At every point in American history, immigrants, migrants and refugees have arrived in the USA searching for a sense of belonging. In cities, towns and in rural areas alike, they’ve asked themselves an incredibly complex and ever-changing question: “How can I fit in to America?” With the Tenement Museum’s podcast, How To Be American,  we delve into this complex question from multiple angles.

In this episode, the author explores how two women, one during the 1920s and one just a few years ago, navigated the American immigration system and all its pitfalls.

Cora Cervantes was born in Mexico, but moved to the United States when she was just seven years old. She grew up in East LA before moving to New York City to attend Columbia University. It was there that she enrolled in Dr. Ngai’s course. For one of her class assignments was to share the story of an object on the Tenement Museum’s online storytelling platform Your Story, Our Story.  It was almost five years ago that Cora shared the story of her family’s Comal with the Tenement Museum. Click here to read her story.

The other story is Rosaria Baldizzi‘s. The Baldizzi family moved into 97 Orchard in the late 1920’s and remained living there until the building was condemned as a residence in 1935. Their journey from Sicily to New York had it’s share of unique complications and challenges, yet it was typical of many immigration stories from the 1920’s.

Rosaria and Adolfo were married on December 16th, 1922. Soon after they were married, Adolfo embarked for America. Their plan was for Adolfo to find work as a carpenter and save enough money to send for Rosaria. After nearly two years of saving, she was able to make the trip and reunite with her husband. In this episode we discover how a law passed in 1924 made becoming an American citizen far more complicated for Rosaria than her husband.

Listen to the podcast or read the transcipt here.