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.)

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I recall the grand old Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth turning at Sandy Hook, and cruising slowly past the Statue of Liberty on a glorious, clear morning in early January, 1960.
It had been a rough crossing, facing tumultuous seas and force 8 gales most of the way from Southampton, England. The trip took 5 days from Southampton to NY with no intermediate stops. That was usual for liners of the day. Homesickness had conspired with seasickness to make the first 2 days of the trip miserable. When we made New York harbor, however, the weather had cleared and by the time the majestic vessel glided smoothly past the famous Manhattan skyline, misery had been replaced by excitement and apprehension. We tied up at Cunard’s Pier 54 and the whole family debarked to be reunited with our luggage in that cavernous three-story tall hanger, under the giant letter “M.” An interminable wait was followed by the four of us trooping out to catch a cab (to my dismay not even a proper Checker) to Grand Central.
It was uncommonly warm for January. (I remember it as being hot, but later found out it was only in the mid-50s.) My chief memories after we plunged into the canyons of downtown were the squeaks and groans of our cab, the smells of gasoline and cigarette smoke, and the huge size of everything. The cars all seemed immense after those encountered on English streets. The buildings were incredibly, unbelievably tall and the avenues were straight as arrows. New York was crowded, noisy, smelly and very exciting. Grand Central was magnificent and, like everything else that day, enormous.
To a train buff like my 14 year-old self, it was a veritable cathedral of transportation — an almost mythical structure. Later that afternoon we caught a train which snaked all the way along the beautiful Hudson Valley to our destination in Tarrytown, New York.
Sadly, most of the landmarks of that day have since been erased from the face of the earth by progress. Cunard’s once famous Pier 54 (at 12th Street and the West Side Highway), where the survivors of the Titanic landed in 1912 and from which the ill-fated Lusitania departed in 1915, has long since been torn down. Its only remnant is the rusting steel arch at its old street entrance. If you look carefully you can still make out the Cunard, White Star lettering on the crossbeam below that arch. The Queen Elizabeth herself, after a long and illustrious career as a successful Atlantic liner, a troopship during WWII, and a liner again in the fading days of transatlantic passenger travel, is now a burned out hulk resting on the bottom of Hong Kong harbor. Even the New York City of my memory lives on only in street scenes from movies like North by Northwest.
Still, it was a day I will remember as long as I live.
James Mogey traveled by ship from Southampton, England and arrived in New York in January, 1960.
I recall the grand old Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth turning at Sandy Hook, and cruising slowly past the Statue of Liberty on a glorious, clear morning in early January, 1960.
It had been a rough crossing, facing tumultuous seas and force 8 gales most of the way from Southampton, England. The trip took 5 days from Southampton to NY with no intermediate stops. That was usual for liners of the day. Homesickness had conspired with seasickness to make the first 2 days of the trip miserable. When we made New York harbor, however, the weather had cleared and by the time the majestic vessel glided smoothly past the famous Manhattan skyline, misery had been replaced by excitement and apprehension. We tied up at Cunard’s Pier 54 and the whole family debarked to be reunited with our luggage in that cavernous three-story tall hanger, under the giant letter “M.” An interminable wait was followed by the four of us trooping out to catch a cab (to my dismay not even a proper Checker) to Grand Central.
It was uncommonly warm for January. (I remember it as being hot, but later found out it was only in the mid-50s.) My chief memories after we plunged into the canyons of downtown were the squeaks and groans of our cab, the smells of gasoline and cigarette smoke, and the huge size of everything. The cars all seemed immense after those encountered on English streets. The buildings were incredibly, unbelievably tall and the avenues were straight as arrows. New York was crowded, noisy, smelly and very exciting. Grand Central was magnificent and, like everything else that day, enormous.
To a train buff like my 14 year-old self, it was a veritable cathedral of transportation — an almost mythical structure. Later that afternoon we caught a train which snaked all the way along the beautiful Hudson Valley to our destination in Tarrytown, New York.
Sadly, most of the landmarks of that day have since been erased from the face of the earth by progress. Cunard’s once famous Pier 54 (at 12th Street and the West Side Highway), where the survivors of the Titanic landed in 1912 and from which the ill-fated Lusitania departed in 1915, has long since been torn down. Its only remnant is the rusting steel arch at its old street entrance. If you look carefully you can still make out the Cunard, White Star lettering on the crossbeam below that arch. The Queen Elizabeth herself, after a long and illustrious career as a successful Atlantic liner, a troopship during WWII, and a liner again in the fading days of transatlantic passenger travel, is now a burned out hulk resting on the bottom of Hong Kong harbor. Even the New York City of my memory lives on only in street scenes from movies like North by Northwest.
Still, it was a day I will remember as long as I live.
James Mogey's passport photo in 1960, age 14, and James Mogey in 2014.

