Journeys: An American Story

Journeys: An American Story

by Andrew Tisch, Mary Skafidas


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Every family has a story of how they arrived in America, whether it was a few months, years, decades, or centuries ago. Journeys: An American Story celebrates the vastness and variety of immigration tales in America, featuring seventy-two essays about the different ways we got here. This is a collection of family lore, some that has been passed down through generations, and some that is being created right now.

Journeys captures the quintessential idea of the American dream. The individuals in this book are only a part of the brilliant mosaic of people who came to this country and made it what it is today. Read about the governor’s grandfathers who dug ditches and cleaned sewers, laying the groundwork for a budding nation; how a future cabinet secretary crossed the ocean at age eleven on a cargo ship; about a young boy who fled violence in Budapest to become one of the most celebrated American football players; the girl who escaped persecution to become the first Vietnamese American woman ever elected to the US congress; or the limo driver whose family took a seventy-year detour before finally arriving at their original destination, along with many other fascinating tales of extraordinary and everyday Americans.

In association with the New-York Historical Society, Andrew Tisch and Mary Skafidas have reached out to a variety of notable figures to contribute an enlightening and unique account of their family’s immigration story. All profits will be donated to the New-York Historical Society and the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation.

Featuring Essays by:
Alan Alda
Arlene Alda
Tony Bennett
Cory Booker
Michael Bloomberg
Barbara Boxer
Elaine Chao
Andrew Cuomo
Ray Halbritter
Jon Huntsman
Wes Moore
Stephanie Murphy
Deborah Norville
Dr. Mehmet Oz
Nancy Pelosi
Gina Raimondo
Tim Scott
Jane Swift
Marlo Thomas
And many more!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781948122016
Publisher: RosettaBooks
Publication date: 07/03/2018
Pages: 360
Sales rank: 201,159
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Andrew Tisch is co-chairman of the board and chairman of the executive committee of Loews Corporation. Andrew’s great-grandfather emigrated to America in 1904. Mary Skafidas is the head of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications for Loews Corporation. Mary’s parents emigrated to America in 1970.

The two have been writing together for the last five years on a variety of topics including immigration, education as the great equalizer, the importance of bipartisanship and fiscal responsibility in government, and other topics of the times.

In 2016, Andrew was asked to speak at a swearing-in ceremony for one hundred new immigrants held at the New-York Historical Society. In researching his own family’s journey to the United States, it hit him that almost everyone has a story to share. He and Mary decided to solicit stories from friends, associates, and others to remind us that, aside from the indigenous people of North America, we are all immigrants.

Read an Excerpt


The Changers

Cory Booker Angela Warnick Buchdahl A'Lelia Bundles Gabrielle Giffords Peter Gogolak Linda Hills Wes Moore Morris Sarnoff Marlo Thomas John Zaccaro Jr.
It always seems impossible until it's done. — Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa

It's rare when a single person can create real and lasting change in how we think, how we live, and how we look at the world. In this chapter, you'll read about true change makers such as the immigrant from Lebanon, unable to afford medical care growing up, who changed children's health care forever; the boy from Hungary who revolutionized American football; the Scot who became one of the world's greatest industrialists and philanthropists; and the Russian telegraph operator who changed communications.

There are fascinating stories about political change makers including the daughter of an immigrant who went on to become a major party candidate for vice president of the United States; and a courageous Congresswoman who survived a horrific assassination attempt.

So many of us want to change the world. These amazing individuals did.

Cory Booker

The Honorable Cory Booker is a United States Senator from New Jersey. Previously he was Mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

My country 'tis of thee Sweet land of liberty Of thee I sing Land where our fathers died,
As a small child, I loved this song. It spoke to my idealism and hopeful notions of our nation, and singing it in chorus with other boys and girls made me feel a sense of belonging. I felt pride and a love of country that, reflecting now, I believe was embedded in me by my fiercely patriotic family.

Yet, in singing that song, I also felt like I was reaching a bit. As a boy I came to know that my family's journey to this land, now the United States, wasn't in any way similar to the Pilgrims'. Ellis Island, too, gave me pride (and even a sense of ownership, as it is in New Jersey). I loved the stories of the hopeful, triumphant entrances of the ancestors of my classmates whose Irish, Italian, and other European ancestors entered through that portal of promise. But these tales were different than the ones that filled my own family stories.

Even my family's entrance into the town I grew up in was different than those of my peers. In 1969, just to move in, my parents had to work with the Fair Housing Council — lawyers, activists, and tremendous leaders — to construct a sting operation to expose and overcome the housing discrimination that threatened to deny my parents entrance into the town.

