- Wandering Jews
Last Days in January, 2011
Clare Kinberg of Bridges suggested we meet "on paper"—internet really—and initiate a conversation. I think she did so knowing we share much in common: our left-wing histories, our lives outside the U.S. and our writing.
I come from a long line of wanderers, Jews who roamed the length and breadth of Europe. My grandparents, on both sides, traveled to America from towns in Poland one day, in Russia the next, and, from as far back as I can remember, have never left their bones in the countries where they were born. Up until recently, I thought neither would I.
I was born in New York in 1942 but in 1950, the height of the McCarthy era, my parents, active in the left-wing, fled to Mexico, one of two countries—the other was Canada—where passports weren't required for entry. (The State Department denied them to the 'politically suspect.') They were not alone. Others, afraid of being persecuted for their political beliefs, also sought refuge there. Of course, I didn't know that then.
So at the age of eight, from one day to the next, no explanation given, I was plunged into an alien culture, which I gradually came to love. I left Mexico for Michigan State University in 1959, but yearned to return, and I did, three years later. I finished school there, married a Mexican, the son of Jewish immigrants, and gave birth to two children, and started teaching high school literature. I also started to write and publish, poetry mainly, which gave way to a chapbook—Shiny Objects. This led to my editing a newsletter for the American School Foundation in Mexico City for eight years.
But over time uncertainty rankled. Why had my parents and others like them fled their [End Page 35] homes not to return to the States until 1982? When they died, I decided to find out why and wrote a "communal biography," A Gathering of Fugitives: American Political Expatriates in Mexico 1948-1965 (Archer Books, 2001). In order to publish a book, I needed credits, so I started writing articles in both English and Spanish for the press, literary magazines and anthologies. I continue to do so, but a dramatic change in my life this past summer, has me writing poetry again with the intention of publishing a chapbook of my Mexican poems. My husband and I have now moved to Atlanta, GA to be closer to our children. (My son and his family live there; my daughter lives in New York City.)
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So, unlike my grandparents and the generations that came before them, I will most probably leave my bones in the country where I was born. How about you, Lolette, will you?
How similar the externals of our lives are, and yet how different. First let me briefly explain why conversing with you this week is a breach in my observance of a personal sabbatical week—from January 26 until February 1—that I have celebrated every year since 1982 by removing myself from all my usual activities: I write in my spiritual journals, meditate, pray, read religious literature, and leave the house only to take walks—no phone, no TV, no internet. I do this to commemorate the week I was diagnosed with breast cancer, a week that ended with a mystical revelation that changed my life. But enough of that. Now back to our connectedness—our bridges.
My ex-patriotism from the United States dates only from 1999, but like you, I was drawn from my home and my job—teaching at Cleveland State University—by the irresistible magnet [End Page 36] of grandchildren, a short time ago to me, but somehow, the grandchildren, Sam and Hally, metamorphosed from a six and a three-year-old to a college man and a young lady at high school. Of course the country to which I emigrated seems to me like an extension of the United States (I don't dare say that to Canadians)—same language, same...