WBEZ | family http://www.wbez.org/tags/family Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Irish immigrant ponders losses and gifts from life in U.S. http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/irish-immigrant-ponders-losses-and-gifts-life-us-112148 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/StoryCorps 150605 Peter Magdalen Barry MacEntee bh.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Mags MacEntee grew up in rural Ireland. At age 19, she met an Irish medical student named Peter. Six years later, they were married. The Monday after their wedding, MacEntee and her new husband flew to the United States so he could finish his medical residency. Over time, what was supposed to be a temporary move became permanent--with all the gains and losses that came with it. MacEntee came to the StoryCorps booth with her sons Peter and Barry.</p><p><em>StoryCorps&rsquo; mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to share, record and preserve their stories. These excerpts, edited by WBEZ, present some of our favorites from the current visit, as well as from previous trips.</em></p></p> Fri, 05 Jun 2015 12:12:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/irish-immigrant-ponders-losses-and-gifts-life-us-112148 Regrets? I've had a few http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/regrets-ive-had-few-111940 <p><p>Malcolm Smith grew up in Michigan City, Indiana, with two parents who worked hard. Smith&rsquo;s father worked in a foundry. And each day he&rsquo;d go to work, come home, watch TV, go to bed, get up and do the same thing all over again.</p><p>At 18, Malcolm joined his dad at the foundry. And after two years, he swore he&rsquo;d never work there again; this was not the life he wanted. Smith recently sat down with a colleague at Thresholds to talk about some of his experiences &hellip; and things he wishes had gone differently.</p><hr /><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS7285_StoryCorps%20booth%20%282%29-scr_13.JPG" style="height: 120px; width: 180px; float: left;" title="" /><em style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px;"><a href="http://storycorps.org/" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: inherit; font-size: inherit; font-style: inherit; font-variant: inherit; line-height: inherit; vertical-align: baseline; text-decoration: none; color: rgb(0, 104, 150); outline: 0px;">StoryCorps</a>&rsquo; mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to share, record and preserve their stories. This excerpt was edited by WBEZ.</em></p></p> Fri, 24 Apr 2015 13:13:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/regrets-ive-had-few-111940 Tight-knit family remembers their mom http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/tight-knit-family-remembers-their-mom-111859 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/StoryCorps 150409 Moran Family bh.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Susan Moran couldn&rsquo;t leave the country to go to her mother&rsquo;s funeral in England.</p><p>Moran moved to the United States in the mid-nineties with her husband and kids. They tried to get a green card at that time, but when her mom died, Moran still didn&rsquo;t have the&nbsp; paperwork necessary to leave the U.S.</p><p>In May 2013, she was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer. Four rounds of chemotherapy didn&rsquo;t eliminate it and it spread. She was given four months to live.</p><p>When Susan Moran visited the StoryCorps booth in 2013, her son Sean asked her how she wanted to spend the remainder of her life. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ve got an amazing family,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;that won&rsquo;t let me go anywhere easily. That&rsquo;s for sure.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t want to go,&rdquo; Susan continued. &ldquo;Too many things to see.&rdquo;</p><p>At the time of the 2013 interview, Moran had just received a temporary green card, which enabled her to leave the country for the first time in 20 years, to travel to England to see her father, and her mother&rsquo;s grave.</p><p>As soon as she got back from that trip and touched down at the airport, she was in immense pain. She was driven straight from the airport to the hospital.</p><p>Susan Moran died January 28, 2014.</p><p>A little over a year after her death, her kids came back to the StoryCorps booth with their dad - Kailey Povier, 35, Liam Moran, 30, and Sean Moran, 32.</p><p>&ldquo;She had a very sweet voice,&rdquo; Sean Moran says, after re-listening to their earlier interview.</p><p>Liam says their mom didn&rsquo;t consider her own feelings enough. She was always too concerned with everyone else, and not worried enough about her own well-being, he says.</p><p>Sean Moran remembers the parties the family used to throw at their house. One time, in particular stood out in his mind: His mom&rsquo;s sister Jenny was visiting and they put &ldquo;Crazy&rdquo; by Cee-Lo Green on repeat. They&rsquo;d dance like mad and when it was over, they&rsquo;d hit repeat and start dancing again, trying to get others to dance with them the whole while.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;d think that it would be quiet,&rdquo; Kailey says, about her mom&rsquo;s last days. &ldquo;But it was a full house of family and friends.&rdquo; Kailey remembers a few days before her mom died, they were passing around a box of chocolates. Her mom could barely communicate, but she managed to lift a finger and point at the nurse. Everyone agrees: That was there mother&rsquo;s way of making sure her family offered the nurse some chocolate too.</p><p>&ldquo;She was always thinking of other people,&rdquo; Kailey says. &ldquo;We need mom here to help get us through this.&rdquo;<br />&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 10 Apr 2015 14:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/tight-knit-family-remembers-their-mom-111859 What was it like raising three biracial children? http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/what-was-it-raising-three-biracial-children-111666 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/StoryCorps 150306 Judy and Rosa Ramirez bh.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Rosa Ramirez was in basic training in the Army, when she came across a girl in her barracks with red hair and blue eyes. &ldquo;What kind of blood do you have?&rdquo; Ramirez asked her. &ldquo;Do you see the world blue?&rdquo;<br /><br />Ramirez had gone to high school in Texas and spent time picking fruit in the fields of California. But when it came to race, she was clueless.<br /><br />Ramirez tells her daughter, Judy, in this week&rsquo;s StoryCorps, &ldquo;In my hometown, it was Mexicans and whites. We didn&rsquo;t have any idea about blacks or Germans or Italians.