My parents would show up to look at homes in white neighborhoods, and real estate agents would lie to them. They would be told the house had been sold or pulled off the market. The Fair Housing Council would send white test couples to the homes after my parents, and they would inevitably find that the house was still for sale. A white test couple eventually bid on a house my parents loved. The bid was accepted, and on the day of the closing, the white couple didn't show up: instead, my dad did, along with a volunteer lawyer. The real estate agent didn't capitulate when caught, and his illegal housing discrimination was exposed. He stood and punched the Fair Housing Council lawyer, and my dad had to wrestle with the agent's Doberman as the two men fought. Ultimately, after this fight and legal threats, my parents moved into my childhood home, and we became the first black family to live in the town.

In my family's stories, and the history from my elders, I knew of no courageous explorers, no Pilgrims seeking religious freedom, no escape from persecution or famine, no Lady Liberty opening her golden door beside Ellis Island. My American ancestry came up from slavery. Millions were killed — upwards of a fifth of the humans stolen from Western Africa died during the passage from that continent to this one. Those who made it faced inhuman brutality. Generations endured horrors in a system of chattel slavery marked by vicious beatings, rape, oppressive labor, and unimaginable anguish. African history, the cultural roots, the religious beliefs, the very memories linking families to their countries of origin were stolen along with the bodies of my ancestors. These historical possessions were robbed by a villainy that sought to eviscerate humanity, dignity, connection, and independence, an evil that sought to render human beings as property, obedient and enslaved.

My great-grandmother had memories of our family lasting back into slavery. My grandparents discussed these roots and remembered some circumstances, but going more than a generation into our past was difficult for my family. What followed the end of slavery was what I knew better from family stories. Like so many families of all different backgrounds, there were humble stories of poverty and struggle. And because of my ancestors' race, these difficult paths were cruelly compounded with stories of discrimination, of citizenship rights violently denied, and too often of opportunities rendered unattainable. This reality resided in many family stories in one way or another. Simple stories of family trips would often involve mentions of the inability to use basic facilities like bathrooms, restaurants, or hotels. From accessing the ballot to going to a hospital to obtaining a job, the struggle against discrimination and for full citizenship, equality, and opportunity was a part of the culture in our American experience.

"America never was America to me, and yet I swear this oath — America will be!"

— Langston Hughes

As a child I learned the source of my parents' and grandparents' love of this country. Their faith and hope for America were intertwined with their larger view of the forward march of our American tradition. They saw connections between their struggles and aspirations and the heroic hopes of those early colonists in Jamestown, the religious freedom dreams of Pilgrims, the defiant demands of our original revolutionaries, the humble ambitions of refugees or immigrants, the equality struggles of the suffragettes, the freedom fights of the abolitionists, the justice dreams of the union organizers and so many others who brought America — marching, stumbling, striding, jumping — forward.

This was what my family heralded about this nation and our presence in it. In fact, our very survival, our very presence spoke to America's struggle for itself, the struggle to make a more perfect union, the ongoing mission to make this a land of liberty and justice for all. My childhood was filled with the elders in my family showing a devotion to this determined destiny: to have America achieve herself, not stories about how we got here, but what seemed paramount was the ongoing struggle to have America finally and fully arrive.

"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."

— Martin Luther King Jr.

In 2012, Henry Louis Gates Jr. had me on his show, Finding Your Roots. A year before my father would die, he and the rest of my family got an incredible view into our history. Gates discovered astonishing facts. Not only was he able to enter a generation or two into slavery and reveal to me many of my before unknown black American ancestors and the circumstances of their lives, but he also was able to discover and illuminate many of my white ancestors as well, and, through DNA analysis, he revealed that I am also a descendant of Native Americans. From Gates's experience, he let me know that we in this country share far more DNA than we realize.

What had once been an inscrutable history now lay out before me in a host of documents and charts. I am the descendant of slaves and slave owners. I am the descendant of white Alabama militiamen who fought in the Creek Wars against Native Americans and I am descended from Native Americans who were forced from their land. I am the direct descendant of a Confederate soldier who was captured by Union officers and then escaped capture. And then Henry Louis Gates did something I'd never imagined. Along one branch of my family tree, starting with my grandfather, he marched backward and backward — thirteen generations into American history, to 1640, 136 years before the founding of our nation, thirty-four years after the Pilgrims came to Plymouth, and roughly two decades after Jamestown, when my direct forebears came to what is now Virginia to settle.

