Threads of Truth

by Malika Rakimi

In her poem “I Open a Box,” Maria Mazziotti Gillan creates an illusion of her childhood memories that were locked up inside of her, and she wanted to share them with everyone – especially immigrants – to help them see the light after being imprisoned behind the shadow of poverty and discrimination.  She depicts a strong visual image through the photo she found inside the box of an entire city welcoming immigrants and hosting them.  Maria is an example of a gifted immigrant who spent her lifetime living, growing up, and working in the most historic and industrial city in America.

“Sitting on a small chair, wearing overalls and shoes that must have been hand-me-downs because they are so worn the sole is coming loose.  I’m not more that 18 months old and cannot have been walking all that long,” Maria shared.

She reveals in these few lines her long path coming from Italy bearing dreams and hopes for a better future and questioned herself if it was worth to come all that way to live in Paterson.  She shared the same destiny with other immigrants who came from different countries, as well.  She is wondering if the decision her parents made would allow her to see the brightness of a beautiful day or would just draw her down into poverty.

Since Paterson was called the Silk City – a city of opportunities – it meant it was a place where anyone can fit and find their best. The diversity that Paterson had at that time opened the doors to millions of immigrants coming for different reasons.  Some came to enhance their living, others were there to escape persecution and discrimination, but they all had a common denominator which was a light that could brighten their path for a better fate.

Any reader, whether he lives in Paterson or not, can clearly see the profound image that Maria Mazziotti Gillan draws about Paterson.  She evokes the warmth of a childhood between the walls and neighborhood created by Italian immigrants.  On the other hand, Maria gives a voice to a past generation that lived a bitter reality from poverty to discrimination. Yet they were the bridge that Americans crossed to build America.  They took all of their values and materials and created a fancy carpet where they could step without hurting their feet.

“The doctor didn’t even come to the room.  He washed his hands, wiped them on one of the rough linen towels I brought from Italy, and stood in the doorway,” Maria describes.

I found it very profound that Maria used the image of rough towels that came from Italy to serve the high class people as an image of an immigrant’s life.  She reveals the sacrifice and self-denial that any immigrant offers in exchange for a new identity.

I like Maria’s poem since I felt the innocence and the honesty of the writer when sharing her sights and emotions related to her roots and childhood.  Through a single image, she gives an entire story of a city full of positive and negative sides.  I challenge any immigrant who lives or has lived in Paterson to deny the bitter reality of being outside the curved box with many hidden holes inside.

Read the poem

Un Tesoro Sin Descubrir

An interview by Mildred Naycir

Historically, Paterson has been known as a city that welcomes people from all over the world making it a rich place for immigrating families who, in return, enhance its beauty with their cultural presence.  To illustrate, Carlos Ramirez’s story presents us with the view of a former city resident who had thoroughly enjoyed his childhood in Paterson.  Carlos and his family immigrated from Colombia to the USA 20 years ago when he was only 10 years old.  As a child, Paterson’s busy life presented a drastic change for him.  He did not know the language and the culture, but he did not struggle to adjust to his new life due to Paterson’s large Hispanic population.  “The city’s large Hispanic presence made it easy to blend in,” he said.  Before him, older members of his family had come to Paterson, making his transition to the new place easier for him and his siblings.

One of the aspects that Carlos likes about Paterson are the museums he visited during his high school years, the historic places like the Great Falls Historic District Cultural Center, and the many parks where he and his family loved to go on the weekends.  “My favorite place was and is the Garret Mountain Reservation Park. It is such a beautiful place where you can enjoy nature, relax and exercise,” Carlos said.  Also, another aspect of the city that he likes is the different restaurants that welcome all cultures, especially African American, Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Latin people.

As a young adult, education plays an important role in improving the community and bringing up children in good standing.  Carlos mentions enthusiastically that “here is where I had seen a major change in the number of new academies preparing students for a bright future.” On the other hand, he reflects that crime-related issues, such as car theft, drugs and gangs still challenge the community.

Carlos considers that the strength of Paterson is the diversity of its immigrant population, their resilience and their willingness to make Paterson a safe place for generations to come.  Being proud of his Colombian roots, Carlos emphasized that Paterson has great potential due to its rich past and its undiscovered treasures  – tesoros sin descubrir. 

When thinking about his favorite memory, Carlos thinks back on the time when, as a child, he and his family visited The Great Falls during the cold days of winter.  He remembers being amazed by the freezing waterfall.

Carlos and his family had moved out of Paterson about ten years ago but even though they are no longer living in Paterson, he and his family continue visiting their relatives and enjoying Paterson’s restaurants and parks.  Ultimately, what Carlos is now looking forward to seeing in his first American hometown is for Paterson to continue to flourish and shine as the city that it was a long time ago.