&rdquo;<br /><br />Rosa Ramirez served four years in the military before moving to Virginia, where she met her future husband. Her daughter asked what it was like when Rosa told her parents she wanted to marry a black man?<br /><br />Rosa says her father was going to disown her. But then Rosa&rsquo;s mom stepped in and changed his mind. By the time the wedding day arrived, he agreed to walk Rosa down the aisle.<br /><br />Rosa and her husband lived with their kids in Richmond, Virginia, in a mostly black neighborhood.</p><p>&ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t realize how prejudiced it was towards biracial children until I started hearing it from you guys in middle school&rdquo; Rosa recalled, &ldquo;It was either you&rsquo;re going to be black or you&rsquo;re going to be white. If you were hanging with your white girlfriends they wanted your hair straight. If you were hanging with your black sisters, they wanted you to have curly hair.&rdquo;<br /><br />Rosa says she never stopped to think about the repercussions of marrying outside of her race. But she was able to teach her kids about both sides of their family&rsquo;s cultural heritage.</p><p>The message she wants Judy to pass down to her own son now is: &ldquo;You can have degrees and money, but without love and familia, you&rsquo;re nothing.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Alicia Williams helped produce this story.</em></p></p> Fri, 06 Mar 2015 14:09:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/what-was-it-raising-three-biracial-children-111666 Migrant farm worker sacrifices for son's college dream http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/migrant-farm-worker-sacrifices-sons-college-dream-111636 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/StoryCorps Debra and Roberto Olivera bh.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Roberto Olivera&rsquo;s entire family worked as migrant farm workers. His stepfather came from Jalisco, a largely agricultural area on the west coast of Mexico, and was not particularly educated. There was domestic abuse and alcohol in the home.</p><p>Roberto says his stepfather was a cruel man.</p><p>Roberto found refuge in school and at work. One day, his high school counselor called Roberto in and told him that he had a strong aptitude to succeed. He told him about a summer bridge program at the University of Santa Barbara, in preparation for going to college.</p><p>&quot;&#39;There&rsquo;s no way I can do that,&rsquo;&rdquo; Roberto remembers thinking. &ldquo;&lsquo;My stepfather will never let me leave home.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Then, on one weekend, the director of the program&mdash;baldheaded, Jewish man&mdash;showed up unexpectedly on Roberto&rsquo;s doorstep and asked to speak to his stepfather.</p><p>The discussion did not go well. &ldquo;He&rsquo;s not going anywhere,&rdquo; his stepfather said. &ldquo;No way.&rdquo;</p><p>Shorty thereafter, the acceptance letter came.</p><p>&ldquo;So, now I had a choice,&rdquo; Roberto said. &ldquo;Was I going to go to school? Or was I going to stay and work in the fields?&rdquo;</p><p>One day, Roberto&rsquo;s mother was waiting for him in the dark of their kitchen. She was smoking a cigarette. It was after midnight.</p><p>Roberto had just come home from work at a restaurant, and as he lay down on his cot, his mother broke the silence.</p><p>&ldquo;I packed a suitcase,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s in the garage. Next Saturday, go. And don&rsquo;t look back. Whatever you do, do not look back.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I left her to that miserable man and all the people that were a part of it,&rdquo; Roberto said.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="450" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/6250422&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p></p> Fri, 27 Feb 2015 12:35:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/migrant-farm-worker-sacrifices-sons-college-dream-111636 Transgender teenager named Prom Queen http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/transgender-teenager-named-prom-queen-111411 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/StoryCorps 150116 Reyna Ortiz A bh.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>When he was 12, Ray Ortiz packed a blue duffel bag and prepared to leave home forever.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s just no way in hell that I&rsquo;m going to live a life that I&rsquo;m not happy with,&rdquo; Ortiz remembers thinking.</p><p>&ldquo;At the time I didn&rsquo;t know what transgender was,&rdquo; Ortiz says in this week&rsquo;s StoryCorps. Kids at school called him &ldquo;Gay Ray,&rdquo; so he assumed that he was gay.</p><p>He wrote his mom a letter saying &ldquo;not only was I gay, but that I wanted to be a girl.&rdquo;<br />She was supportive and gradually Ray transitioned to living life as a female, going by the name Reyna and using female pronouns. &ldquo;I just made a mental decision like: I&rsquo;m going to do what I want. And I don&rsquo;t care what anybody else has to say.&rdquo;</p><p>Ortiz has three brothers, one older and two younger. And they provided a lot of support when it came time for her to attend Morton East High School in Cicero.</p><p>Other students were &ldquo;horrendous,&rdquo; Reyna said. She told her older brother and she says he went to her high school, into her classroom and confronted her bully. She says kids never bothered her again.</p><p>Ortiz became friends with the most beautiful girls in school. &ldquo;And they were willing to fight and slap somebody if they disrespected me,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;But eventually people just got used to me. By my junior year, I can honestly say, I ruled that school.&rdquo;</p><p>Emmanuel&nbsp;Garcia was a sophomore at Morton East when Ortiz was a senior. Garcia was struggling to come to terms with his identity as a gay Latino man. &ldquo;Seeing someone who was so open and out with their gender identity, it was intimidating,&rdquo; Garcia said in an interview recently. &ldquo;She carried herself so fearlessly.&rdquo;</p><p>During Reyna&rsquo;s senior year, she was nominated for Prom Queen. She went without a date, and sat by herself when the court was announced.</p><p>Then, they announced the winner: &ldquo;&rsquo;And the winner of Prom Queen of 1998 - Ray Ortiz.&rsquo; And I just remember everybody coming to the stage. When I turned around it was just flashing lights and paparazzi. Pictures everywhere and people applauding.&ldquo;</p><p>&ldquo;We always hear that the Latino community is full of machismo and we never hear about a community embracing their own,&rdquo; Garcia said. &ldquo;To have this person kind of pioneer sexuality and gender identity in 1998 was unheard of.