The salient aspiration of the American-born children of newly arrived, (early 20th Century) Eastern European immigrants, was to adjust, “fit in,” and be identified, as authentic, American citizens. It was an empirically difficult challenge. At home, their parents spoke some rudimentary English, but most often, Yiddish and one of the other Slavic languages, and had, culturally, imported many European folkways into the newly adopted, domicile, across the entire span of the Atlantic Ocean, and sociologically, across, centuries of human enlightenment and technological advancement.
Long before the advent of popularly owned television, radio was the prime link between home and the outside world. It was a source of news, music and drama; for sports fans, especially those residing in Brooklyn, reports on the wins and losses of the beloved, Brooklyn Dodgers. Brooklyn residents, not only stayed posted on the Dodgers’ wins, losses, and seasonal standing, relative to other teams, in the (their) National League, but as well, the personalities and affairs of the players. We can recall a scene from a wartime movie, set in a dense jungle, in which a soldier, coming through the allied lines, was identified, as a friend (and not enemy), by his correct answers to questions about the Brooklyn Dodgers; such as, “Who is the Dodgers’ 2nd Baseman? Answers, such as, “Jackie Robinson,” served as the admissible shibboleth. As the movie implied, the ”Brooklyn Dodgers”, morphed into a popular National symbol.
Consistent with, and in furtherance of, their ardent aspiration to quickly, morph into regular Americans, most first-generation Americans, especially those living in the Borough of Brooklyn, became outspoken Dodger fans and, when possible, loyally attended their home games, at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. Some, however, chose to become fans of the purportedly, more elegant, New York Yankees, whose home field was, and still is, Yankee Stadium, located in the Borough of Bronx, New York.
In the poorer neighborhoods, complimentary passes to local, major league, baseball games were charitably, handed out to school children, by an organization named, “Happy Felton’s Knothole Gang.” Thus, we were, by good fortune, enabled to attend several Dodger games and a few Yankee games, gratis, at their respective home stadia. We were, appropriately, grateful for the opportunity to attend those big-league games, despite the fact that the free stadium seats consistently, were located at the farthest reaches of the stadium, (“the bleachers”) high above the rear portion of center field. Although thus privileged and excited to see outfielders like Duke Snider, up close, we were often obliged, to rely on a portable radio, to be apprised of game developments. The most relevant benefit, however, consisted in the commonality of mutual support and experience with regular American youngsters, not born of recently immigrated parents. When the Brooklyn Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles, we mourned the tragic loss, in tandem with other, long established mainstream New Yorkers.
Varying degrees of strain were regularly, experienced, at early stages, by the children of immigrants, upon their daily return home from school, or following engagement in sports at the local public playground. The family context at home, understandably, and exotically, was a combination of old-world nuance, foreign accented English speech, reflexive foreign exclamations, as well as atavistic, behavioral expectations of children, at variance with the new American folkways. There were, in essence, two cultural realities, with which the challenged, first-generation Americans were obliged to assimilate and empirically, comply. Variations in difficulty, in this respect, might depend upon the parents, erudition, length of time in the United States, interactive experience with non-immigrant members of society and the frequency of interactive communication at their place of employment or business. The most noticeable, obvious challenge was in the confrontation of their foreign accent.
It is obvious that very young children, universally, first learn to speak from their parents. The offspring of immigrants acquire, thereby, the singular, additional problem, of developing unaccented, speech, when desired, at the age of interaction with their peers at school and at play. Added to this exacting challenge is the unfortunate tendency, of children, to cruelly, react, to any differences perceived in other children, in their appearance, speech impediment or nuanced language pronunciation. In some cases, this leads to the choice of limitation of the victimized, first-generation American, early circle of friends to others with foreign accents; which defensive response, compounds, and extends the problem. It is ironically bizarre to note, that late in maturity, adults who retain vestiges of their former (foreign) accents are, for such reason acceptably, perceived, as “charming,” “cultured” or “interesting.”
We, like most of our known members of the European first-generation, Americans, with which we were acquainted, went on to pursue higher education and successful professions or careers; “Geenzi” (Archibald) Edelman is now a successful cosmetic surgeon on the West Coast, and Selwin Abramovitz is a full partner in a New York City, “white shoe” law firm.
During our recent visit to Dr. “Geenzi” Edelman, we had the mutually recollected pleasure of attendance, at a baseball game, between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. Geenzi, who these days, is flush with money, had purchased, in anticipation of our visit, two of the most expensive stadium tickets, alongside first base.
As we walked to our prime seats, instinctively, and with a hard lump in my throat, I looked out, towards deep center field at the high rows of sunny bleachers.