Irish Catholic Immigrant


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Being the first born daughter of an Irish Catholic family in Brooklyn, New York during 1935 was a journey from the start. Growing up on Flatbush Avenue during the 1930’s was not the same as it is today. My Nana claims that the community was very close knit and it was very rare that someone of the unfamiliar bothered anyone living in the neighborhood. As a child and teenager growing up in Brooklyn, my grandmother could not recall a time in her life that she felt threatened or endanger for her well being. However, my grandmother believes that she was sheltered from a lot of street life because she was always in the house with her little sister if she was not going to school or helping her family out with various chores she had to do on a daily basis. Growing up in a household where only one parent was employed, limited my grandmother to a lot growing up. She made it clear that she never went hungry, but there were activities and toys that her parents could not afford. The limitations in life she faced as a child gave her the strength to allow herself strive to provide the best for herself and her future family.
Growing up, my Nana went to Catholic school and graduated high school with in the private school system. Before she had the option to go to college, she fell in love with my grandfather and was swept off her feet and married by the age of nineteen. Due to the fact that my grandfather was in the armed forces he was stationed in Germany shortly after my grandmother and he married. My Nana spent nineteen months in Germany before she returned to life in the United States. While in Germany, my Nana claimed that everyone adored her due to the fact that she was an attractive American woman. Everywhere she went she received attention witnessed and experience many things while living in Germany.
Once my grandfather and grandmother returned back to Brooklyn, New York they received a pleasant surprise. My grandmother apparently conceived while she was in Germany and to this day there is an ongoing joke in my family that my mother is German Manufactured and American born. With the news of a family starting my grandmother began her first job as a bank teller.

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My mother was the first born and not far behind was my aunt. Because of my grandfathers profession was persistently stationing him in all areas through the United States my grandmother and her family were frequently moving from place to place. Looking back, my grandmother knows she made it hard for both of her daughters to make friends and start their lives when they were constantly moving from place to place. However, if she had to do it again she would because she was only looking out for the best interest of her children and their future. My grandfather’s job paid well at that time and was continuously getting promotions in rank causing his salary to increase.
The year my mother started college my grandfather got cancer and started to deteriorate before the families eyes. He passed away causing my grandmother great heart ache. Not only did my grandfather’s death leave my Nana lonely, it also put a huge financial damper on her life. She had her eldest daughter in her first year of college and her second daughter about to graduate high school and planned on heading to college as well. Only working as a bank teller in her life, she was forced to go back into the work force and provide for her children to the best of her ability. She put in long hours and struggled to take on extra side jobs to help make ends meet. The determination my Nana had to succeed led her to climb the bank ladder eventually leading her to becoming accounting manager. Even then it was still a struggle to be a widowed mother of two at her age. It was not very common for women to raise children on their own as it is today in present time.

One of the main things that stick out in my mind when looking back at this interview I did with my grandmother was the fact that her gender affected her life in many ways. Due to the fact that she was a female it limited her options in life. She had her path set off for her when she was born from her parents and had little say in the matter. If she was to not marry when she finished high school she was expected to pursue life working in the Catholic Church.
Back in the 1930’s when my grandmother graduated high school it was very uncommon for a female to attend a college or university. If my grandmother had wanted to further her education after high school it would have been nearly impossible, due to the fact that the funds and support was not there. My grandmother’s parents did not speak well English and were not aware of the importance of education, let alone the importance of college. They made it a point that my grandmother attended catholic school, but for them it went deeper than just a simple education. When my grandmother graduated high school at eighteen and got married, society accepted that at her age and was very common amongst other women in her age group. It was also common for women of her generation to be a stay at home mother and raise the children. As her mother did when she was growing up, she took care of the children, cooked, cleaned, and made sure the household ran accordingly while my grandfather worked and brought home the money.
Due to the fact that my grandmother only worked as a bank teller to put herself through catholic school, when my grandfather died it was hard for her to find a career at her age that would pay enough to take care of herself and her two children. Being a widowed woman with no education or career background made it nearly impossible to succeed in life. The strength and determination my grandmother had enabled her to start her working career as a bank teller and climb the corporation ladder to becoming an accounting manager. This willpower permitted her to put both of her daughters through college.

The second theme in my grandmother’s life that stood out in my mind when conducting this assignment was the fact of ethnicity and the role it played in her life. Both of my grandmother’s parents were first generation immigrants from Ireland and their broken English created a financial struggle for my grandmother growing up. It was very important for my grandmother to attend catholic high school for her education. My grandmother explained to me in this interview that it was not all about a better education but more of the fact of having religion in your everyday life through your adolescent years.
Due to the fact that my Nana’s parents did not have a lot of money, she went to work at the age of fifteen to pay for her high school education. She worked as a bank teller after school and on weekends. Her ethnicity and background affected her in a way in which gave her the mindset to succeed and do what was looked at as the right thing to do in life. It gave her the incentive to follow her mother’s standards of the way in which she fulfilled her life as an Irish catholic female. My grandmother was to attend catholic school, then get married and have children or become a nun. She knew in her ethnic background it was not acceptable for her to go to public school in which the catholic religion was not taught. The only way in which she could fulfill her society’s norms in education was to go to work and pay for it herself.
Distributive justice played an important role in my grandmother’s life. If she had the funds to attend catholic school she would not have to go out and work at sixteen. “Distributive justice considers the equal distribution of goods among member of society at a specific time, and determine whether the state of affairs is acceptable” (Richard 14). My grandmother evaluated the situation of not having money to go to catholic school by getting a job to pay her way; in that mind set she was thinking of a person set out to think in terms of distributive justice.

References

Ellis, Rod. (1994). The study of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Herman, Edward, and Noam Chomsky.

Schaefer, Richard T. (2007). Race and Ethnicity in the United States. Pearson Prentice Hall. New Jersey: Upper Saddle River, 6.

Wilkimedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved on 2/08/08 from
http://core.ecu.edu/soci/juskaa/SOCI2110/Lectures/Race/tsld004.htm


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