In Our House Nobody Ever Said

by Aleksandra Janowska

In the poem “In Our House Nobody Ever Said” writer Maria Mazziotti Gillan states an important message to not only the citizens of Paterson but also to all immigrants living in the U.S.  Gillan wrote about her family and explained what she and her siblings liked to do.  Her brother loved to read encyclopedias and her sister loved to play baseball.  On the other hand, Gillan loved to read.  When Gillan was 17 she realized she wanted to be a poet.  She explained how no one in her family called her crazy for dreaming big, but instead, her mother saved pennies for a year to buy her a typewriter.  This is such an important message to all immigrants:  always dream big.  Even in my own experiences with family friends who emigrated from Poland, I see hesitation to dream big.  They come to America claiming they will live a better life but they stop themselves.  It is understandable to be cautious but this poem shows that someone can live in a low income city, dream big, and accomplish what they wanted.

I also feel that Gillan is being relatable with how she sees books and can hopefully inspire more people to read.  Many people who read, including myself, read to escape reality – whether it is to leave responsibilities, travel to another land, or become the main character to experience another life.  She wrote, “I, who found in books the life I wasn’t brave enough to live, who found in language the beauty that lifted me out of the constraints of my world, the cold-water tenement apartment, the coal stove, the raggedy linoleum, the light bulb hanging from a cord over the oil-cloth table.”  Gillan read to escape the hard life she was living, which I hope more people will also do.  So many teens and adults don’t read because it is too hard or takes too much time but those who do read know how spectacular reading a book is.  It’s not like we can just pack a bag and move to a land where magic is possible or fight villains and never get hurt.  But what we can do is pick up a book and simply read.

Read the poem

A City of Dreams

by Brishna Bibi

Many who have visited the city of Paterson will know that it is a city where many homeless people sit outside on the hot sidewalks with nothing but the rags on their bodies.  They will see how they have extended their arms out rattling old metal cans for everyone walking and hoping someone would drop a bit of change.  Yet for someone who lives in Paterson, they see beyond that.  Even people who constantly commute to Paterson, such as myself, will see beyond the homeless people and the friable roads and sidewalks.  For those who have immigrated here, they will see a city filled with bustling opportunities, a new life, and most importantly, the security they may not have had in their home country.  The author Maria Mazziotti Gillan would agree as well that Paterson is a city that has changed the lives of many.  She references the Herald News which called Paterson  a “gritty city” but she shows readers another side as she writes about a city filled with people of various heritages walking down the beautifully worn out city.

Reading Gillan’s poem “The Herald News Calls Paterson That Gritty City” opened my eyes particularly when she says, “I love the voice of this city, the eyes of its people, the whooshing sound of the great Falls…..” because now that I walk down Main Street to catch a bus, I hear the city talking and laughing away and I cannot help but smile.  I see the joy on the faces of families walking together to the innumerable stores and others standing outside just for the fun of it.  I see the children holding tightly onto their mother’s hands pointing and laughing at the bright lights that are displayed in front of the stores.  I see men and women standing by their own ice cream stands and waving their bells in order to attract customers.  It makes me think, how did I not see this before?

But to the many natives of Paterson, that is exactly what they see and hear.  They see Paterson as a never-ending maze filled with adventures and with these adventures come close relationships with one another.  These will be the friendships that last for generations.  Reading Gillan’s poem makes me want to grab a friend and walk down the streets Paterson to show her the hidden beauty that Paterson has to offer.

Read the poem

Adapting to a New Life for an Immigrant

by Angel Espinal

Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s poem, “My Father Was a Young Man Then,” reveals a crucial message about memories and hardships.  Maria was born and raised in Paterson, NJ. and she has lived through important moments in her life.  However, no matter how tough these moments have been for her, she always sees the brighter side of everything.  A good illustration of this is the story of her father, an Italian that came by himself to the United States to start a new life.  A new life requires people to be dedicated and to fight for what they want to achieve.  I find this story very interesting because I know how hard it is to adapt to a new environment where the predominant language is totally different, and the lifestyle is also drastically different.

This poem narrates the struggles and experiences of immigrants that leave their country for another one where they see a better life.  The lines, “English, a language they could not master, but my father was a young man, and he became friends with other young people and they learned how to take buses and trains or to borrow a car….” illustrate the  important impact that making new friends in a new world can have on an immigrant’s life.  It makes me believe that everybody who comes to a new country empty-handed with no knowledge of the new customs, can rely on others, and find strength in those who strove and overcame that situation.  You can feel that a connection, a bond between people is being created.  I feel identified because that is exactly what my family went through when we first came.

I also feel relieved that out of the states and cities of this beautiful country, Maria’s father chose Paterson.  This city is a perfect example of the melting pot country we live in, and the variety of cultures that live along within the heart of the city.  I can say from experience that history would have been completely different if her father came to a different city.  Many cultures from all over the world can be found here in Paterson, so if you want to experience a bit of every culture, Paterson is the best city to do so.

Read the poem