Thursday, February 18, 2010

Faces of America - Part Two (Review)

Tonight we viewed the second episode of Faces of America, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

After last weeks episode, in which I was a bit disappointed, I didn't know what to expect. But determined myself to view the program, and see what PBS and Gates was passing on to America as genealogy research.

I was not disappointed this week.

This episode was titled "Becoming American".

Between 1820 and 1924 over 36 million immigrants came to America. The legacy of these individuals is that their ancestry was one in country, but their nationality soon became American. They did, in fact, have a foot in both worlds.

No matter where our ancestors came from, they all had one thing in common. They CHOSE to come here.

When asked what being American means to him, Steven Colbert answered, "Being the best. Being number one."

Meryl Streep's great-grandfather, Balthazar, came here in 1869. He left behind in Switzerland, his wife and six children, and brought with him four of his sons. They never saw the family they left behind in Switzerland again.
Stephen Colbert's mother, Lorna Tuck, was born in 1920 in New York. Her great-grandfather was of Irish immigration. He apparently came to this country in 1820. He was a tenant farmer in Ireland. However, he apparently left Ireland, without a trace.

Kristi Yamaguchi won the 1992 figure skating gold medal in the Olympics for the United States. Her mother was born in a Japanese-American concentration camp. Her grandfather had lost all contact with his family in Japan.

Going to Japan, they located Kristi's father's cousin. His relatives had kept a photo of her grandfather that he'd sent to them from American.

Kristi's grandfather was the fourth oldest son, so in Japan he would not have inherited any land from his farmer father. So, at the age of 21, he was one of the first immigrants from his town to leave. He went first to Hawaii, and worked on a sugar plantation. He worked for $15 a month planting, cutting, and processing sugar cane.

Some immigrants actually found success.

Queen Noor was born in Washington, D.C. She was of Syrian descent. She then married King Hussein of Jordan. So, although an Arab-American from birth, she went full circle following that nationality. Her grandfather was born in Damascus. He started a business importing textiles to America. He lived in lower Manhattan. He brought his2 sons with him to America, leaving behind his wife and other children until 1894.

Steven Colbert's ancestors were hard to trace in Ireland. And so the Gates research team headed to Limmerick, Ireland. Colbert's great-great-grandfather left during the time of the great potato famine.

Poet Elizabeth Alexander's grandfather arrived here from Jamaica. He came to Harlem, to that area of eclectic mixed heritage. He used to tell the story that he stowed away on a banana boat to get here in 1918. Gates' research however uncovered that he purchased a ticket in a First Class Cabin aboard a ship to come.

Colbert's great-great-grandmother, Norah Manning came to America in steerage on July 11, 1863. Just two days after her arrival the great Draft Riots began. So, her arrival was highlighted by the sights and sounds of these horrible exhibitions. [These were the riots where abolitionists began to urge Northern blacks NOT to enlist in the military and fight for freedom for the blacks of the south. They feared that  if slaves won their freedom, jobs would be taken in the north, and the economy would be devestated.]

Kristi Yamaguchi's grandfather came to America in 1910 from Hawaii. As a farmer in California. He traveled back to Japan and came back to America with a wife. The couple soon had three children. However, tragedy struck, and within a few months he lost his wife and all of his children.

Mario Batali wanted to know why his ancestors left Italy to come here. His great-grandfather, Sebastian came to Butte, Montana in the late 1880's. He became a miner.

Queen Noor grew up with a portrait of her grandfather in her dining room as a child. His father passed away in 1897 leaving the family business to him and to his brother. During the time of his immigration, only whites and blacks could become Naturalized citizens of America. He became one of the major lobbysits for policy reform on this issue. And he set about to prove that he was a "white" man. He did so, and went on to marry the daughter of a Texas rancher.

Mario Batali's great-uncle died of consumption. There was also a mjor mining accident where a lift fell more than 800 feet in the mine where Mario's great-grandfather worked. It was after these things that he quit mining.

Kristi Yamaguchi's grandfather married again, to a young Japanese widow, with three children. She found it most interesting that their marriage record listed both her grandfather, and her grandmother, as "yellow", instead of Asian. The couple went on to have eight children. During the time of WWII they were all shipped off to a concentration camp in Arizona. He had to rebuild his life from scratch, again. But even during the hardest points he managed to send clothing and goods to his family in Japan. He bcame a citizen in December 1954. He had been in this country for 55 years. And although it had used and abused him, he was most proud of his accomplishment in becoming a Naturalized citizen. He died just four years later in 1958.

Steven Colbert's great-grandfather became a naturalized citizen in 1860. Reading the document aloud, Colbert stated this was the single most profound document he had ever read.

At the close of the show, Gates took Queen Noor to Brooklyn, and to the graves of her ancestors. Standing at the head of their graves, one can look toward the east, and view, clearly, the Statue of Liberty.

I was moved, at times to tears, by this week's episode. The hardships endured by these individuals were tremendous. And often, the cruelty they faced in this new land went beyond what anyone should have to endure. And yet, these individuals stood resolute in the promise that this was the land of freedom, and justice. This was the "Promised Land".

1 comment:

Judith Richards Shubert said...

I really, really enjoyed your review on "Faces of America" since I did not get to see it! Thank you so very much! You did such a good job, it felt as if I had seen the entire thing firsthand.