&rdquo;</p></p> Fri, 16 Jan 2015 08:07:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/transgender-teenager-named-prom-queen-111411 Former gang member describes transformation http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/former-gang-member-describes-transformation-110565 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/sc_0.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>Carlos Kasper, 26, has already learned more about himself than most people ever do. Kasper grew up in Little Village and was raised by his step-dad and his mom &ndash; who struggled to make ends meet. &ldquo;We grew up in the gang culture,&rdquo; Kasper said in a recent StoryCorps interview. &ldquo;[We would] smoke a lot of weed, listen to a lot of gangster rap, hang out with the guys from the block.&rdquo;</p><p>As a kid he had a lot of pent-up anger and frustration. But his brother and cousins kept him out of the gangs&hellip;for a while, at least.</p><p>There was a period towards the end of high school, when Kasper learned community organizing techniques. But he soon became disillusioned with the non-profit world when he realized their focus was on eradicating gangbangers in Little Village.&nbsp; &ldquo;I took it very personal,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>&ldquo;Because a lot of my family is gangbangers. And I knew them and they weren&rsquo;t these savages or these evil people. They&rsquo;re just regular people who just chose another lifestyle.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Gangbangers are people&rsquo;s sons, people&rsquo;s brothers, people&rsquo;s cousins, people&rsquo;s fathers,&rdquo; he continued.</p><p>&ldquo;These [community organizer] people are acting like they&rsquo;re aliens, murderers, running around wildly.&rdquo;</p><p>Little by little, he transitioned into gang life. He appreciated the sense of brotherhood that he got as a gang member and the looks he&rsquo;d get from people who were intimidated by him.</p><p>Then he got locked up for two months in the county jail. &ldquo;I had all these problems that I didn&rsquo;t let out,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;But I didn&rsquo;t take care of the root base of my deep personal issues.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m glad I got locked up,&rdquo; Kasper said. &ldquo;There was just so much time to think, so much time for reflection, so much time for meditation, exercise. And when I came out, I came out a whole different person.&rdquo;</p><p>When he got out, he refused to take orders from some gang leaders. He still valued his fellow gang members and their ideals, but he wanted to make a change for himself.</p><p>In order to get out of the gang, he agreed to a &ldquo;violation,&rdquo; which meant that he was beat up from head to toe, for three minutes by his fellow gang members, two at a time, each guy taking five to ten seconds. By the end of it, his bones were aching and he couldn&rsquo;t lift his arms above his shoulders.</p><p>He believes he ended things on good terms with the gang. &ldquo;I feel really strong being able to step in front of them without insulting them and telling them that they were my brothers and I love them, but I can&rsquo;t do these things anymore because my life had changed.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I was real with them. I kept it genuine. And I really loved them and I showed them that.&rdquo;</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="450" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/6250422&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p></p> Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/former-gang-member-describes-transformation-110565 Friends bond over grief http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/friends-bond-over-grief-110224 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/140523%20StoryCorps%20Julie%20Karen.JPG" style="float: left; height: 233px; width: 350px; margin: 5px;" title="Friends Julie Knausenberger and Karen Williams interviewed each other at the Chicago StoryCorps Booth. (Photo courtesy of StoryCorps)" />Julie Knausenberger was ten when her dad died as a by-stander in a drive-by shooting. Years later, her sister died of a heroin overdose.</p><p>Karen Williams&rsquo; dad died of a heart attack just before she turned ten. And her sister died in a car accident.</p><p>The two friends recently interviewed each other at the Chicago StoryCorps Booth and talked about how those deaths allowed them to forge a lasting friendship.</p><p>The first time they met was at a gathering for students of their graduate school in Washington, DC. The night they met, Karen told Julie she was going to meet her deceased sister&rsquo;s best friend. Karen said, &ldquo;Usually when someone&rsquo;s genuinely being friendly and asking questions to get to know your family, I tend to do this apologetic thing where I&rsquo;m like: You&rsquo;re going to ask me these really kind questions and I&rsquo;m going to have to say yep, my father also died&hellip;&rdquo;</p><p>And instead, Julie said, &ldquo;Oh my God! Your sister died too!? Your dad died too?!&rdquo;</p><p>Her sister had recently died and she wanted to know the details of what had happened to Karen&rsquo;s sister and dad. Was it sudden? Were they sick? Was it traumatic?</p><p>Karen was taken aback by the conversation. It was the first time that she could talk to someone openly about their deaths without feeling guilty about bringing the other person down.</p><p>And with that, the two began a friendship that has stood the test of time. They have helped each other along the way with a healthy doses of humor and honesty.<br />&ldquo;You were the first friend I made that really took me as I was and reminded me that I have a lot of cool things to offer to other people,&rdquo; Julie said. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m really glad that we found each other.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Yeah, I feel really glad that we ended up in the same place at the same time.&rdquo;</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="450" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Fplaylists%2F6250422" width="100%"></iframe></p></p> Fri, 23 May 2014 08:05:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/friends-bond-over-grief-110224 Native numbers: How many Chicagoans were born in the city? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/native-numbers-how-many-chicagoans-were-born-city-109680 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/134447060%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-j67Bc&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: Representatives of the Ozinga family are profiled in the accompanying podcast episode and in a multimedia presentation below. At the time of this story&#39;s release, the family-owned construction company was not an underwriter of WBEZ&#39;s Curious City series. As of Apr 30, 2014, the company underwrites Curious City&#39;s broadcast and podcast.