graduate engineer in India searching for a better life in USA. I came to JFK Airport via Paris. After I landed I had to go through custom check since I came as an immigrant (visa based on third preference) since I had engineering education and US Govt needed engineers at that time….

Remembering our first day, coming from Jamaica West Indies, Me, and my two sisters and my father(R.I.P) along with Mother who came to U.S.A in 1968, the rest of us can d in 1972, August 1, it was hard to adjust at first, but when the cold weather came in, it was awful!! But we all managed to get along! Bless this country, for giving us an opportunity to survive 42 years!

Reblogged from : 12puncie
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The North Atlantic is not friendly water in early January. I know because in the first days of January, 1961, I crossed from Bremerhaven to New York City on the TS Bremen. I was going home — to a place I had never seen.
Born and raised in Germany I had inherited US citizenship from my naturalized father, who died when I was eight. Coming of age in postwar West Germany, in the American Zone of occupation, and with the knowledge that some day I would come to the US to retain my citizenship, I was uncommonly tuned in to anything American. Even though English was not spoken in my family, the Armed Forces Network was my daily radio ration. I listened to the Arthur Godfrey show, to ‘Luncheon in Munchen,’ and I devoured American literature from Mark Twain and John Steinbeck to Damon Runyon. In 1956 I rocked with Bill Hailey and the Comets, and my friends and I spent hours, days and nights, listening to jazz. When the time came, we perfumed our rooms with Camels, Pall Malls or Chesterfields. Life Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post were easily available and the illustrations gave us impressions of US life, especially of American cars of prodigious size and flamboyant elegance.
With a small loan from my oldest brother, by now a C-130 pilot in the US Air Force, I bought a one-way ticket, and on the first days of 1961 I embarked on the TS Bremen, headed for New York City via Le Havre and Southampton. My ultimate destination was Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, where my oldest sister — who had married a GI and moved to the US in 1952 — lived with her husband and two children.
At dawn on the 13th of January the ship glided into New York harbor and the port side was asymmetrically packed with passengers looking for and at the Statue of Liberty. Somewhat smugly with US passport in hand I lined up to disembark with other US citizens. I looked for Don Rick, a friend of my sister’s who would drive me to central Pennsylvania. We found each other with relative ease, in part, because I carried my cello and that alone made me stick out. My image of American cars was instantly adjusted when I had to insert my cello and luggage into an NSU Prinz, a diminutive German import, with an acceleration of zero to 55 in half an hour downhill. Next Don took me to get something to eat. And lo, he found an Automat, where plastic wrapped food items were displayed behind small glass doors. Not really knowing what to expect, it was all new and good. Next he took me to the Empire State Building, to the lookout deck, whence I spat over the railing, certain that the spittle would disintegrate anyhow. And then it was on to central Pennsylvania powered by the two cylinder, 600 cc, 20 hp engine in the rear of the Prinz. In the evening of my first day I was embraced by my sister and welcomed by my new American family.
—Michael Bachem of Portland, Maine
Michael Bachem and his mother in Bremen. Germany in 1961. It ws the day of embarkation to the United States.
The North Atlantic is not friendly water in early January. I know because in the first days of January, 1961, I crossed from Bremerhaven to New York City on the TS Bremen. I was going home — to a place I had never seen.
Born and raised in Germany I had inherited US citizenship from my naturalized father, who died when I was eight. Coming of age in postwar West Germany, in the American Zone of occupation, and with the knowledge that some day I would come to the US to retain my citizenship, I was uncommonly tuned in to anything American. Even though English was not spoken in my family, the Armed Forces Network was my daily radio ration. I listened to the Arthur Godfrey show, to ‘Luncheon in Munchen,’ and I devoured American literature from Mark Twain and John Steinbeck to Damon Runyon. In 1956 I rocked with Bill Hailey and the Comets, and my friends and I spent hours, days and nights, listening to jazz. When the time came, we perfumed our rooms with Camels, Pall Malls or Chesterfields. Life Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post were easily available and the illustrations gave us impressions of US life, especially of American cars of prodigious size and flamboyant elegance.
With a small loan from my oldest brother, by now a C-130 pilot in the US Air Force, I bought a one-way ticket, and on the first days of 1961 I embarked on the TS Bremen, headed for New York City via Le Havre and Southampton. My ultimate destination was Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, where my oldest sister — who had married a GI and moved to the US in 1952 — lived with her husband and two children.
At dawn on the 13th of January the ship glided into New York harbor and the port side was asymmetrically packed with passengers looking for and at the Statue of Liberty. Somewhat smugly with US passport in hand I lined up to disembark with other US citizens. I looked for Don Rick, a friend of my sister’s who would drive me to central Pennsylvania. We found each other with relative ease, in part, because I carried my cello and that alone made me stick out. My image of American cars was instantly adjusted when I had to insert my cello and luggage into an NSU Prinz, a diminutive German import, with an acceleration of zero to 55 in half an hour downhill. Next Don took me to get something to eat. And lo, he found an Automat, where plastic wrapped food items were displayed behind small glass doors. Not really knowing what to expect, it was all new and good. Next he took me to the Empire State Building, to the lookout deck, whence I spat over the railing, certain that the spittle would disintegrate anyhow. And then it was on to central Pennsylvania powered by the two cylinder, 600 cc, 20 hp engine in the rear of the Prinz. In the evening of my first day I was embraced by my sister and welcomed by my new American family.
