My entire family is now gathered in Buzios, Brazil, for a cousin’s wedding. I am not there. For many reasons (financial, new job) I was not able to go, and now I wonder if any of those reasons was really good enough. This Sunday is also the 9th anniversary of my father’s death, and I wish I could be there, with other people who knew him and miss him. Whine, whine, whine. I am not too pleasant to be around today.
Last night I read my girls a book about immigration, part of their ever-growing collection from the PJ Library. Ages 7 and 4, they related to the story in totally different and age-appropriate ways. D, the younger one, searched in the pictures the elements in the narrative that she was hearing, and was interested in the idea of Zissie doing something “naughty” and getting away with it. 7-year-old L, as always, had a million questions about immigration. Starting with “what is an immigrant?” This is treacherous territory – at what point, in a Jewish child’s childhood, must we reveal that large groups of Jews adopted new homelands because they were not exactly welcome or well liked?
I am a strong believer in the idea that when a child is old enough to ask a question, I have the responsibility to answer, hopefully in a clear and non-threatening way. When L asked why Zissie’s family were participating in a fundraiser to bring their loved ones from Poland, I gave her my basic answer: “Jews were not treated very well in Europe at that time. They wanted to have a better life here in America, where they would be safe and free. But it cost a lot of money to come, sometimes they had to leave everything behind.”
“Oh, so they were poor when they got here, like in the Emma Lazarus poem?” she asked. L relates every immigrant story to me: “Mommy, where you alive when this was going on?” Gasp. “No, honey, I was born in the 1970’s.” After she recovered from the shock of her old mother having been born in the “19’s,” she asked: “If people weren’t being mean to you in Brazil, why did you move here?”
This morning, through my bout of self-pity, I recalled this conversation and felt ridiculous. I had the luxury to move here in search of better educational and professional opportunities, and a lifestyle that suited me better. I was not escaping persecution, poverty, hunger, or oppression. It was my choice, which I would probably make again. I will try to keep the self-pity and whining to myself.