I recall the grand old Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth turning at Sandy Hook, and cruising slowly past the Statue of Liberty on a glorious, clear morning in early January, 1960.

It had been a rough crossing, facing tumultuous seas and force 8 gales most of the way from Southampton, England. The trip took 5 days from Southampton to NY with no intermediate stops. That was usual for liners of the day. Homesickness had conspired with seasickness to make the first 2 days of the trip miserable. When we made New York harbor, however, the weather had cleared and by the time the majestic vessel glided smoothly past the famous Manhattan skyline, misery had been replaced by excitement and apprehension. We tied up at Cunard’s Pier 54 and the whole family debarked to be reunited with our luggage in that cavernous three-story tall hanger, under the giant letter “M.” An interminable wait was followed by the four of us trooping out to catch a cab (to my dismay not even a proper Checker) to Grand Central.

It was uncommonly warm for January. (I remember it as being hot, but later found out it was only in the mid-50s.) My chief memories after we plunged into the canyons of downtown were the squeaks and groans of our cab, the smells of gasoline and cigarette smoke, and the huge size of everything. The cars all seemed immense after those encountered on English streets. The buildings were incredibly, unbelievably tall and the avenues were straight as arrows. New York was crowded, noisy, smelly and very exciting. Grand Central was magnificent and, like everything else that day, enormous.

To a train buff like my 14 year-old self, it was a veritable cathedral of transportation — an almost mythical structure. Later that afternoon we caught a train which snaked all the way along the beautiful Hudson Valley to our destination in Tarrytown, New York.

Sadly, most of the landmarks of that day have since been erased from the face of the earth by progress. Cunard’s once famous Pier 54 (at 12th Street and the West Side Highway), where the survivors of the Titanic landed in 1912 and from which the ill-fated Lusitania departed in 1915, has long since been torn down. Its only remnant is the rusting steel arch at its old street entrance. If you look carefully you can still make out the Cunard, White Star lettering on the crossbeam below that arch. The Queen Elizabeth herself, after a long and illustrious career as a successful Atlantic liner, a troopship during WWII, and a liner again in the fading days of transatlantic passenger travel, is now a burned out hulk resting on the bottom of Hong Kong harbor. Even the New York City of my memory lives on only in street scenes from movies like North by Northwest.

Still, it was a day I will remember as long as I live.

Sunshine through rain

left to right: Me, my sister and my mom.

The year 1995, our family arrived in Salt Lake City Utah from El Salvador. What a contrast from the warm temperate climate of Central America to the chilly spring of the Salt Lake Valley. Everything was different and the same. I attended Kindergarten where no one wore a uniform but we still had recess and snack time. My mom and dad worked all day here too, but my Grandma did not look after us when they were at work. Now instead of taking the bus or walking everywhere, we drove around in an old grey Volkswagen Beatle. Like our old neighborhood in El Salvador, everyone went to church on Sunday, but not the same church, not even a Catholic church. 

At school, at first, I understood little of what was being said. I had always been a chatter box, but here I learned to observe. I learned to play alone and explore on my own. Although I learned English quickly it was this way for the first few years. By first grade, English was my favorite subject. I loved the library and reading. I kept several journals which I filled out cover to cover with memories, ideas, doodles and souvenirs. 

I had no idea of  the great economic hardships my parents endured. Looking back I realize we lived modestly in the quiet middle class suburb of Murray.

My mom revealed to me recently that one year she did not have money for Christmas presents so she bought me and my sister the nicest stuffed animals she could find at a second-hand store. She washed them and wrapped them up. I recall that Christmas I got a stuffed dog that had a built in radio. It was my favorite toy. In fact I remembered getting it for Christmas. I remember the tree was small and there were but two neatly wrapped bundles. I loved that toy. It was then that I realized that my sister and I never lacked for anything. Our basic needs were always met: we had education, safety, stability and above all love.

Now, I can only imagine what it must have been like for my college-educated and graduated parents, who in their country were respected professionals, to work on their knees scrubbing carpets, cleaning vacated apartments. I remember my dad holding down three jobs at one point and two jobs for many years.

19 years later, my sister and I are in college. My parents live in their own home. They both work in their professions as they once had in their old country. We are all naturalized U.S. Citizens. I strive to fulfill my dreams so their sacrifices are not in vain. We are deeply grateful and proud to live in  America and to be Americans.

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Nothing challenged my readiness to live in the US more than a chicken sandwich

Ali Shahidy

Ali Shahidy is the first student from Afghanistan at Norwich University in Vermont. During his first days in the US he realized that all his studies of the English language couldn’t prepare him for ordering a simple sandwich at the airport.

As I ate my first meal in the US, I pondered over the fact that I knew words like abrogate, conflagration and inexorable, but not the words “bun” or “fountain drink.” I could comfortably write professional technical proposals and review solicitations in English, but I broke into a sweat ordering a chicken sandwich.

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.