Photo from Flickr via Weebly, may not be reproduced without permission
The osprey knew it was time to fly North. She didn’t ponder it, One day she just spread her wings And flew.
The teen-aged boy knew it was time When the gangs came to his door And said, Join us or be shot. He filled a small backpack Received his mother’s blessing, And set off walking.
The bird flew along the coastline, Untiring, stopping Only at night to catch a fish And to rest.
The boy reached town Where he jumped on a bus For a bumpy ride to the border. There he waited with other men To cross into Mexico Under cover of darkness.
Each day was the same for the osprey: Fly, stop, catch fish, rest, At first morning light, Fly again.
For the boy, each day was different. One day he walked, then he rode a bus, Once he jumped on a train, and found Other migrants riding on top: The women hugged and fed him, The men gave advice.
The osprey flew quickly, Riding the wind currents, Stopping only when the rain Pelted her feathers.
The boy sought shelter from the rain. Under a small tree. shivering in the cold. Hungrily, he ate a stale tortilla And captured rain water to drink. In the early morning light, he stood up, Shouldered his pack and trudged on.
The bird flew quickly. She soon overtook the boy. Unknowingly, they Travelled in tandem.
The bird stopped that night On a beach on the Baja coast. She roosted in a tree, Oblivious of the boy below.
But the boy saw the osprey. He watched her catch a fish in the water And carry it to her tree to eat. Hola, querida águila. I wish I could fly like you To my new home.
The osprey saw the fence Dividing the two countries. But she flew over it. Birds know no borders.
The boy came to the border And walked along the fence. Far away from the Migra, He found a hole in the fence, Small, but he was small himself. And he wriggled through.
The bird flew on, The wind currents were favorable And she would soon Be back at her nest.
The boy, hot and thirsty, found A water bottle left by a well-wisher. He rested a while under the hot sun. When he woke up, two men in uniforms Were standing there. They took him In their truck back to the border.
The osprey flew on, She soon reached her nest, Found her mate and began The yearly mating ritual.
While the boy waited at the border, Eager to start his new life, Looking to earn a few pesos for food, Every few days trying again to cross, Becoming ever more desperate, Thwarted at every turn.
And sometimes, he thought Of that magnificent águila He had seen that starry night And wished he, too, Could be a bird.
Photo by John Ehrenfeld, adapted by Craigor
Bachelor, stand watch o'er the Bay, Catch a big fish to eat all alone, Eating and watching in lonely silence, For your mate and your children have flown.
written in 1862 by Narciso Serradell Sevilla, who was exiled to France due to French intervention in Mexico. First recorded in 1906 by Señor Francisco.
A dónde irá, veloz y fatigada, La golondrina que de aqui se va. Por si en el viento hallara extraviada, Buscando abrigo y no lo encontrará. Junto a mi lecho, le pondré su nido Endonde pueda la estacion pasar. Tambien yo estoy en la region perdida Oh, cielo santo y sin poder volar.
Dejé tambien mi patria idolatrada, Y sa mansion que me miró nacer. Mi vida es hoy errante y angustiada Y ya no puedo a mi mansion volver. Ave querida, amada peregrina, Mi corazon al tuyo estrecharé. Oiré tu canto tierna golondrina Recordaré mi patria y lloraré.
Where is she going, fast and tired, The swallow who is leaving here. For if in the wind she becomes lost, Looking for shelter and not finding it, I'll put her nest right by my bed Where she can spend the summer. I am also in the lost region, Oh, Dear Heavens, and unable to fly.
I also left my beloved country, And the home that watched my birth. My life is now errant and anguished, And I can no longer return home. Dear bird, beloved pilgrim, My heart reaches out to yours. I will hear your song, tender swallow, I'll remember my homeland and I'll cry.
A Life in NuceBy Joseph Mileck One Immigrant's Story
Early Years I was born long ago and far away. It was in 1922, in a little German peasant village that chanced to germinate in Rumania in the year 1724. Sanktmartin, my birthplace, was but one of several hundred German farm communities that sprang up in Rumania, Hungary and Serbia after the Turks, who had occupied the eastern portion of Europe for some two hundred years, were finally driven back to their homeland. The retreating Turkish armies left that part of Europe once under their control, totally devastated and only thinly populated. What is now Rumania, Hungary and Serbia, had to be resettled and restored. Austria, the political powerhouse in Europe at the time, undertook this task. With the promise of free land and all the tools and supplies and professional help needed to found new villages and to prepare the land for farming, the Austrian government was able to persuade thousands of German peasants to pack their belongings, and with their wagons and farm animals float down the Danube River on large barges to their new homeland.