&nbsp;</em></p><p>As of May 1, 2014, the family-owned construction company&nbsp;</p><p>Tracy Miller noticed something about Chicago when she moved here nine years ago. &ldquo;I meet many people who say they are native Chicagoans,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;It seems like there are more natives still residing here than in other cities I have lived in.&rdquo;</p><p>Miller came here from Austin, Texas. Before that, she&rsquo;d lived in Dallas and Los Angeles. In all of those cities, she says, &ldquo;Everybody is from somewhere else.&rdquo; But Chicago seemed different. That prompted her to ask Curious City:<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Robert and Tracy in studio FOR WEB.jpg" style="height: 300px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="Tracy Miller, left, asked Curious City about multi-generational families in Chicago. Reporter Robert Loerzel, right, helped her find an answer. (WBEZ/Jennifer Brandel)" /></p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>&ldquo;How many people live here who were born here, and what about the previous generations? There seems to be many generational families that call Chicago home.&rdquo;</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s a simple question, but the answer is complicated &mdash; and hard to pin down. We&rsquo;ll confess upfront that we haven&rsquo;t been able to come up with a statistic that precisely answers Tracy&rsquo;s question. But the <a href="http://www.census.gov" target="_blank">U.S. Census Bureau</a> <em>does </em>collect some data that gets us close to an answer.&nbsp;Those census statistics suggest that the presence of local natives varies quite a bit across Chicago&#39;s neighborhoods and racial groups &mdash; while the city, as a whole, has a &quot;native&quot; profile close to the national average.</p><p><strong>Chicago: Stuck in the middle</strong></p><p>As most people know, the Census Bureau counts &mdash; or at least, it tries to count &mdash; every single person in the country once every 10 years. But the agency also asks more detailed questions in something called the <a href="http://www.census.gov/acs/www/" target="_blank">American Community Survey</a>, or ACS. And that&rsquo;s where we can find some useful information.</p><p>Unfortunately for us, the Census Bureau doesn&rsquo;t ask Chicagoans: &ldquo;Were you born in Chicago?&rdquo; And it doesn&rsquo;t ask, &ldquo;Where were your parents born?&rdquo; But the ACS <em>does </em>ask people if they were born in the same state where they&rsquo;re living.</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s not actually a bad place to start,&rdquo; says <a href="http://www.robparal.com" target="_blank">Rob Paral</a>, a local expert in analyzing census data. &ldquo;If you live in Chicago and your parents are born in Illinois, it probably means you were born in Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>According to <a href="http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/12_5YR/B05002/1600000US1714000" target="_blank">the most recent numbers</a> (a five-year estimate for the years 2008 through 2012), Chicago had 2.7 million people. Almost 1.6 million of those Chicagoans were born in Illinois. Half a million were born somewhere else in the U.S. And 570,000 were immigrants from other countries.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><a name="illinois"></a><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="420" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="http://cf.datawrapper.de/X7fAV/1/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="610"></iframe></p><p>The key statistic here to answer Tracy&rsquo;s question is 58.5 percent &mdash; that&rsquo;s the percentage of Chicagoans born in Illinois. Of course, that figure includes some people who were born in the suburbs or downstate. But it&rsquo;s a good bet that a significant number of these people are native Chicagoans.</p><p>How does that compare with the rest of the country? Well, as it turns out, the percentage of Chicagoans born in Illinois is almost exactly the same as the national average of Americans born within their current state of residence, which is 58.7 percent. So, if you were expecting a statistic showing how special Chicago is &mdash; cue the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJxCdh1Ps48" target="_blank">sad trombone</a> music &mdash; it looks like we&rsquo;re actually pretty average.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><a name="cities"></a><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="420" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="http://cf.datawrapper.de/eCHjy/2/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="610"></iframe></p><p>And how does Chicago stack up against other cities? Well, Chicago <em>does </em>have more local natives than <a href="http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/12_5YR/B05002/1600000US3651000" target="_blank">New York City</a> (where the rate is 49.8 percent) and <a href="http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/12_5YR/B05002/1600000US0644000" target="_blank">Los Angeles</a> (43.7 percent). But Chicago&rsquo;s percentage isn&rsquo;t actually all that higher than the figures for two of the cities where Tracy used to live. In <a href="http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/12_5YR/B05002/1600000US4819000" target="_blank">Dallas</a>, 55.3 percent of the residents were born in Texas. And 52.3 percent of the people living in <a href="http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/12_5YR/B05002/1600000US4805000" target="_blank">Austin</a> are native Texans.</p><p>How is that possible? Remember how Tracy said that everybody in those cities &ldquo;is from somewhere else&rdquo;? That isn&rsquo;t just her imagination. Austin has been one of the country&rsquo;s fastest-growing cities, and it has twice as many people today as it did in 1985. It could be that Dallas and Austin have a bunch of people born in other parts of Texas &mdash; a higher percentage than the number of downstate and suburban Illinois natives who live in Chicago. That&rsquo;s the sort of detail that these broad Census Bureau numbers don&rsquo;t reveal.</p><p>Which cities have the lowest percentages of locally born people? Several of these places are in Nevada. Only 1 out of 4 Las Vegas residents is a native Nevadan. On the other end of the spectrum, Jackson, Miss., has the highest rate of locally born people &mdash; 80.3 percent &mdash; among U.S. cities with populations over 100,000. Other cities ranking high on the list include Peoria, Buffalo, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Detroit and Cleveland. In those places, roughly 3 out of 4 residents are living in the state where they were born &mdash; beating Chicago&rsquo;s percentage.