Settlers and slave ships; Native Americans and strangers in a strange land. It seems my ancestors got here and were here in a multitude of manners. But the lessons of my family still hold: we are all — from the latest new citizen in our nation to those, like me, who can trace their history to 1776 and beyond — bound together in this nation, bound by blood and spirit more than we know. We belong to each other; we need each other. I have some understanding of who my ancestors were, and I am appreciative. And even more so, I have great hopes for who my descendants will be. I honestly have no great desire that they know me or my name, or that they know how our family came to live in this country, but I do have abiding hope that this great nation that they inherit will have come fully to fruition and that they can join with their countrymen and women and sing with full-throated, prideful force these words:

My country 'tis of thee Sweet land of liberty Of thee I sing Land where my fathers died,
Angela Warnick Buchdahl

Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl is the Senior Rabbi of Central Synagogue in New York City. She is the first Asian American to be ordained as a rabbi or cantor in the US.

My family's story is that of the stranger.

On my mother's side, my Korean great-grandparents and their children were forcibly removed from Korea during the Japanese occupation that began in 1910. Along with many other intellectuals and artisans, they were brought to Japan to serve and enhance Japanese culture. My grandmother Hwang Gae-Ran was five years old when she became an involuntary immigrant in a hostile new world. She grew up speaking Japanese and learned to adapt to her new home. But she always felt like a stranger in it.

As an adult, my grandmother fell in love with and married a renegade Korean nationalist who worked for the underground movement to free Korea from Japanese occupation. He ran messages back and forth between Korea and Japan, and each time he was in Japan, it seemed my grandmother would get pregnant. She bore six children in Japan; my mother was the fourth. Finally, at the end of World War II, Korea was freed from Japanese rule and my grandparents were able to move back to Korea with their family. My mother was five years old when her family returned as immigrants to their own homeland. She recalled how the women of her village would treat her mother like a stranger because she spoke Korean "with a Japanese accent."

My mother was a voracious reader and the first woman in her family to attend university, where she earned a master's in English literature. Her fascination with American stories led her to my Jewish American father, who was stationed in Korea as a civil engineer after the Korean War. My father fell in love not only with my mother, but also with Korea and its culture, and when my parents married, my father told my grandmother that they would stay.

But Korea was known as the Hermit Kingdom for its isolationist policies and culture, and it was not an easy place to live as a mixed-race family. Koreans judged the postwar influx of "half- breeds" that diluted their nationalist identity. My parents knew that America would be the only place where we would be fully accepted. I was five years old when we moved and I became an immigrant in my father's homeland, the United States. Just like my maternal grandmother and mother before me, at five years old I was an immigrant, a stranger in another land.

On my Jewish father's side, my roots as a stranger go back much farther, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt. This isn't just ancient history or biblical legend: Jews are obligated, in every generation, to see ourselves as if we personally went out of Egypt. Not only do we retell this story every year at our Passover Seders, among the most beloved of rituals, but our regular liturgy reminds us every single day that we were the stranger.

And it's not just that we Jews were strangers in Egypt; we were strangers even before we were Jews. The first Hebrews, Abraham and Sarah, were commanded by God, "Lech L'cha — go forth from your land, from your birthplace, to a place you do not know." God did not permit Abraham and Sarah to begin Judaism from the comfort of their hometown. They had to become immigrants! They had to be the Other in order to create a religion of the Other.

And, of course, the story of Jews as the Other continued for millennia. After we were cast out of our ancestral home in Israel, we were in exile, strangers in strange lands for the next two thousand years. Jews have lived as outsiders around the world. We have thrived as strangers everywhere from Babylon to Brooklyn, surviving the Crusades, the pogroms, and the concentration camps. It is the backdrop of everything we are.

So as a Korean, Jewish, American immigrant female rabbi, I know a thing or two about feeling like the Other! But what I find so surprising is how so many different Americans, in some way, feel like a stranger. In the last election, even many white Americans expressed their pain at feeling on the outside. We wrung our hands and lamented this state of Otherness that so many Americans experience.

But perhaps we should celebrate it instead; we should embrace what it means to be the Other, the immigrant, the outsider. Because if we personally know the soul of this stranger, then the force of that memory is an ever-present bulwark against bigotry, superiority, and apathy. If we can empathize with being a stranger, then we will never forget that person behind the barbed wire or the wall, that family forced to hide or run, that couple carrying all their belongings on their backs, those people of different colors, faiths, or philosophies. We can instead remember and protect and love the stranger — because we are that stranger.

A'Lelia Bundles

A'Lelia Bundles is the author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker, a biography of her great-great-grandmother. She is a vice-chairman of Columbia University's board of trustees, and immediate past chairman of the board of the National Archives Foundation.

I was three years old when I first discovered the box of miniature Egyptian mummy charms in my grandmother's dresser. Nearby in the same drawer were mother-of-pearl opera glasses and a fan of ostrich plumes.

At the time, I was too young to understand these treasures and the opulence they implied. I now know they were the first clues of a quest to decipher my family's journey in America. More than sixty years later, I'm still learning about ancestors who have been here since the 1600s.