—Michael Bachem of Portland, Maine
Michael Bachem's passport, stamped by the "IMM. & NATZ. Service."
The North Atlantic is not friendly water in early January. I know because in the first days of January, 1961, I crossed from Bremerhaven to New York City on the TS Bremen. I was going home — to a place I had never seen.
Born and raised in Germany I had inherited US citizenship from my naturalized father, who died when I was eight. Coming of age in postwar West Germany, in the American Zone of occupation, and with the knowledge that some day I would come to the US to retain my citizenship, I was uncommonly tuned in to anything American. Even though English was not spoken in my family, the Armed Forces Network was my daily radio ration. I listened to the Arthur Godfrey show, to ‘Luncheon in Munchen,’ and I devoured American literature from Mark Twain and John Steinbeck to Damon Runyon. In 1956 I rocked with Bill Hailey and the Comets, and my friends and I spent hours, days and nights, listening to jazz. When the time came, we perfumed our rooms with Camels, Pall Malls or Chesterfields. Life Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post were easily available and the illustrations gave us impressions of US life, especially of American cars of prodigious size and flamboyant elegance.
With a small loan from my oldest brother, by now a C-130 pilot in the US Air Force, I bought a one-way ticket, and on the first days of 1961 I embarked on the TS Bremen, headed for New York City via Le Havre and Southampton. My ultimate destination was Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, where my oldest sister — who had married a GI and moved to the US in 1952 — lived with her husband and two children.
At dawn on the 13th of January the ship glided into New York harbor and the port side was asymmetrically packed with passengers looking for and at the Statue of Liberty. Somewhat smugly with US passport in hand I lined up to disembark with other US citizens. I looked for Don Rick, a friend of my sister’s who would drive me to central Pennsylvania. We found each other with relative ease, in part, because I carried my cello and that alone made me stick out. My image of American cars was instantly adjusted when I had to insert my cello and luggage into an NSU Prinz, a diminutive German import, with an acceleration of zero to 55 in half an hour downhill. Next Don took me to get something to eat. And lo, he found an Automat, where plastic wrapped food items were displayed behind small glass doors. Not really knowing what to expect, it was all new and good. Next he took me to the Empire State Building, to the lookout deck, whence I spat over the railing, certain that the spittle would disintegrate anyhow. And then it was on to central Pennsylvania powered by the two cylinder, 600 cc, 20 hp engine in the rear of the Prinz. In the evening of my first day I was embraced by my sister and welcomed by my new American family.
—Michael Bachem of Portland, Maine
Michael Bachem in the Air Force. He was selected Base Airman of the Month in 1962 at McGuire
The North Atlantic is not friendly water in early January. I know because in the first days of January, 1961, I crossed from Bremerhaven to New York City on the TS Bremen. I was going home — to a place I had never seen.
Born and raised in Germany I had inherited US citizenship from my naturalized father, who died when I was eight. Coming of age in postwar West Germany, in the American Zone of occupation, and with the knowledge that some day I would come to the US to retain my citizenship, I was uncommonly tuned in to anything American. Even though English was not spoken in my family, the Armed Forces Network was my daily radio ration. I listened to the Arthur Godfrey show, to ‘Luncheon in Munchen,’ and I devoured American literature from Mark Twain and John Steinbeck to Damon Runyon. In 1956 I rocked with Bill Hailey and the Comets, and my friends and I spent hours, days and nights, listening to jazz. When the time came, we perfumed our rooms with Camels, Pall Malls or Chesterfields. Life Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post were easily available and the illustrations gave us impressions of US life, especially of American cars of prodigious size and flamboyant elegance.
With a small loan from my oldest brother, by now a C-130 pilot in the US Air Force, I bought a one-way ticket, and on the first days of 1961 I embarked on the TS Bremen, headed for New York City via Le Havre and Southampton. My ultimate destination was Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, where my oldest sister — who had married a GI and moved to the US in 1952 — lived with her husband and two children.
At dawn on the 13th of January the ship glided into New York harbor and the port side was asymmetrically packed with passengers looking for and at the Statue of Liberty. Somewhat smugly with US passport in hand I lined up to disembark with other US citizens. I looked for Don Rick, a friend of my sister’s who would drive me to central Pennsylvania. We found each other with relative ease, in part, because I carried my cello and that alone made me stick out. My image of American cars was instantly adjusted when I had to insert my cello and luggage into an NSU Prinz, a diminutive German import, with an acceleration of zero to 55 in half an hour downhill. Next Don took me to get something to eat. And lo, he found an Automat, where plastic wrapped food items were displayed behind small glass doors. Not really knowing what to expect, it was all new and good. Next he took me to the Empire State Building, to the lookout deck, whence I spat over the railing, certain that the spittle would disintegrate anyhow. And then it was on to central Pennsylvania powered by the two cylinder, 600 cc, 20 hp engine in the rear of the Prinz. In the evening of my first day I was embraced by my sister and welcomed by my new American family.
—Michael Bachem of Portland, Maine
Michael Bachem in 2012.

