The 4th of July is a uniquely American holiday. Its images of camping trips and barbecues of red, white, and blue are etched into our memories. For me, the 4th of July has another meaning, and an interesting bit of our family history, one that really commemorates the importance and true meaning of this great holiday. The 4th of July is my great-grandmother’s birthday. Well actually we don’t know when her birthday was, but we celebrated her birthday on July 4 because that’s what it said on her immigration papers.
My great-grandmother immigrated here as a young child from Russia. She didn’t speak English, and as she arrived on Ellis Island, the officer at Ellis Island asked about her birthday, but without any papers he simply assigned a birthday to her, the 4th of July. I’m sure he probably chose that date simply for convenience, but for my great-grandmother that date was especially poetic, she travelled across the world as a young child, to escape violence and persecution against her people and seek a better life here in America. I can’t help but wonder what she felt as her boat sailed into New York and passed the statue of Liberty. I was very young when she died, so I never got the chance to ask her what she was thinking or feeling as she arrived in America. I do remember having a big party on the 4th of July and my great-grandmother was there. We had a big cake, with 4th of July sparklers on it. I didn’t realize it back then, but as I look back on it now, I think celebrating my great grandma’s birthday on the 4th of July was perfect, she understood the true meaning of this holiday, and for her, this country really was the land of freedom.
By Laurie Nerat
, Ahwatukee resident and Rachel’s great-granddaughter!