President Napolitano: Immigrants have built a stronger America. How we can ensure the legacy lives on.
My grandfather, Filippo Napolitano, left Italy aboard the ship Europa in 1909 and like so many others, took his first steps in the United States on Ellis Island. He had little schooling and spoke little English, but he dreamt of forging a better life in a new land.
He made his way to Illinois where he reunited with an uncle and there, he met my grandmother. The Midwestern winters proved too cold for my grandparents so they pooled their resources with two other Italian families and rented a boxcar bound for California. My grandfather found work as a manual laborer at the Oakland shipyards. Together, they raised a family and worked hard to build a stable life.
My father, the youngest child, earned a scholarship and became the first in the family to go to college. My mother and her sister were also first-generation college graduates. By the time my siblings and I were born, we too were expected to go to college.
My family’s story bears striking similarities to that of millions of other immigrants who came to America in search of a better life: Along the way, someone sacrificed. Your grandfather or grandmother or your mother or father endured life here as a stranger in a new country. They eked out a living from scratch, working hard jobs for long hours in a shipyard, or a farm field, or a corner store. And they did this for their future generations.
America was built by — and for — immigrants and that legacy defines us as a nation.
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