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Celebrating the 4th of July with Immigration Stories from HRC Patients

America is a melting pot and so is Hebrew Rehabilitation Center Boston

The Fourth of July holiday heralds the height of summer — the time to hit the beach and fire up the grill. But it also provides an opportunity to pause and reflect on what is means to be an American—who we really are. The United States is in large part a country of immigrants and the patients at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Boston reflect the rich diversity of the immigrant experience.

I had the chance to sit down with several long-term chronic care program patients recently to hear their stories. One patient had come to the Boston area in 1922 from St. Croix, another around the same time from Haiti and a third resident from Iran. And although each came speaking different languages and with diverse cultural backgrounds, the impulse that drove their immigration echoed a similar theme —the opportunity to forge a better life and put down new roots.

The patient from Haiti’s journey was driven by the need to support his growing family. He saw America as a place that offered more economic opportunity than he could find in his native Haiti. The woman from St. Croix’s family fled what they felt was an oppressive environment. America offered a safe haven. The patient from Iran spoke of educational opportunity.

HRC Boston offers a bi-lingual program for Russian-speaking patients and is home to immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In the fall semester of 2014, a group of students from Brandeis University participated in a project called “Individual Lives, A Common Story” at HRC. The students spent time with residents recording oral histories.

As the title of the project suggests, common themes emerged. These patients, all members of what is often called the “greatest generation,” told stories of living through World War II and its devastating aftermath, and, as Jews, suffering the pain and anguish of anti-Semitism. Although some immigrated quite late in life to join children, America represented a land of dreams fulfilled.

I only know the American experience. It is easy to take the comfort so many of us enjoy for granted. Spending time with our patients who knew a different time and place, which compelled them to leave their homes in search of better lives, provides a fresh appreciation for all that I have as a citizen of the United States. Perhaps most precious is the richness of our diversity —and the common dreams and goals that bind us as a great and compassionate nation. I will be thinking about our immigrant elders and their contributions to our great country as I celebrate this Fourth of July. 

Jennifer Davis's picture

About the Blogger

Director of Marketing Communications

Jennifer Davis is the Director of Marketing Communications at Hebrew SeniorLife. She has been with HSL for more than a decade and is deeply committed to the organization’s mission to “honor our elders, by respecting and promoting their independence, spiritual vigor, dignity and choice, and by recognizing that they are a resource to be cherished.” Through an integrated approach, using both electronic and print media, she works with a team of communication specialists to make HSL’s diverse expertise in senior living communities, health care, research and teaching accessible to as many...

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