The North Atlantic is not friendly water in early January. I know because in the first days of January, 1961, I crossed from Bremerhaven to New York City on the TS Bremen. I was going home — to a place I had never seen.

Born and raised in Germany I had inherited US citizenship from my naturalized father, who died when I was eight. Coming of age in postwar West Germany, in the American Zone of occupation, and with the knowledge that some day I would come to the US to retain my citizenship, I was uncommonly tuned in to anything American. Even though English was not spoken in my family, the Armed Forces Network was my daily radio ration. I listened to the Arthur Godfrey show, to ‘Luncheon in Munchen,’ and I devoured American literature from Mark Twain and John Steinbeck to Damon Runyon. In 1956 I rocked with Bill Hailey and the Comets, and my friends and I spent hours, days and nights, listening to jazz. When the time came, we perfumed our rooms with Camels, Pall Malls or Chesterfields. Life Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post were easily available and the illustrations gave us impressions of US life, especially of American cars of prodigious size and flamboyant elegance.

With a small loan from my oldest brother, by now a C-130 pilot in the US Air Force, I bought a one-way ticket, and on the first days of 1961 I embarked on the TS Bremen, headed for New York City via Le Havre and Southampton. My ultimate destination was Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, where my oldest sister — who had married a GI and moved to the US in 1952 — lived with her husband and two children.

At dawn on the 13th of January the ship glided into New York harbor and the port side was asymmetrically packed with passengers looking for and at the Statue of Liberty. Somewhat smugly with US passport in hand I lined up to disembark with other US citizens. I looked for Don Rick, a friend of my sister’s who would drive me to central Pennsylvania. We found each other with relative ease, in part, because I carried my cello and that alone made me stick out. My image of American cars was instantly adjusted when I had to insert my cello and luggage into an NSU Prinz, a diminutive German import, with an acceleration of zero to 55 in half an hour downhill. Next Don took me to get something to eat. And lo, he found an Automat, where plastic wrapped food items were displayed behind small glass doors. Not really knowing what to expect, it was all new and good. Next he took me to the Empire State Building, to the lookout deck, whence I spat over the railing, certain that the spittle would disintegrate anyhow. And then it was on to central Pennsylvania powered by the two cylinder, 600 cc, 20 hp engine in the rear of the Prinz. In the evening of my first day I was embraced by my sister and welcomed by my new American family.

—Michael Bachem of Portland, Maine

From India to USA on February 19, 1971

I was a young graduate engineer in India searching for a better life in USA. I came to JFK Airport via Paris. After I landed I had to go through custom check since I came as an immigrant (visa based on third preference) since I had engineering education and US Govt needed engineers at that time. After I passed through custom I rode a bus to go to another airport (I heard national but it might not be that- I do not know as yet) so I can reach to Philadelphia, PA where one of my village friend came to USA few months ahead of me as a student to do his PhD.

As I rode the bus, I gave some money (dollar in paper) to the bus driver who was big black man (I was tiny guy of 110 pounds, skinny). He gave me some change so I looked at. The bus driver commented on my looking at the change. I did not understand what he said but I felt he commented bad to me. He must have figured out that I just landed at airport.

Anyway, I came to the new airport and took flight to come to Philadelphia. It was very dark night and cold (though I had new suit made of expensive wool).

As soon as I took the taxi at Philadelphia Airport to come to my friend, the air was was smelling bad as I found out that there were chemical factories near the airport. I reached my friend’s home. I believe I paid 5 dollar- do not know about tips. Came in my friend’s apt and ate dinner that my friend had made. My friend had another roommate from my city in India. He was very helpful- more than my village friend. This is what I remember!