The many new and widely scattered farm communities were all more or less alike, patterned after the most attractive of Austria’s villages. Each settlement featured a central square flanked by a church, a rectory, an administrative office, and the village elementary school. All streets were broad and straight and bordered by run-off gutters and walkways, and all could be extended to accommodate a growth in population. Each of the settler families was granted close to an acre of land along one of the streets. The houses that lined the streets were all more or less of a kind: one-story elongated adobe structures that housed family, provided a covered space for farm equipment, and stabling for horses and cows. Each house was plastered and whitewashed, and every house had its red tile roof. The large yards, too, varied little: each had its outhouse, manure pile, straw stack, storehouse for fodder corn, chicken roost, pigeon loft, pigpen, vegetable garden, and a draw-well with a large wooden trough for the farm animals. Each village had its own nearby mill and cemetery, and grain fields, vineyards and pasture land surrounded each village. Many villages also had poverty-stricken gypsy encampments at their edge. The gypsies of Sanktmartin managed to survive by making mud bricks and by begging.
Sanktmartin was one of these many German agrarian villages in Rumania, and like all others, it enjoyed none of our modern amenities: no running water, no electricity, no motorized vehicles and no newspapers. An artesian well in the village square supplied the drinking water, petroleum lamps provided lighting, horse-drawn wagons did all the transporting, and a town crier went daily from street corner to street corner shouting out the latest news and coming events. The broad streets and church square were lined with shady trees, but nothing was paved and all was dusty in the sunlight and muddy in the rain. These villages rarely had more than one shop, and it only sold textiles and spices.
Each village family was more or less self-sufficient; the fowl and the pigs provided meat, the garden its vegetables, the cows their milk, and the fields their grain. The women cooked, baked, made the family’s clothing and tended to the children, and the men took care of the animals and farmed the fields. The days began at sunrise and ended soon after sunset. The stables had to be cleaned, animals fed and cows milked before breakfast. The menfolk then left on their wagons for the grain fields or vineyards and the children scurried off to school, while the women stayed at home tending to their domestic chores and to the yard. At 8 o’clock, soon after the evening meal, the church bells rang curfew and children had to be off to bed. Adults retired soon thereafter.
Spring, summer and autumn were seasons of toil and the winters were periods of rest and recuperation. Villagers also became alive socially in the winter months. Late autumn was the time to refill the larder. Each family butchered a fat pig or two to provide smoked sausages and ham for the year ahead. These were always festive occasions that went on for a few days and involved both family and friends. Grape picking and wine making always offered another few days of pleasant work and socializing. Christmas week was both festive and solemn: Saint Nicholas went from house to house threatening to punish children who were misbehaving, and Christmas Eve a joyous Christchild left gifts for every child. The New Year and Epiphany were almost as joyous occasions for both children and adults: children went from door to door with their rhymed wishes in expectation of some money or sweets, and the adults wined, dined and danced in the village banquet hall. Festivities peaked with a few days of raucous carnival in February followed by a solemn Lent and Easter. And then the work year would start all over again, leaving only Sunday evenings for dance and socializing in the banquet hall.
In all of these activities, the church was an ever present guiding hand. Religion was in fact that which lent the villages their cohesion. Everyone was Catholic, everyone went to church—all the grandmothers to early mass every day in their voluminous black dresses and kerchiefs—everyone was married in and buried by the church, and the priest was a revered figure. Many village girls became nuns and the occasional young man would choose to become a priest. Each village had its elementary school but no more. For any higher education, the children of Sanktmartin had to move to a Rumanian city some fifteen miles away. That was too troublesome and too expensive for most families. Such, by and large, was Sanktmartin for some two hundred years, such it was when I was born. Time had passed the village by! The first four years of my life are very hazy. Of specifics, I only remember that I, like all other little boys in Sanktmartin, wore dresses, just like all the little girls. My mother and grandmother, both of whom were seamstresses, obviously found it easier to make dresses than trousers.
