The Ordinary is Extraordinary: Sharing Our Immigration Stories by Camille Andros
When I began working on The Dress and the Girl over eight years ago, it was sparked by a personal family story about the immigration of my husband’s great-grandfather from a small Greek Village to the United States. Harry Androutsos was seventeen years old when he left his family, home, and everything he knew to start a new life in a new land. He never saw the rest of his family again. I’m sure many people reading this book have a similar story in their own families, whether they realize it, or not.
In 2010 my husband and I went to Greece to visit my in-laws who were living in Athens at the time. We were excited to travel up into the mountains to the village where Harry was born and raised. We did some family history research before we left and were interested in finding the small village cemetery and hopefully discover more information on the family.
We made it up the winding switchbacks of the mountains and drove into a village so small every resident knew we had arrived. Because of the size it was easy to spot the cemetery so we started making our way through the rows of headstones. We’d only been there a few minutes when a man about fifty yards away began calling and beckoning us to join him in his garden. We worried we’d done something wrong or overstepped a cultural boundary unknowingly and cautiously made our way over to the man. My husband and I did not speak Greek but luckily we were with my in-laws who spoke enough to communicate who we were and why we were there. The man became very excited and brought us into his home. He showed us a picture of himself when he was young. The young man staring back at us in the picture looked very much like my husband. Then the man pointed to my husband and repeated over and over the Greek word for family. This man’s mother was an Androutsos (our family name before it was shortened to Andros at Ellis Island).
This long-lost cousin and his wife proceeded to make the most delicious meal straight from their garden. We ate, talked, and laughed around the table outside under the impossibly blue Mediterranean sky and vines dripping with grapes. It was surreal and felt like we were in a movie. We had found and been embraced by family we never knew we had. I tell this story often to my children in hopes it will be a story they tell their children and those children pass it down to their own, connecting generations through the power of story.
Objects are also an excellent vehicle to forge connections in intergenerational story telling. My parents have several dresses that belonged to my grandmother. I love hearing the stories of how she wore them to square dance competitions and other special events in her life. My children never knew my grandmother but because of these dresses they are connected to her through the stories they tell.
My mother is an excellent seamstress and made me many beautiful dresses over the years. Those dresses are treasures and keepsakes I am passing on to my own girls just like my grandmother’s dresses. I love telling the stories of how the dresses were made and where and why they were worn, continuing the intergenerational connection through the dresses and the power of their stories.
Gatekeepers can help young readers find these stories in their own family history and connect to their heritage while also informing them about how their cultural background shaped the America we know today. This can make the topic of immigration and family history more personal and lasting.
A child’s life can be full of what sometimes seems simple and ordinary. Even our lives as adults can feel that way. But every life has a story and each of those stories and lives is extraordinary. Sharing stories brings the humanity to difficult situations and circumstances, and keeps it there. It connects generations and instills empathy, so each proceeding generation will know better and do better than the one before.
I hope this story of immigration, separation, and reunion brings humanity to a difficult time for our country. I hope it moves us to act. We need the humanity. We need to act. Let’s keep sharing stories.
Camille Andros is the author of The Dress and the Girl and Charlotte the Scientist is Squished. She has her BA in health science, is an EMT, and danced ballet for fourteen years. She’s lived in Israel, Utah, Arizona, California, Ohio, Nevada, and, now resides Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with her husband and six children, where she tries to live an extraordinary, ordinary life. Visit her online at camilleandros.com.