</p><p>However, looking at census data for the entire city of Chicago doesn&rsquo;t tell the whole story. &ldquo;When people ask me questions about Chicago, I start to chop the city up in ways that tend to be illuminating,&rdquo; Paral says. &ldquo;I think: &lsquo;Well, what&rsquo;s the experience for whites, blacks, Latinos?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Uneven &lsquo;Illinoisness&rsquo;</strong></p><p>So let&rsquo;s chop. How do the numbers vary for Chicago&rsquo;s racial groups? About <a href="http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/10_SF4/B05002/1600000US1714000/popgroup~451" target="_blank">55.8 percent of white Chicagoans </a>(not including Hispanic whites) were born in Illinois. And as far as white Chicagoans born in other states, more than half come from the Midwest.</p><p>A little <a href="http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/10_SF4/B05002/1600000US1714000/popgroup~400" target="_blank">less than half of the city&rsquo;s Hispanic or Latino</a> residents were born in Illinois. That&rsquo;s below the city average, which isn&rsquo;t surprising. After all, <a href="http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/12_1YR/B05006/1600000US1714000" target="_blank">more than 260,000 Chicagoans were born in Mexico</a>, far outnumbering any other immigrant group. And only <a href="http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/10_SF4/B05002/1600000US1714000/popgroup~457" target="_blank">21.4 percent of Chicago&rsquo;s Asian-Americans </a>(another segment of the population dominated by recent immigrants) were born in Illinois.<a name="race1"></a></p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="420" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="http://cf.datawrapper.de/22RAS/2/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="610"></iframe></p><p>But <a href="http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/10_SF4/B05002/1600000US1714000/popgroup~453" target="_blank">75 percent of Chicago&rsquo;s African-Americans</a> were born in Illinois. Paral says the vast majority of the city&rsquo;s young blacks were born here, but older generations include many who arrived from the South during the period known as the Great Migration, roughly from 1910 to 1970. Almost 80 percent of those black Chicagoans who were born in other states come from the South.<a name="race2"></a></p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="420" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="http://cf.datawrapper.de/NQdzs/2/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="610"></iframe></p><p>Geography offers another way of chopping up the numbers. We created a map showing the percentage of Illinois natives &mdash; let&rsquo;s call it &ldquo;Illinoisness&rdquo; &mdash; in each of Chicago&rsquo;s census tracts. The map shows huge differences. There&rsquo;s a part of the Mount Greenwood neighborhood on the Southwest Side with an astronomically high Illinoisness of 94.7 percent. Meanwhile, the Illinoisness is just 25.2 percent in a section of Streeterville on the North Side. Both areas are predominantly white, but Streeterville is more of a magnet for people moving into Chicago from other states and countries.<a name="map"></a></p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="420" scrolling="no" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/Generations/generationsPercentIllinoisans1.html" width="620"></iframe></p><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/map%20key%201.png" style="width: 278px; height: 50px; float: left;" title="" /></div><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Paral hadn&rsquo;t seen our map when we asked him what he thought it would show. &ldquo;You would find a high percentage in the African-American areas and the white ethnic areas, such that we have them anymore in Chicago &mdash; like Irish Beverly, for example,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;You&rsquo;d probably see it also on the Far Northwest Side, which is kind of a similar thing, and then in those areas by Midway Airport. Those are sort of the last bastions of white ethnics who are not Latinos in Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>And sure enough, that&rsquo;s pretty much what our map looks like.</p><p><strong>&lsquo;Nativeness&rsquo; over time</strong></p><p>All of this shows how your perceptions might vary depending on which neighborhoods you live in or frequent. And the more neighborhoods you know, the more you&rsquo;ll realize how complex this topic is.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/flickr%20samuelalove.jpg" style="height: 275px; width: 400px; float: left;" title="Tracy Miller, who got us started on this investigation, used to live in Chicago's Ukrainian Village neighborhood, an area still home to many Eastern European immigrants who settled there in the early 1900s. Tracy says there seems to be a lot more connectedness in Chicago than in other cities she's lived in. (Flickr/samuelalove)" /></p><p>When Tracy Miller asked this question, she told us a little about her experiences. Before moving to Lincoln Park, she lived for seven years in Ukrainian Village. &ldquo;Super old neighborhood,&rdquo; she says, recounting how she met families who&rsquo;d lived there for three generations or more. As for Chicago in general, she says, &ldquo;The people that live here now are still directly connected to the history of the city. To me, there&rsquo;s a lot more of that connectedness than &hellip; in other cities.&rdquo;</p><p>Tracy owns Duran European Sandwich Cafe, at 529 N. Milwaukee Ave. in West Town, so she&rsquo;s gotten to know other merchants, and she&rsquo;s often struck by how long they&rsquo;ve been in business. &ldquo;I get all of my restaurant supplies from Herzog (Store Fixture Co.) His father started it. It&rsquo;s been there for 60 years,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;Or the sausage shop on Halsted, where I get the potato salad &mdash; those guys have been there for 60 years.&rdquo;</p><p>On the other hand, Tracy is well aware that Chicago attracts young people from other places &mdash; college students and recent graduates without any roots here. &ldquo;I have a lot of young, hip kids working for me that are all between the ages of 21 and 30,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;Most of them are from a three- or four-state radius. They&rsquo;ve all grown up somewhere and they&rsquo;ve come here to kind of create their life.