My family story is a very American story, but nothing like the version you learned in high school history class. There are no Pilgrims and there is no Ellis Island. Instead there are free people of color who served in George Washington's Continental Army and a baby girl born on a Louisiana plantation who became a millionaire. There is a grandfather who raised nine children on a laborer's wage during the Depression and a great-grandfather who was one of Newton Theological Seminary's first black graduates.

We represent the complexity and contradictions that shaped our nation's earliest decades. We blend DNA from three continents, but our story is defined more by migration across America than immigration to America.

Some of my ancestors came willingly. Many arrived against their will. Because of America's estranged and unsettled racial past, some branches of my family tree are severed. Roots remain buried and intentionally obscured. Ultimately, the ancestors who interest me most are the ones who made the best of difficult circumstances. With each generation they valued education, entrepreneurship, faith, and a strong work ethic.

On that day in 1955, as I touched soft ostrich feathers and colorful trinkets, I was too young to know that my maternal grandmother, Mae Bryant Walker Perry, had died a decade earlier. In the living room, I could see her gold harp and mahogany baby grand piano, but the aroma of my grandfather's pot roast and Lucky Strikes long ago had overwhelmed the scent of her Shalimar.

It was Marion R. Perry Jr. — my PaPa — whose booming voice and fierce family pride now filled the apartment. More than anyone, he introduced me to American history and to our family's place in that narrative, even when America would just as soon have erased our existence.

PaPa was in awe of his maternal grandfather, Henderson B. Robinson, a free black man who had moved from Ohio to Tennessee in the 1860s. After the Civil War, his ambitious spirit led him to Helena, Arkansas, a predominantly black Mississippi River town, where most residents were newly freed people who had been enslaved on nearby plantations. In the voting booth, their numbers translated into political power for the brief moment during Reconstruction when black men gained the right to vote after passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution.

Henderson Robinson served as Phillips County tax assessor from 1868 to 1872, then as sheriff and superintendent of prisons. He owned a five-hundred-acre farm and one of the finest homes in Helena. But when the Ku Klux Klan terrorized black voters and reinstated former Confederates to political leadership during the 1876 presidential election, he was pushed from office.


Excerpted from "Journeys: An American Story"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Andrew Tisch and Mary Skafidas.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Our Journey xi

The Changers

Cory Booker 4

Angela Warnick Buchdahl 9

A'Lelia Bundles 12

Gabrielle Giffords 18

Peter Gogolak 22

Linda Hills 28

Wes Moore 34

Morris Sarnoff 38

Mario Thomas 42

John Zaccaro Jr. 46

The Lovers

Alan Alda 52

Arlene Alda 54

John Calvelli 58

Elaine L. Chao 61

Kevin Chavous 66

Mary Choi 72

Bradley Hirschfield 78

Deborah Norville 81

The Originals

Ray Halbritter 87

The Rescuers

Jon & Mary Kaye Huntsman 92

Zach Iscol 94

Ryan Platt 98

Debora Spar 100

Matt Tomasic 102

The Seekers

Karim Abouelnaga 108

Ahmed Ahmed 111

Ashok Amritraj 116

Barbara Boxer 121

Amanda Loyola 125

Carmen Osbahr-Vertiz 129

Dr. Mehmet Oz 131

Gina Raimondo 134

Mayo Stuntz Jr. 136

The Strivers

Michael R. Bloomberg 143

Joseph Bower 148

Andrew Cuomo 152

Ben Freeman 158

Peter Blair Henry 164

Declan Kelly 171

Jackie Koppell 174

Funa & Nonso Maduka 178

Mario Neiman 181

Tim Scott 186

Mary Skafidas 188

Jane Wang 191

The Survivors

Adem T. Bunkeddeko 196

Nataliya Demchenko 199

Misha Galperin 205

David Harris 209

Daniel Lubetzky 213

Stephanie Murphy 218

Jane Swift 223

Andrew Tisch 227

Jan Vilcek 233

The Trailblazers

Tony Bennett 240

Lisa Birnbach 244

Eugene Dattel 246

Mitchell Gold 254

Irshad Manji 259

"Mohammed" 262

Laura W. Murphy 266

Nancy Pelosi 271

Mao Ye 274

The Undocumented

Richard Uscher Levine 280

Erick Meza 286

Juliana Pérez-Calle 290

Helen Polychronopoulos 295

Nasser Yaghoobzadeh 298

The Institutions

American Ballet Theatre 304

Monticello 309

New-York Historical Society 314

UJAF / Catholic Charities 318

Write Your Own Story 321

American Renewal 329

Acknowledgments 331

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