—Brij Singh

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I knew one sentence when I came to the US, which was, “What’s for breakfast?” After that, the next five words took me three days to memorize. They were “crayon,” “computer,” “chair,” “desk” and “pencil.”
Right before I went to school, we had to take this exam to make sure we didn’t have any learning disabilities. My mom told me, “If they give you 26 blanks, you put pinyin.” [Pinyin is phonetic transcriptions of Chinese characters.] I didn’t even know the Latin alphabet.
I passed the math section. I think I got 10 percent on the English sections. I went to ESL for a year and then decided I wasn’t going to go. They pulled you from your science and social studies classes.
For the longest time, I didn’t know American history. I remember that I had to do this report on the Boston Tea Party in fourth grade, and I had skipped all of the social studies, so I had no idea what the Boston Tea Party was.
But the hardest part for me was the presentation component of a report. You had to stand in front of the whole class. I had a hard time saying the words “Philadelphia” and “Pennsylvania.” At the same time, I had a fourth grade teacher who was terrible with international kids. They rearranged the chairs and desks every 9 to 10 weeks. She would always alienate the six international kids by putting us in a corner by ourselves, facing away from the blackboard. As a child, I felt like I hated her.
I learned English through immersion and a lot of memorization. I loved the library and my mom used to go and pick out nonfiction books. She loved a series of books called “What Your Third Grader Needs to Know.” I would literally memorize long passages from the book.

Evanna Hu, outside her apartment with a grade school friend in Columbus, Ohio. She celebrated her first Easter in 2001 after moving the to the US with her family from China. She’s interviewed here by Eugenia Lee.

I knew one sentence when I came to the US, which was, “What’s for breakfast?” After that, the next five words took me three days to memorize. They were “crayon,” “computer,” “chair,” “desk” and “pencil.”

Right before I went to school, we had to take this exam to make sure we didn’t have any learning disabilities. My mom told me, “If they give you 26 blanks, you put pinyin.” [Pinyin is phonetic transcriptions of Chinese characters.] I didn’t even know the Latin alphabet.

I passed the math section. I think I got 10 percent on the English sections. I went to ESL for a year and then decided I wasn’t going to go. They pulled you from your science and social studies classes.

For the longest time, I didn’t know American history. I remember that I had to do this report on the Boston Tea Party in fourth grade, and I had skipped all of the social studies, so I had no idea what the Boston Tea Party was.

But the hardest part for me was the presentation component of a report. You had to stand in front of the whole class. I had a hard time saying the words “Philadelphia” and “Pennsylvania.” At the same time, I had a fourth grade teacher who was terrible with international kids. They rearranged the chairs and desks every 9 to 10 weeks. She would always alienate the six international kids by putting us in a corner by ourselves, facing away from the blackboard. As a child, I felt like I hated her.

I learned English through immersion and a lot of memorization. I loved the library and my mom used to go and pick out nonfiction books. She loved a series of books called “What Your Third Grader Needs to Know.” I would literally memorize long passages from the book.

Evanna Hu, outside her apartment with a grade school friend in Columbus, Ohio. She celebrated her first Easter in 2001 after moving the to the US with her family from China. She’s interviewed here by Eugenia Lee.

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What does it take for a Salvadoran girl to make her way in America?

Susan Cruz

I remember that even before we arrived, that the big thing in the movies was ‘Saturday Night Fever.’

So I remember those songs very well. And it’s interesting when you think of a song like ‘Staying Alive’ by the Bee Gees that came out in ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ Really, we left our country to stay alive.

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How music helped one Ghanaian fight off loneliness during his first days in America

Abu Eghan

He recalls the process of arranging phone calls home. “Telecommunication in Ghana was very, very backward,” Eghan says. “If you wanted to make a call, you had to write them a letter and let them know when you [were] going to call.” That’s because most of Eghan’s family lived in rural areas and needed to journey to the nearest city, Kumasi, to take calls.

Another option: mailing recordings of himself talking about life in America back home.

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This Chilean poet recalls hiding in a closet to avoid going to school in Athens, Georgia

Marjorie Agosín

“I had very few friends and at school people made fun at me,” says Agosín. She remembers hiding in a closet at home to avoid going to school. When relatives from Chile visited, she remembers she “used to hold on to them and ask them to take me back home.” During that time, Agosín found refuge in poetry, which helped her “survive.” She wrote in Spanish because it was the only part of her identity she felt she could hold on to.

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She went to bed hungry on her first night in the US

Cheng Imm Tan

Cheng Imm Tan came to the US from Malaysia as a student in 1978. She’ll never forget her first night.

She was dropped off with a host family near campus. They showed her her room and let her settle in. A few minutes later, the woman of the household came upstairs to ask Tan if she wanted some supper.

"Oh, no thank you," Tan told her. "I’m not hungry."

"Are you sure you’re not hungry?" the woman asked.

"Yes, I’m really sure. I’m not hungry. Thank you so much."

And then, to Tan’s astonishment, the woman said, “Okay. We’ll see you tomorrow then,” and she went back downstairs.