&rdquo;</p><p>Author <a href="http://edwardmcclelland.com" target="_blank">Edward McClelland</a> wrote about this phenomenon in his 2013 book &ldquo;<a href="http://edwardmcclelland.com/index.php?page=nothin-but-blue-skies" target="_blank">Nothin&rsquo; But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America&rsquo;s Industrial Heartland</a>.&rdquo; He observed: &ldquo;Chicago is the drain into which the brains of the Middle West disappear. Moving there is not even an aspiration for ambitious Michiganders. It&rsquo;s the accepted endpoint of one&rsquo;s educational progression: grade school, middle school, high school, college, Chicago.&rdquo; And the presence of those young people drives down Chicago&rsquo;s Illinoisness rate.</p><p>Answering the historical part of Tracy&rsquo;s question is just as challenging as the first part. Does Chicago have an unusually large number of families who have been here for generations?</p><p><a href="http://zeega.com/162133" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Oz_History_Pics_015.jpg" title="The Ozinga family immigrated to the Chicago area from the Netherlands in 1891. We talk with third and fourth-generation descendants Jim and Marty Ozinga IV about what it's like to live in a multi-generational family. Click to launch the slideshow. (Photo courtesy Ozinga family)" /></a></p><p>&ldquo;My gut sense is that, yeah, for the most part Chicago is a more rooted place than the cities on the coasts,&rdquo; says Matt Rutherford, curator of genealogy and local history at the <a href="http://www.newberry.org/genealogy-and-local-history" target="_blank">Newberry Library</a>. &ldquo;It just seems like there&rsquo;s less transience here, that there&rsquo;s more rootedness.&rdquo; But he adds, &ldquo;It is actually, surprisingly, a complex question. &hellip; I don&rsquo;t know of a better data-driven way to get at this. It&rsquo;s a fascinating question.&rdquo;</p><p>Unfortunately, census data don&rsquo;t reveal whether people&rsquo;s parents, grandparents and great-grandparents lived in the same cities where they are now. But <a href="http://www.census.gov/prod/www/decennial.html" target="_blank">census reports</a> do give us a picture of how Chicago&rsquo;s population changed over time.</p><p>Throughout the late 1800s, 40 to 50 percent of Chicagoans were European immigrants. In 1900, their most common places of origin were Ireland, Germany, Poland, Sweden and Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic). A fourth of the city&rsquo;s population was Illinois natives. And the final fourth was people who&rsquo;d come here from other states. Their most common states of origin were New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan.</p><p>&ldquo;When you look at Chicago&rsquo;s history ... in the mid- to late 19th century, we find a lot of transients,&rdquo; Rutherford says. &ldquo;Immigrants coming, settling, moving through, particularly with the settlement of the American West.&rdquo; Some of these people stayed in Chicago only a couple of years, he says. But many others put down roots.</p><p>It&rsquo;s helpful that the Census Bureau used to ask people where their parents were born. Thanks to that information, we can calculate how many Chicagoans were children of immigrants. From 1890 through 1920, about three-fourths of Chicagoans were either immigrants or children of immigrants<a name="trends"></a>.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Chicago%20population1.png" style="margin: 5px; height: 444px; width: 610px;" title="" /></p><p><span style="text-align: center;">Chicago&rsquo;s immigrant population reached a peak in 1930, when the city was home to about 859,000 people born in foreign countries &mdash; almost entirely from Europe &mdash; plus 1.3 million children of immigrants, for a total of 2.2 million. That was 65 percent of the city&rsquo;s overall population, which also had a growing number of African-Americans at the time.</span></p><p>So, what happened to all of those people? Obviously, many stayed in Chicago. They had children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Some moved away or died without children. In fact, when we look at today&rsquo;s census numbers, it&rsquo;ll become clear that a lot of these folks left Chicago &mdash; more on that in a moment &mdash; but there&rsquo;s no doubt that many stayed and put down roots. Quantifying exactly how many is the difficult part. But if you look at the trends over time, you can see what happened.</p><p>After a while, those immigrant families were no longer considered immigrants. They were Americans. Their kids and grandkids were counted in the census as Illinois natives.</p><p>&ldquo;I wonder how much that sense of finding a home away from home for these groups really contributed to this permanence of place,&rdquo; Rutherford says. &ldquo;You&rsquo;ve got &mdash; really, throughout Chicago&rsquo;s history &mdash; these different waves of immigrants coming in. ... There had to be some cohesion, something that stuck them all together. And that place ended up being Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p><em><span style="font-size:10px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><a name="ozingazeega"></a>The Ozinga family immigrated to the Chicago area from the Netherlands in 1891. Listen to third and fourth-generation descendants Jim and Marty Ozinga IV talk about what it&#39;s like to live in a multi-generational family and how that&#39;s affected their 85-year-old family business. (below)</span></span></em></p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" height="480px" mozallowfullscreen="" src="http://zeega.com/162133/embed" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>After 1930, the number of new immigrants arriving in Chicago tapered off. Meanwhile, the migration of African-Americans into the city continued. As those blacks from the South put down roots here, their children and grandchildren joined the ranks of native Chicagoans.</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s population hit a peak of 3.6 million in 1950, and then it started declining, as people began moving out to the suburbs and elsewhere. By 1970, only 22.2 percent of Chicagoans &mdash; or about 748,000 people &mdash; were immigrants or children of immigrants. (That appears to be the last year when census data is available on parents&rsquo; birthplaces, so we don&rsquo;t know what the percentage is today.)</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s foreign-born population began rising again after 1970, as newcomers arrived from Latin America and Asia, but then it started declining again in 2000. Meanwhile, the city&rsquo;s overall population dropped from almost 3.4 million in 1970 to 2.7 million today.