On May 1, 1962 my mother landed at JFK airport from the Azores. She was alone, a 24-year-old woman who had never been on a plane, had never seen so many electric lights, had never seen a black person in person, and didn’t speak a word of English. She was coming to join my father who had arrived several months before and was waiting for her in California.
Her flight landed at night and the connecting flight from JFK to SFO was the next morning. But this poor girl had no idea how to navigate the airport to her departure gate, and had no arrangements for staying the night other than sitting in a chair waiting for the next morning.
A Hispanic woman approached her and between Spanish and Portuguese, the two were able to communicate. The woman offered to take my mother to a hotel to stay the night and would return with her the next morning to the airport. My mother, naive and trusting, went with her. She was enchanted with the tall buildings and lights, and even ducked in the taxi as they drove under a train bridge with the train passing overhead. But when my mother got settled into her hotel room, next door to the woman’s room, she started to realize what a vulnerable situation she was in — no English, little money, and no idea where she was. My mother had grown up with no phone, no electricity, no running water, no television. What if the woman left her there??
She did not sleep that night. Instead, she stayed dressed the entire night, sitting at the window watching NYC pass by, waiting and listening for the woman’s door.
Luckily, the woman kept her word and knocked on her door the next morning and took her back to the airport and to her departing gate, where she made it safely to SFO and eventually settled into her adventure in the United States.
My entire family has my mother to thank for having made it out of subsistence living in the Azores and into the United States, as my mother was the sponsor for all her brothers and sisters (and her eldest sister’s brood of nine children). I’m not sure anyone has ever thanked her or expressed any sincere gratitude for what my mother did for them.
In any case, tonight we celebrated mother’s JUBILEE. I bought a half bottle of champagne, roasted some salmon and baby potatoes, and bought my mom two bouquets of tulips. And we celebrated the last 50 years of her time in the United States.
And I am thankful.