Memories of Home The Things We Brought
A stitch, a book, a hat — Katie Davis speaks with immigrants about the items that they brought to the U.S. from their home countries and the special meaning that each of these souvenirs holds.
By Katie Davis
TranskriptKatie Davis: I’m Katie Davis. Two carpenters — well, they were brothers, actually — were measuring a door frame in my house. And they said they were from Xela, Guatemala. I showed them a photo of my son coaching a girls’ team in Xela. The brothers leaned in to look at the photo, at the woven skirts the girls were wearing. Yes, that’s Xela. See the pattern in the weaving of the skirts? That tells us.
There are things that hold history for each of us — a stitch, a book, a hat — things that were carried to a new country. Next up, we have three stories, and we call them “The Things We Brought.”
I think that I was a weird child. I have a near-photographic memory, so a lot of those years — even though my mother said, I don’t know how you could possibly remember those things — are very, very clear in my mind. Like it’s somehow photographs, or a movie — something sort of unreal, if you know what I mean. During that time, each family that was leaving the country was assigned a number, and ours was 160,633. So people sort of kept up with, you know, what family was leaving and what number did they have, so that they would kind of be aware of when their number was going to be called.
So, when the military gentlemen came to our house, we knew that the time had come. And so I kind of remember those things, again, like this sort of running movie. And mostly I remember the fear that I think I internalized when I was a kid. My sisters were four; they still don’t remember much. To this day, they say they don’t recall. But I think that I was old enough to hear the stories and the whispers. And there was a lot of fear and paranoia during that time. And so I think that I ... you know, I sort of appropriated it, even though I didn’t understand it. So the process of leaving was frightening. Again, not because we were leaving the country, because I don’t think — I don’t think I understood when we left that we were never coming back.
We were simply told that my aunt had called us to the United States. And that, you know, we were coming to America — which is how they told us. And that was pretty much it. We were only allowed to take the clothes on our backs and one change of clothing. I remember I had this little green dress, with a little ruffle at the bottom, which I actually still have, and that was all. That was all that you could take. But my mother had crocheted our underpants for my sisters, for my cousin [Madeline], who came with us. And basically, she created a little pocket in our panties, and she stuck gold, our childhood necklaces, our ID bracelets, and the little azabaches that we all wore as kids, which ... they’re supposed to protect you from the Evil Eye.
So, all those things were sort of divvied up and put in our underpants, and we carried those on the plane. And I remember that I was really, really frightened, and my mom thought that it was that I was afraid to fly. And I just didn’t want to say that I was afraid that they would find out that we were ultimately in violation — we were transporting things we weren’t supposed to be carrying. I remember that distinctly.
Katie Davis: What do you remember about the diary?
Katie Davis: When will you pull it out? I mean, I have one of those diaries ...
Katie Davis: Did you show it to her?
You know, I got so sick because of the political system. And I have to leave my country — it’s very painful, you know. When you leave as a child, you don’t realize. But when you leave at 36 years old, it’s very painful to leave your country. So basically, it was political reasons. And I came in this country with a suitcase and $170 dollars in my pocket.
Regarding the things which I brought with me — more than half of the things were related to my future job because I used to be a fine dining waiter in Romania. So, you know, I brought things like white shirts, you know, black socks, you know, wine opener, black pants. Hopefully, you know, to get a job for which I got, you know, a job in a restaurant in two weeks since I came to Michigan. So basically, in a suitcase, you know. I put a Bible, you know, I put a letter of recommendation for employment — I used to work for the Canadian Ambassador in Romania, so that letter brought me a good job in a fine dining restaurant in downtown Detroit. So basically was very limited items which I brought with me.
I think the thing that you most miss is not the things that you owned. It’s the country itself, you know. Having no access to that life, to who you might have been, to people that you knew ... I had a best friend who lived next door to us. I think about her and her family ... you know, how we might have, you know, still remained friends over the years. And I wonder if I would have been a different person, if I would have been myself, and how much of the country shaped and defined me, even though I don’t live there anymore. So I wish I had more access to the homeland, la tierra. It’s that kind of ... not knowing, I think, that sort of pulls you back.
Katie Davis: We heard from Sandra Castillo, Katia Sipple, and Cosmin Soare. And I’m Katie Davis.