</p><p>As the Chicago Tribune noted in a recent editorial, the population has fallen in spite of the fact that Chicago attracts young college grads: &ldquo;The story &hellip; is one of almost uninterrupted out-migration &mdash; an exodus of affluent white families in search of better schools, safer neighborhoods, bigger yards, free parking. For decades, the losses have been cushioned by an influx of immigrants, mostly Hispanic. But still the population fell.&rdquo;</p><p>Even as people came and went, even as people died and babies were born, Chicago&rsquo;s Illinoisness &mdash; that percentage of Chicagoans who were born in Illinois &mdash; has held remarkably steady over the years. For the past half-century, the rate has been hovering just under 60 percent.</p><p><strong>Some reasonable deductions</strong></p><p>If we think back on all of that history as we look at today&rsquo;s census numbers for Chicago, we can make a few educated guesses about Tracy&rsquo;s question. First, let&rsquo;s look at African-Americans. Chicago has 682,000 blacks who were born in Illinois. Many must be the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of blacks who arrived in Chicago during the Great Migration. Some could have local roots going back even further &mdash; they might be descendents of the 14,271 blacks who lived in Chicago in 1890 or the 30,150 who lived here in 1900. But Rutherford says, &ldquo;You&rsquo;re not going to get all that many African-American families here that go back prior to (1910). There was such a huge influx into Bronzeville and other areas in the teens through the &rsquo;40s.&rdquo;</p><p>Latinos and Asian-Americans are less likely to have roots in the city going back many decades. If you look back at 1930 (that year when Chicago&rsquo;s immigrant population hit its all-time high), you&rsquo;ll see low numbers for these groups. Yes, Chicago already had a well-established Chinatown by then, but only 2,757 Chinese-Americans lived in the city. There were 486 Japanese-Americans. And the 1930 census counted 19,362 Mexicans living in Chicago. Certainly, some of the Asian-Americans and Latinos living in Chicago today are descended from those pioneers, but most are likely to come from families who arrived here in the last 50 years.<a href="http://www.chicagoancestors.org/#tab-home" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/tumblr_mzk5a1EBgn1tq9y6bo1_1280.png" style="float: right; height: 386px; width: 450px;" title="The Newberry Library's ChicagoAncestry map can help you learn more about Chicago genealogy and local history. Search their CGS Pioneers collection for information about specific Chicagoans before the Chicago Fire, including this application on behalf of Archibald Clybourn - yes, like Clybourn Ave. (Source: Newberry Library)" /></a></p><p>And there are 480,000 white Chicagoans who were born in Illinois. Surely, a great many of them must be descended from those 2.2 million Chicagoans back in 1930 who were either European immigrants or children of European immigrants. In fact, those numbers make you wonder: Where did all of the other people go? (The suburbs? Cities in other parts of the country &mdash; like, say, Austin, Texas?)</p><p>Now, let&rsquo;s take a look at the <a href="http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/12_5YR/B04003/1600000US1714000" target="_blank">census numbers about ancestry</a>. It&rsquo;s telling that Chicago&rsquo;s three largest white ethnic groups today &mdash; Germans, Irish and Poles &mdash; were also the biggest groups of European immigrants in 1900. Today, an estimated 204,510 Chicagoans say their ancestry is German or partly German, but only 5,066 were born in Germany. An almost identical number &mdash; 204,495 &mdash; say they&rsquo;re of Irish ancestry, but only 3,453 were born in Ireland.</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s Polish community includes more people who immigrated in recent years, but it&rsquo;s clear that most of Chicago&rsquo;s Polish-American families have been here a long time: 168,453 Chicagoans say they&rsquo;re of Polish ancestry, but only 43,715 were born in Poland, which ranks No. 2 (behind Mexico) on the list of countries where Chicago immigrants were born.</p><p>None of this is ironclad proof that these German, Irish and Polish families have been living in Chicago for a century or longer &mdash; certainly, some moved here from other places in the U.S. &mdash; but it seems like a reasonable deduction. Most of the immigrants from those countries showed up in Chicago in the late 1800s and early 1900s. And German, Irish and Polish are the most dominant ancestries today among Chicago&rsquo;s white population. Ergo, a significant number of them have been here a long time.</p><p>So, what&rsquo;s the answer to Tracy&rsquo;s question? If you take this complex, nuanced city and try to sum it up in one statistic, Chicago looks pretty average. It doesn&rsquo;t have an especially high number of local natives. But some neighborhoods do. And there&rsquo;s fairly persuasive circumstantial evidence that Chicago&rsquo;s population includes many African-American families who have been here more than half a century and descendents of European immigrants who arrived here even earlier.</p><p>It&rsquo;s hard to come up with a single statistic proving that Chicago is special, but we won&rsquo;t argue with you if you continue to think so.</p><p><em>Robert Loerzel is a freelance journalist and the author of &ldquo;Alchemy of Bones: Chicago&rsquo;s Luetgert Murder Case of 1897.&rdquo; Follow him at&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/robertloerzel" target="_blank">@robertloerzel</a>.</em></p><hr /><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong><a name="notes"></a>Notes on data: </strong>The term &ldquo;Chicagoan&rdquo; refers to any person permanently residing within Chicago city limits during the years surveyed by the U.S. Census and/or American Community Survey (ACS). ACS 5-year Estimates represent data collected over a 60-month period and do not represent a single year. When possible, we chose to display data collected from ACS 5-year Estimates (as opposed to one or three-year estimates). The five year estimates tend to have smaller margins of error. Racial and ethnic categories roughly correspond to those found in U.S. Census and ACS reports.