My American Nightmare
Length: 1758 words (5 double-spaced pages)
I was born to rather prosperous Italian merchants in a relatively small city south of Venice. I was raised to work hard and to never let anyone tell me that I was not just as good as they were. My childhood I guess was something like the calm before the storm, because at the age of thirteen my mother died and my father went into a deep depression. Things became worse as time went on my father slowly drank himself to death in four years and I was left to take care of my younger sister and three brothers. We tried to make a living in our community but the money was just not there and we were forced to make a decision, stay here and live in the gutter or raise the money for what seemed to be our only hope, leaving Italy for the fairy tale work of America. I decided that it would be in our best interests to move there so for the next two months we did all that was needed to raise the money that would hopefully save our lives.
As we boarded the ship I remember that I was in total disbelief at the sheer number of people leaving to get into America. Entire families from Grandparents to grandchildren were being loaded. When it was time for us to enter onto the ship we were met by a stern looking man, in his late thirties, who gave us the number of the room we would stay in during the trip to America. I imagined that this room would be fairly small, but when I opened the door I was rather stunned by the fact that it was tiny and we only had two beds for all four of us. on this long trip we were given food twice a day, but the food was not that good and I remember that I could not wait to get off the ship so I could have a full meal. The trip over went rather well except for the fact that my youngest brother became very sick, and I almost thought that I was going to lose him, but he quickly came out of it and was almost fine when we reached Ellis Island.
My first thought that entered my mind when we reached the island was what do we do now. I knew very little English and my sister less and my two brothers almost none. I knew it was going to be hard to figure out what was happening to us at this place but it turned out better than I thought. We were led to a large building and told to stay in line and wait for someone to help us with our paperwork. We stood in line for hours before it was our turn and the paperwork took much longer on account of the fact that it was hard to communicate. We were forced to stay at this compound for a few days, and then we were sent into New York City. We were on our own from there and things only became worse from there.
Fear, complete and utter fear is the only word that I can think of to describe how I felt upon entering the city. I mean I had to find a place to stay and food, but to get that I had to have money. to have money I needed a job, you see how the cycle went on. So at the top of my list was to try to find a place to stay that would not charge until I had the money to pay them and to do this without knowing where I was going or speaking very good English was what I thought to be impossible. So I set out trying to find a place that would take us in. This took hours of creative talk to find a place that would take us but in the end we finally did and with this I thought it could only get better, but I was very wrong. New York is a land of opportunities but these opportunities are sometimes not the ones you want. This place is full of people trying to take advantage of people that don't quite understand how things work. I found out the hard way and it was not good for my family.
I got my first job in a large meat packing facility. With this job I figured I could support my family with just me working but I found out in a short period of time that this would be impossible. Within two weeks I had fallen behind in payments of our housing, which I will talk about in a short while, and I did not have enough money after I paid our rent to pay for food. With this spiraling effect I knew I had to have my brothers and sister help out as much as they could or we would be I trouble in short amount of time. So I sat them down the next morning and I told them about our situation and that they needed to help. My two brothers worked at the same place as me, and my sister in a shirt-making factory. With all of us working we still were just barely scraping by with not even pennies to spare. We went on like this for almost a year when the unthinkable happened. My youngest brother was in a working accident and lost an arm. He was working in the grinding area and his shirt became tangled and his arm was pulled in. This was not the worst of it though, not only did he lose his arm, but the company would not help out with any of his hospital bills. Without his income and the added bills of his injury we were not able to keep our apartment and were evicted.
So with no money and nothing left to do I went to a tenement apartment build that I heard about that would take in families without an income. I did not know what to think of this place and my feelings only worsened when we reached it. We could smell the housing complex before we could see it. When we were assigned our apartment we climbed the staircase which was littered with garbage and god knows what. I opened the door of our apartment to find that it was comprised of three rooms, a closet that was a bathroom, a cooking/living area, and a tiny bedroom. The entire area reeked of garbage and various rotting materials. With sight of this apartment I thought we had reached rock bottom, but I was wrong once again. With all of the trouble that I caused the factory over my brother's injury my brother and I were fired with no notice whatsoever. So once again I set out to find another job. I was lucky this time though I found a job for my brother and I at steel making factory in about a week so we only had to skip a few days of eating.
After getting this job things started to look up for my family and I. This job paid better but the dangers almost outweighed the paycheck. Almost everyday someone was injured in some kind of an accident, some even died. Nevertheless my brother and I kept on working and with the extra money we were able to move out of that wretched tenement slum after a few months. Then tragedy struck my poor family once again.
Things just never could go well for our family for more than months at a time. My poor brother had been struggling to make it along for the past few months and finally he could not do it any longer. My brother came down with some kind of flu that would just not leave him. He struggled with it for about three weeks before he was completely bed ridden. Then slowly I had to watch him die and there was nothing that I could do to stop it. I had no money for a proper funeral for my brother so the city came and took him away. They buried him in small cemetery on the outskirts of town. It may sound cruel but after my brother's death thing became a little bit easier for my family. With just the three of us we could support ourselves a lot easier and quickly we were able to start saving a little bit of money.
Work at the steel factory was dangerous, but I was good at what I did and quickly I was promoted to a kind of manager in my little corner of the factory. With this increase in pay it was we started having a lot better life, and things started looking up for our family once again. I worked in this position for almost a year and our little family was thriving, but the common trend of almost cruel bad luck struck us once more. I was fired from my job as manager. When I asked why they told me that a better candidate had arisen. It makes sense if was true, but the person that replaced me was younger and he was the factory owner's nephew. After this taste of American hospitality I was completely fed up with this kind of life and thought of just ending my pitiful life.
Now my family is back into the tenement slum once again. We have lost all that we worked so hard to get and I fear that we have no hope of ever regaining anything. It seems that we are just not meant to survive in this country. America was supposed to be a land of opportunity, but for us it was a land of cruel and never-ending pain.