Women of Courage: Jewish and Italian Immigrant Women in New York

By Rose Laub Coser; Laura S. Anker et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
The Unknown Future

[I spoke only Italian but] right away I learned English because I lived in an all-Jewish neighborhood.

Adaptation to new surroundings is always difficult. Small changes in one's environment--residence, job, school, even "extra-curricular" activities--require substantial adjustment. Leaving an old physical environment and associates causes separation anxiety, and adjustment to new situations causes insecurities. Decisions have to be made about every detail of daily life, from the trivial to the sublime: where to put belongings, where to hang coats, how to relate to new associates, how to understand and respond to cues, how to avoid gaucheries and embarrassment.

Since most people experience some tinges of anxiety about relatively minor changes in their daily lives to which they are mostly adjusted, the experiences of people who leave their native countries for good are doubly disturbing. In the words of one respondent, the hardest thing about emigrating was that "I would not be going back" ( Bonnie Gold). How do people fare after they leave all familiar institutional arrangements--the school system or the work culture, means of transportation, the availability of goods and services? There is a period of transition, when expecting a change means not knowing what will happen at the destination: what will the climate be like, what kind of food will there be, what sort of people will one meet, and what do they expect?

When people plan their departure and while they travel they wonder how to make themselves understood and how to gauge the meaning of the communications and clues they receive from strangers. These insecurities are often compounded by the fact that they may come with no more than the shirts on their backs: with hardly any money for public transportation let alone the means to feed and clothe themselves. The presence of other family members--a mother or

-25-

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