...in which our narrator examines the situation of the immigrant in wartime New Britain, labor unrest and the vertical dimension of despair.
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Sound and music by Wilson Vediner and Courtney Sheedy.
What I know about the amenities and layout of the New Britain National Bank building I owe solely to Pat Watson, a true librarian. While skimming through clippings in the Local History Room, I once asked her if the New Britain National Bank building had an elevator back then. She was silent for a minute and asked me to wait. She left the room and soon returned, triumphant, with an old rolled-up poster in her hand. She spread it out across the great blonde wood table in the center of the room. It was an oversized advertisement for prospective tenants of the New Britain National Bank building. She told me how someone had recently donated boxes of unsorted papers from the course of her now deceased father’s life, papers that hadn’t yet been catalogued, but Pat had briefly looked through them before they’d been stowed away in a store room, and Pat remembered seeing a schematic of an office building from that era and thought it might have been that one, and there it is, look, the elevator. The dimensions of room 705 were clearly marked, a triumph of ephemera.
Many of the details of what Mary, Philip and Vincent Moorad faced on their journey out of Persia were told to me by my Great Aunt Semmie when she had me to her home in New Britain for dinner seven years ago. When she told me about the men who swept their swords like scythes from horseback, she turned around from her way back to the kitchen to check on the chicken and, with a look of horror, she waved her hand back and forth. She asked me, “Can you imagine?” One night four years ago, when she had my Great Aunt Nancy and me to dinner, I took a picture of her, ninety years old, holding a photo from her wedding day in 1954, and her proud and radiant smile was echoed a foot lower by precisely the same proud and radiant smile she gave the world fifty-eight years before in the wedding photo she held facing out from the center of her chest. Semmie passed away earlier this year.
It’s not clear if $6,018 could have brought two people from Russia to America then. The path of immigration from many war-afflicted countries was rarely clear, there were countless obstacles that came from every direction, and it often seemed impossible. It took luck as much as it did resources and resilience. A 2006 piece in the Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, in this connection, quotes an Assyrian woman who recalled that in 1918, We were living in Hamadan. My in-laws asked for my hand from America. Our families were related. My husband and I were third cousins. The niece of my father-in-law and her husband took me to America. There was a large Assyrian band that came along too but got dispersed along the way. I was 14 when I left; I was 17 when I reached the American border. In those days it was not like now – pack and go. There was a quota system and the Assyrian or [Persian] quota was already filled up. So we could not get a visa. So we were going from one country to another until we got a visa. We stayed six months in Bombay. In Italy we stayed one and a half years. From Naples we came to Paris; but we did not stay there. My chaperones took me to Mexico. There we stayed 10 months. Finally we went to Cuba and stayed 10 months in Havana. A law was passed by the American authorities that whoever had a fiancé or a wife to bring across the border, had to do so in person. So my husband-to-be came to Cuba and we all went to Chicago where he lived then. During the long waiting periods people in transit lived on the remittances that relatives in America sent them. I cost my in-laws $3,500 until I got to the U.S.