Journeys: An American Story… Then and Now

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Rarely I have I been to a more timely book event. Journeys: An American Story, a new book compiled by Andrew Tisch and Mary Skafidas, is a collection of first person reflections of the American immigrant experience that are as diverse as the United States of America.

In 2016, Tisch, Co-Chairman of the board of The New York Historical Society, and Chair of the Executive Committee of Loews Corporation, was asked to speak at a swearing in-ceremony for 100 new immigrants at The NYHS. Inspired to research his own family’s odyssey to the United States—his grandfather emigrated in 1904—it struck him that almost everyone has an American origins story to share.

Storytellers featured included: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who arrived at age 11 with her family on a cargo ship from China, and Alan Alda whose family escaped the Irish Famine and hardships in Italy to arrive in New York, welcomed by the Statue of Liberty who offered to take ‘Your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free’, and did.

Deborah Norville, also featured, told me “My father had been told he hailed from chicken thieves. Irked by that, he launched an exhaustive research project, which uncovered our Mayflower ancestry and heroism in the Revolutionary and French-Indian Wars and more. And through learning about my mother’s Swedish background, I met (Swede) Karl Wellner, who became my husband!”

ABT principal dancer Herman Cornejo told me that it was his dream to emigrate here from Argentina, and an even bigger dream to make it to the ABT. He said “I want to serve as an inspiration and encouragement to all future immigrants.” Alas, times have changed.

Board President Pam Schafler told me, ‘This book is a timely reminder of the vitality and richness that immigrants brought, and continue to bring, to the American story.”

I asked Andrew how he felt about the prescience of his book. “I’d sacrifice some sales to have it not be so. I really hope this book of immigrant stories from the past, insures there will be more stories in the future.”



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