Hold it! Stop right there!
Before I forget (great name for a show), Happy New Year, to everyone!
As this New Year was approaching, I was still involved in setting up my rental home in Fort Lauderdale. It is a veritable passion for me. Wherever I alight, like the dog lifting its leg to possess its space, I need to create whatever place I inhabit and make it very personally mine. (If the owner of my house in Florida is listening in, not to worry, the dog lifting leg is just a metaphor).
New Year is the time for resolution and reflection. As I continued to set up the house in the South, I began to wonder. Why was I doing this? I don’t own anything anymore. In truth, I‘m not sure we really own anything anyway. But that’s another Blah, Blah, Blog. I rent… North and South.
Yet, I happily spend my time and money, (albeit, I love consignment shops and, like the old New Yorker I used to be, shopping the discards left on the streets. Only New York City has great discards. I attribute this fact to the great flux and variety of the population.)
So where does this drive, this passion, to make my home my home come from? Where else? My immigrant DNA!
My mother was born in New York City. Her father and mother did steerage escaping from the pogroms of Kiev in the Ukraine.
My father was born somewhere in the vast geography of the Austrian-Hungary Empire. His birthdate indicates the Empire was still alive… not very well… but alive. He liked to say he was from Vienna.
I have a sneaky feeling Vienna was where he arranged for his steerage passage. I believe he actually came from somewhere else. I remember traveling to what was then Belgrade, Yugoslavia (Tito had recently died so the political clock of the area was ticking). On my first night, we went to a Gypsy cabaret. I listened to the familiar violin music my father used to play at home. I knew my father’s origins were close by. I could feel it in the music. All right, all right, in the wine, too.
So though I am an American, I am definitely a patchwork. Every American, and I mean every American, other than Native Americans is from somewhere else. Scratch any generation right down to the Mayflower, and you will discover your own patchwork.
Here is a corroboration memory…
Many years ago, (It’s amazing how every memory I have today, has to be prefaced with “many years ago”) in a summer stock production, I played Golde in Fiddler On The Roof. I loved every minute of it.
But mostly, I loved the last 15 minutes of the musical. Jerome Robbins had directed and choreographed the original Broadway show. He came from immigrant parents so he knew whereof he was speaking.
As the town-folk of Anatevka are forced from their village because of the ongoing Saturday Night Pogrom Parties, carrying with them all their earthly belongings, they head for the unknown new world… aka AMERICA. Robbins created a moving circle of life. And as Tevya and Golde, their family and the whole village move around that life circle, which represents their journey from home to no home, they sing their farewells to the village and their life as they had known it. Never to return.
As the villagers circled, Tevya and I had lines to speak. It was opening night. Always a night of high emotions, pressure.
I don’t know how it happened. All I do know is that one minute I was onstage with my fellow actors and the next moment, I was transported. It was me. It wasn’t me. But I was somewhere in the Ukraine being ordered away from my grandfather’s village. I have no recollection of time or space.
I only know as we sang and moved I was no longer Golde. It took the actor playing Tevye to bring me back. He had to speak his lines and mine. He gave me a gentle elbow. I awoke. I was back onstage.
But I know what I felt. I felt the agony, the pull, the pain of being forcibly removed. I felt the confusion, the dread, the unrelenting fear of the unknown. Oh sure, I am an overly emotional, anxiety-ridden artist. You know the type. I cry at Supermarket Openings.
Whatever it was that happened, happened. I believe it has informed my whole life. When I think of where my DNA ended up, I am one happy camper. I recognize, however, others have not been so fortunate.
The issue of who is in and who is out is not a new question. Every ethnic group has had its day of being declared persona non grata. From the Irish, to the Chinese, to the Jew, to the Muslim, to the Latino, ad infinitum. Over the last two hundred years, this country has had its periodic political upheavals regarding that question.
I can’t understand people thinking that any immigrant has an easy time of it. No language, no money, loss of home and possessions, torn from their roots. No matter how basic those roots are, it is a profound culture shock and life threatening. But we still do it… whether it’s the Mayflower or steerage on a freighter… we will walk hundreds of miles, live in refugee camps of unspeakable horrors, get into leaking rubber boats… the pull to be free is strong.
What is it the lady in the harbor says, “… give me your tired, your poor… yearning to be free.”
Alas and a lack, can you believe it? We are back at it again. Only this time, some people want to build a wall. I am one of the confused. Is the wall meant to keep THEM out or US in? Doesn’t anyone remember what a mess the wall made in Berlin?
So now you get why I am so obsessed with creating my home wherever I am. It’s that old immigrant DNA of mine, yearning to be a free me.
In this New Year of 2019, I salute everyone’s immigrant ancestors and in a move of solidarity, I lift my leg.