&nbsp;</span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong>Where Chicagoans were born</strong></span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Source: &nbsp;<a href="http://www.census.gov/" target="_blank">U.S. Census Bureau, 2008-2012 ACS Estimates</a></span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong>Where Chicagoans were born &mdash; by racial category</strong></span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Source: &nbsp;<a href="http://www.census.gov/acs/www/" target="_blank">2006-2010 American Community Survey Selected Population Tables</a></span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong>Where Chicagoans were born &mdash; by racial category (percentages)</strong></span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Source: &nbsp;<a href="http://www.census.gov/acs/www/" target="_blank">2006-2010 American Community Survey Selected Population Tables</a></span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong>Percentage of residents born in Illinois</strong></span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Source: <a href="http://www.census.gov/" target="_blank">U.S. Census Bureau, 2008-2012 ACS Estimates</a></span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Notes: Suburbs include those located in DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will Counties, as well as areas of Cook County outside of Chicago.</span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong>How many residents live in the state where they were born</strong></span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Source: <a href="http://www.census.gov/" target="_blank">U.S. Census Bureau, 2009 American Community Survey</a></span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong>Percentage of Illinois-born residents in Chicago</strong></span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Source: <a href="http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk" target="_blank">U.S. Census Bureau, 2008-2012 ACS Estimates</a></span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Notes: The margin of error for columns in this data are high, sometimes ranging +/- 100% of an entry&rsquo;s value.</span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong>Chicago&rsquo;s population, 1860-2010</strong></span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Source: U.S. Census, except &quot;Born in Illinois&quot; figures for 1860, 1910, 1930, 1940 and 1950 are <a href="https://usa.ipums.org/usa/cite.shtml%20for%20full%20citation" target="_self">estimates from University of Minnesota&#39;s IPUMS-USA database</a>.</span></span></p></p> Mon, 10 Feb 2014 16:32:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/native-numbers-how-many-chicagoans-were-born-city-109680 My 50th anniversary of arriving in the U.S. http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2013-02/my-50th-anniversary-arriving-us-105483 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/familia.png" style="height: 394px; width: 620px;" title="My family, not long after arriving here from Cuba." /></div><p>Fifty years ago today, my family and I arrived in the U.S.<br /><br />The night before, we&rsquo;d gathered just outside of Havana, my parents, my brother and I, joined by 40 other people to board a 28 foot boat to escape from Cuba.<br /><br />For my parents, it was goodbye forever to the life they&#39;d known. For my brother and me, a transformation of the promise of whatever life we&#39;d had, or could have had, under any circumstances, in Cuba.<br /><br />For this queer girl (in every sense), that&#39;s been a gift.<br /><br />Over the years, I&rsquo;ve heard often enough about my parents&rsquo; courage in embarking on this journey. Those were and remain a treacherous 90 miles that now, so many years later -- and regardless of whatever politics we espouse -- are a grave of bones, the last refuge of all the people who didn&rsquo;t make it.<br /><br />But as an adult, I&rsquo;ve also heard some less charitable takes on my parents&rsquo; decision. They were reckless, I&rsquo;ve been told, to risk our lives like that.<br /><br />The truth is that, as a parent myself now, I can&rsquo;t imagine bundling my son and taking him on such an excursion.<br /><br />But as a parent now, I&rsquo;m also much more relieved to be here and not there. Not for the material things but for the less tangible ones: my son is growing up surrounded by a community of diverse backgrounds (Cuban and every kind of Latin American, Eastern European and Vietnamese, Irish and African and African-American, Middle Eastern, Muslim and Buddhist and pagan, Hindu and every imaginable kind of Christian and Jew, and every color under the sun, and with every family structure imaginable), diverse experience (artists and writers and political operatives, teachers and doctors and nurses and computer geeks, bankers and drug counselors and construction workers, teachers and real estate agents and PhDs and high school drop outs, bakers and stay at home moms and dads, mechanics and lawyers and journalists), diverse political affiliations (a Tea Party great-uncle, a communist -- not just a lefty, a communist -- cousin, a slew of Republicans of different stripes, Democrats of all sorts, anarchists on the left and right).<br /><br />All of these people come and sit at our table, tell their stories, argue their ideas, and talk about their successes and their failures, their happiness and their pain.<br /><br />It&rsquo;s not that this couldn&rsquo;t happen in Cuba. But it would be less likely. There&rsquo;s simply less diversity by race and class, and while there&rsquo;s much more racial miscegenation, there&rsquo;s -- ironically -- much less social mobility. And more importantly, while conversation is certainly smart and provocative, it lacks the kind of difference, and tolerance of difference, that I experience here. And, as trite as it sounds, it lacks the freedom we have here.<br /><br />I have a dear friend back in Cuba, a brother almost, who&rsquo;s got a well-earned reputation as a conversationalist and host. He&rsquo;s not quite part of the nomenclature, but he&rsquo;s well-protected, comfortable, a man of certain privilege. And I so enjoy his company when I visit. But there comes an inevitable juncture in every visit when the conversation goes astray and he suggests we finish it out on the terrace, where there&rsquo;s fresh air and the sounds of the city -- wind and noise to cover our voices in case we&rsquo;re being listened to in his living room.<br /><br />I used to be amused by this, to joke about it. And now I just find it sad.<br /><br />My parents would say -- certainly my father would insist -- that this was the whole point of coming here. That the freedom I experience in my home, at my table, is precisely what they were offering to us by coming over, by risking our lives.<br /><br />But, honestly, sometimes it just sounds so hokey, especially from my parents, who weren&rsquo;t always so tolerant (and also were sometimes shockingly tolerant).<br /><br />Then I look at my own son. And when I doubt my own courage, I just say thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to Pepe and Alicia, who came over on that boat and brought me, sparing me the agony of having to make such a decision myself.</p></p> Tue, 12 Feb 2013 12:31:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2013-02/my-50th-anniversary-arriving-us-105483