by Alba Sorrona
My great-grandfather was born in the jagged hills of northern Spain. He and his family were farmers, but the land they owned was nutrient-poor and sloped, and so they were unable to grow enough to support themselves. As the second son, he had no obligation to stay and look after his family’s home, and so, with his younger sister, he immigrated to Argentina at the age of ten. He knew no one in Buenos Aires, but was lucky enough to get a job as a grocer’s assistant. However, he was unlucky enough to have his sister die only a few months later.
By the time my grandmother was born, he had married the wealthy daughter of an Argentinian merchant and was the owner of his food and supplies store. My great-grandfather had my great-grandmother cook steak for dinner every night, knowing that because of his hard work they were able to afford it. They had three children, two daughters and a son, who grew up happily in a comfortable Catholic household.
My grandmother was the best student in her school, skipping several grades so that she could be in class with her older sister. At the time, she was one of the few women to go to college for architecture in Buenos Aires. My grandfather was also an architecture student, and they struck up a friendship on the bus that both took to college every day. When my grandmother’s parents found out that she was spending a large amount of her time with a Jewish boy, they pulled her out of school and sent her to live with relatives in the country. My grandfather was not deterred. He found out her location from one of her friends, and every week he would travel out of the city to visit her. After a year of this, both families agreed to let their children marry, realizing that there was no viable method of keeping them apart.
After they graduated from college, the economy crashed. There was no work for architects in Argentina, and so, without knowing any English or having a place to stay, they immigrated to the United States. My father was born a few years later, after both of my grandparents had settled down with jobs. When they thought that they had saved enough money to move back to Argentina, they sold many of their possessions and traveled back to their families. Following the move, the Argentinian economy crashed again. They pulled my father out of school, moved back to the United States, and for the second time started from zero as recent immigrants. They worked, saved, and then moved back to Argentina. But there were still no opportunities for them in their home country, and so they immigrated for the last time to the U.S.
They enrolled my father in American schools, where he easily tested out of the required foreign language classes. When his acceptance to Cal Tech arrived on April 1st, my grandfather thought it was a joke. It wasn’t, and my grandparents were proud to have a son who earned his bachelor's degree and later his Ph.D. in astrophysics.
During my father’s postdoctoral, he met my mother. They worked in the same department and quickly became friends. After going to countless movies and parties together, they began dating, and they had been together for a few weeks when my father stopped calling. My mother began to worry that something had gone wrong, but instead of breaking up with her, my father had been painting her a picture of an astronaut in space. After they were both offered positions at the same university, they then married, and my brother and I were born.
Immigrating to the United States allowed my grandparents, on three separate occasions, to start a new life, to save money, to find jobs, and to raise my father. They were easily characterized as reluctant immigrants, as their two trips back to Argentina can attest, but in the end it was irrefutable that the U.S. had opportunities that their home country lacked. My history is a chain of immigrations that ends in the United States, allowing me and my family to benefit from the opportunities that this country offers. My family is notoriously restless, but as of yet, we’ve found no reason to leave.
*The author has changed her name to protect anonymity.