On landing in America, I was awed by the sounds and sights of the big city. It was nighttime in New York City and I had never seen anything like it before in my life. I was twelve years old and I was coming from a rural village in Ireland. I had lived with my parents and siblings in a house with no running water, no television and limited electricity.
Of course, I was homesick after settling but I had to register for school and begin life in the big city. I enrolled in a Catholic school as a seventh grader and I met students of different nationalities. I had a thick brogue and I don’t think anyone understood a word I said.
When I went to high school, I made friends with girls of nearly every ethnic background. Before I came to America, I had only known Irish people and one Scottish relative. It was exciting for me to know Puerto Rican, Italian, Polish, Jewish and African American people. I now work in a high school and it is still exciting for me to talk to students from Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh, Pakistan and so many other countries. It is one of the joys of my work that I can learn so much from these high school students.
Food was scarce in Ireland but so plentiful in America that I grew into a fat teenager. My diet in Ireland had been potatoes, cabbage, bacon, bread and eggs. A chicken was slaughtered once in a while and cans of corned beef were bought for special occasions. In America, I was introduced to so many different dishes and there was nothing I didn’t like. I loved the fact that we could have ice cream at home any time we wanted. The abundance in America was in stark contrast to the scarcity in Ireland.
I became familiar with the politics of America and I was still acclimating while the winds of change blew – the women’s liberation movement, the anti-Vietnam War rallies and the civil rights marches. I was in high school and wanted to really get involved when Robert Kennedy ran for president. The assassinations of Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. sent me reeling. Revolution was also brewing in Ireland as Bernadette Devlin, a young Member of Parliament, spoke out against British occupation in Northern Ireland. I went to rallies to support a united Ireland and rallies to end the war in Vietnam. I loved the fact that I could have a voice and show my support for different causes.
I became an American. When I was eighteen, I became a citizen. I have voted in every election since then and am proud of my country. I watch fireworks every 4th of July and sometimes in the background, Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America” is heard. Every day, people come to America to live the dream as I came so many years ago and lived the dream.