Isabelle Sofia, the Immigrant
Isabelle Sofia, the Immigrant
Over the heads of hundreds of strangers, across the vast waters, just beyond the thick clouds, she spots a shape out of the corner of her eye. Her small, skinny figure forces its way to the front of the rickety ship while her curls dance in the wind. As her eyes widen in shock and her olive skin grows pale, she finds herself in awe. The great Statue of Liberty towers off in the distance, just out of her reach. On May 23, 1927, a poor Italian immigrant named Isabelle Sofia arrived to Ellis Island with only the scarce clothes on her back, an empty stomach, and a dream of prosperity. During this harsh era of American history, immigrants were regarded quite negatively, as many citizens believed they stole their jobs and overcrowded their cities. Nevertheless, Isabelle’s sheer perseverance, willingness to learn, and mighty patriotism allowed for her immeasurable success in this country. I cherish this astounding woman as a personal role model, as well as a close family friend.
At the age of nine, Isabelle traveled with her parents from their quaint farm in Sicily to the Americas. Their wish-- like most-- was to lead a prosperous life in the New World. Unfortunately, within a few years of moving to Rochester, New York, their divine dream began crumbling. “The stock market crashed in 1929, which completely devastated the country,” Isabelle explains glumly. “My father’s construction job could pay the rent for our tiny, two-family home, but there was practically no money left for food. A year later, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and died because we could not afford the medical costs to save her. And on top of all of this, everyone hated the Italians! Some of our neighbors wouldn’t even look at us. You could say we weren’t in the most pleasant of situations.” Despite adversity, however, Isabelle never released the great opportunity she held in her hands. Along with taking care of the domestic duties, Isabelle attended public school speaking her native language of Italian. Working under candlelight during all hours of the night, she studied the English language meticulously, memorized American history, deciphered tedious equations, and even taught her illiterate father how to read. Isabelle clearly challenged poverty, prejudice, and the death of a loved one: the efforts of her parents would not be in vain.
Although Isabelle earned acceptance into many colleges, a different path called to her. Isabelle still follows two guiding principles today: hard work and devotion to one’s country. Therefore, the desperate need for tough labor in American factories during World War II provided Isabelle the perfect opportunity. “As soon as my father told me that Bausch and Lomb was hiring women for factory work, I literally jumped out of my chair and began to squeal," Isabelle states with a huge grin and a gleam in her eyes. “I then started skipping all throughout the house singing the national anthem on the top of my lungs. It was my time to prove I loved America.” Thereafter, Isabelle was a full-fledged “Rosie the Riveter.” Bausch and Lomb mainly crafted binoculars, telescopes, and other types of lenses for combat efforts; thus, Isabelle’s performance required extreme accuracy. Every day for three years she would rise at the crack of dawn and report to her monotonous and low-paying workplace, only later finding herself scurrying home in the darkness as planes flew overhead. And yet with each day that passed, she kept a grin on her face.
After the war subsided, Isabelle settled down in order to follow her parents’ greatest wish: bear children and raise them in America. Marrying a war veteran with a Purple Heart from his fighting in the South Pacific, Isabelle gave birth to Joseph, Camilla, and Carmen. All three children attended a private Catholic school and remained there for the rest of their primary education. The tuition nearly drowned Isabelle in debt; however, she cherished her own education and would stop at nothing to allow her children one. Hence, the proudest moments of her life are that of her children’s successes. “When Joseph, my eldest son, showed me his admissions letter to the University of Rochester, I burst into tears. The same happened with Camilla and Carmen. I couldn’t contain the joy I felt knowing that all three of my children were educating themselves to such far measures. They opened up so many opportunities,” Isabelle says proudly. Now with five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, Isabelle could not be more pleased-- or busier-- with the intelligent and thriving family she created.
Hard work and sweat, motivation and drive, relentless courage and perseverance allowed for Isabelle Sofia to achieve what all people-- including myself-- aspire to do in their single existence: build a better quality of life for generations to come. Isabelle arrived to America as a child who, instead of crumbling under pressure, challenged extreme poverty and racial prejudice. Guided by the principles of hard work and patriotism, Isabelle achieved the American Dream. I take pride in calling Isabelle my companion, my role model, my inspiration.
Gina DiPaola is a junior at Irondequoit High School in Rochester, NY. At her school, Gina is the president of her class, the president of Student Service Club, and an active member of Debate Club and Model UN. Outside of school, she is the editor and social media manager of the non-profit organization Girls4STEM, a committee member of the New York Women's Equality Coalition, and a VolunTEEN Nation Ambassador. Gina is passionate about writing, politics, human rights, and advocacy; she aspires to pursue a career in social justice and international development.