I am an immigrant. I grew up in poverty in post-World War II Italy. We had dirt floors and no running water or bathroom in the house, and we never knew where the next meal was coming from or what it would be. From the time I was 7, I worked at a gas station. I thank God that America gave me a chance to escape that life.
I came to America with my family when I was 16. I was upset about leaving my friends behind, but I had no choice. We lived in Springfield, Massachusetts: not a place I would have chosen, but much better than the place I left behind.
During my first month in Springfield, we experienced one of the worst snowstorms I had ever seen. While walking down the street on that Sunday, I noticed all the people—young and old—shoveling their driveways. Since I didn’t yet speak any English, I asked my friend to talk to the older people and find out if they would like us to shovel the snow for a couple of dollars. In 1968, $2 seemed like a lot of money. By the end of the day, when we stopped and counted all the money we had stuffed into various pockets, we discovered that we had made almost $30 apiece.
It was on that snowy Sunday that I became an American. In one short day in America, I made more than double what my father earned in a month doing construction seven days a week, 10 hours a day, in Italy.
Since that day, I did many jobs, both part-time and full-time, day or night. My father expected me to work a 40-hour-a-week job to help support the family: That meant I had to go to school during the day and work an eight-hour shift at night, usually from 10 o’clock to 6 o’clock in the morning. I worked in a match factory, a rubber boot factory, as a dishwasher, a janitor, and a hospital orderly. I did construction, framed paintings in an art gallery, and even sold vacuum cleaners from door to door. I was never out of work because America always offered an opportunity. Many times it was not what I wanted, but I did it anyway until something better came along.
Fortunately, I went to a trade high school where I took classes in carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and auto mechanics. When my sister took cosmetology, I thought it would be interesting to join her—especially since I would be the only man surrounded by pretty girls. Even though my sister withdrew, I enjoyed it and the instructor took a special interest in me: I seemed to possess a natural talent. When I graduated, I received the cosmetology award and an award in English. I knew that I could embrace not just a job, but a career that offered unlimited opportunities. With a pair of scissors and a comb, I could go anywhere!
With five years’ experience as a hairstylist, I married my wife, and the next morning, we drove to Palm Beach, Florida. Two years later, at the age of 26, we opened our own salon. A few years later, we had the hottest and busiest salon in Palm Beach. We also had two sons.
I took to my knees and thanked God for my wife, my sons, and for the success of our salon. But most of all, I thanked him for America. These are some of the words I prayed:
Lord, thank you for giving me America as an adoptive mother, and please bless my new mother. She took me in her arms, accepted me as her own, and offered me the same dreams, the same freedom, and the same opportunities she offered her native sons, with no limits, no questions, and no discrimination. God bless America!