In the summer of 1926, mother left with me and my slightly older sister, to join her husband in Hamilton, Ontario. Father had left for Canada in 1924, spent two years on a wheat farm in Saskatchewan, then got a better-paying job in a steel plant in Hamilton, and promptly had his family join him. Industrialized Hamilton attracted poor immigrants from almost every country in Europe. The newcomers characteristically moved into the shabby houses clustered around the smoky and noisy spread of factories. Ours was one of those rented homes on a short and muddy dead-end street with railroad tracks and rumbling factory but three short blocks away. Our three bedroom house was shabby, but it did have gas, electricity, running water and a bathroom—luxuries we did not enjoy in Sanktmartin—and it quickly became a comfortable new home for the family. The house also quickly became a home for a steady flow of boarders, singles and couples, and primarily fellow Sanktmartiners. It was a noisy setting with little privacy, but it was also lively and this as a youngster I enjoyed very much. All was well for the family. Father had a steady job in the Dominion Foundry and Steel Company, mother tended to family and boarders and my sister Mary and I began our education at Lloyd George, a relatively new elementary school but a short block away. I was but four years old, but stubbornly insisted on joining my older sister in Kindergarten. The school obliged and all went well. I enjoyed school, learned English fairly quickly and soon found a lot of new friends, most of whom were fellow immigrant children. I also found myself caught between two very different worlds: the school and streets where English was spoken and the home where only German was heard. The new and the old worlds were juxtaposed and fortunately to advantage. This was to continue to be the case until I graduated from McMaster University in Hamilton in 1945 and promptly left for Harvard.
But I have gotten ahead of myself. Much water was to run under the bridge before my Harvard days. All went well in home, school and factory until the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929. When the ranks of unemployed began to grow, my apprehensive parents decided in 1930 to send my sister and me back to Sanktmartin, to live with my mother’s parents. They expected to join us when the factory closed down. But the Dominion Foundry was never forced to lock its gates, and when father became reasonably certain that his job was not in jeopardy, he decided to have his children cross the Atlantic yet again and return to Hamilton. My sister and I were back in Hamilton in time to resume our schooling at Lloyd George in the autumn of 1931. The fifteen months spent in Sanktmartin with my kind and caring grandparents, have remained the most memorable years of my life. I owe all of my wealth of memories of that medieval-like village to that brief venture home. The different always impresses most deeply, and the old removed village of Sanktmartin and its peasant way of life were certainly startlingly different from the life of the proletariat in the factory ghetto of a Canadian steel city. The humorous and the shocking, too, tend to implant themselves in memory, and for a youngster back from Canada, there was much in Sanktmartin that amused or startled. When I first saw my dear grandmother twist off a pigeon’s head, I was shocked, and I was no less distressed when I first saw her slit a chicken’s throat and first saw her force-feed geese. I was also absolutely stunned when I first saw my otherwise gentle grandfather plunge a huge knife into the neck of a pig fattened for the kill. And when I witnessed the birth of a calf for the first time, I was left weeping, fearing that the loudly mooing cow was dying. These and many other deeply disturbing incidents were fortunately balanced by many equally joyful first time experiences. Pig-butchering was always a festive time. The unexpected was always expected and was amusing more often than not. On one occasion, after my grandfather had plunged his knife into the throat of a pig pinned to the ground by my two uncles and three or four neighbors, the huge pig, squealing loudly, suddenly broke free and began to run about the yard in circles with all the shouting men in hot pursuit. I joined the fray shouting loudly and laughing hilariously. The pig eventually collapsed and all else followed smoothly. And upon yet another occasion, a prankster uncle almost persuaded me to believe that if I were to pull the tail of a pig about to be slaughtered, something good would happen. My curiosity got the better of me. I gently pulled a curled-up fuzzy tail, and to my brief surprise and longer delight ended up with a little bag of candy in my hand, obviously thanks to my uncle’s sleight of hand. Homemade cake was common in Sanktmartin, but store-bought candy was a rare treat. I appreciated the trick and enjoyed the candy! Sankmartin became a never-ending holiday for me. For one full year school played no role in my life. Since Rumanian and not German was the prevailing language in the village’s elementary school, and since my sister and I spoke only German and English, we both refused to go to school and our indulgent grandparents—convinced that it was only a matter of time before our parents would send for us—were only too happy to oblige. Every day became either adventure in the fields and vineyards or play in the farmyard and streets. I often accompanied my grandfather to his vineyard, some two kilometers from the village, was even allowed to hold the reins of the fast-trotting horses, helped or hampered grandfather at work, and enjoyed our shish-kebab campfire lunches. Harvest was the season of field labor, of both men and women wielding their scythes and binding the sheaves; for me, one of the many water boys for the toilers, all this exhausting commotion was but a novel extended picnic. The busy spring ploughing and seeding was yet another novel experience for me; riding one of two horses pulling a single-share plough up and down the field, was a delight I will never forget. The grape harvest and wine making was the most convivial of Sanktmartin’s many communal events. For two to three days, each family harvested its grapes, dumped them into huge vats where barefooted children (I among them) stomped until the grape juice ran freely into waiting barrels. A train of wagons loaded with barrels of future wine then slowly wended its way back to the village where it was greeted by a loud bras band. Another memorable impression! Of the many church-related events, I chanced to witness in Sanktmartin, two in particular remained indelible memories: funerals and marriages. Both were as much communal as they were familial. Loud church bells announced every death. The dead were immediately washed, dressed, placed in a simple wooden coffin hastily sawed and nailed by the village carpenter, a one-day wake followed, and on the third day the body was carried to the church for a farewell mass. A funeral carriage drawn by black horses then slowly made its way to the cemetery, followed on foot by the village priest and altar boys, by family, by a softly-playing funeral band, and then by customarily hundreds of black-garbed Sanktmartiners. Following graveside prayers for the deceased, last farewells and burial, church bells rang out again, and the mourners slowly dispersed. Marriages in Sanktmartin were as boisterous and festive as its funerals were quiet and solemn. the one celebration that my sister and I attended—along with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins—was no exception. Bride and bridegroom, each surrounded by family and close friends, and all dressed in their colorful peasant best, walked their separate ways to the church and waiting crowd. Following mass and marriage ceremony, and while the church choir sang loudly, the newly-wedded, followed by their families and closest friends, slowly left the church and made their way to the bride’s home. A hundred guests or so soon converged on a house and yard well-prepared for a wedding party that lasted for two days. Chickens and a pig had been butchered and large round loaves of bread and a variety of pastries baked in advance. The wedding feast began with endless toasts, accompanied by as many shots of whiskey. A trail of food followed: chicken soup, a traditional first, then boiled chicken and a variety of piquant sauces, and the roasted pork with its different sauces. Wine flowed freely and chatter and laughter were loud. Music and dance followed and continued until nightfall. Guests then went home to tend to their animals and to recuperate, only to return to continue the revelry the entire following day. One of my life’s many exciting interludes! Weddings and funerals were of the adult world’s making, and certainly more for grown-ups than for children. Beyond school, Sanktmartin’s many youngsters had their own exciting world. Yard, street and village green were their playgrounds. It was fun searching for eggs hidden away by wary hens, watching a hungry calf suckling, helping a hen herd her swarm of wildly peeping chicks, grooming a restless foal, and annoying the pigs while they were grunting and gobbling their swill. Even minor stable chores became games. There were also hide-and-seek and run-and-catch games, but toys—and these were homemade, not store-bought—were scarce, so scarce indeed, that when out parents send me a couple of large rubber balls and a scooter and my sister a large doll, we two became the most sought after children in the village. Herding was probably the most popular of the games Sanktmartiner children played. Willful chickens and ducklings could be herded in the yards, stubborn geese and goslings our on the village green, and rambunctious piglets in yard, street or on the village green. I had a piglet experience that left me in tears and my grandfather splitting his sides in laughter. I was gifted a beautiful braided-leather miniature herdsman whip and was put in charge of some twelve squealing piglets. I cracked my whip and practice-herded my charges in the yard, then, cocksure, proceeded to the street where the piglets, after a block or two, suddenly took flight and scattered in all directions. Efforts to catch any were futile and I was left bewildered and in tears. But grandfather consoled me, and then he and a few neighbors who had witnessed the episode were able, after considerable dashing to and fro, to catch and to return my piglets to their pen. My subsequent herdings were never uneventful, but never the disaster of my first. Such was Sanktmartin of my childhood and this was the village both my sister and I left in late 1931 to resume our Canadian lives in the factory ghetto of Hamilton. Both my sister and I would have preferred to remain in the children’s paradise that Sanktmartin was, but such was not meant to be.