Immigrant stories: Glenwood Springs man’s grandparents made a roundabout trip to the U.S. |

Immigrant stories: Glenwood Springs man’s grandparents made a roundabout trip to the U.S.

Immigrant StoriesGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Paul Salmen

In 1907, Dr. Paul Salmen’s grandparents arrived in Minnesota from Lebanon. During the next 40 years they would raise 12 children, send eight of them to college and six would serve the United States during World War II. Here Paul talks about their five-year journey to America.Salmen: My family immigrated here from Syria and Lebanon. Gallacher: Why did they leave Syria?Salmen: My grandfather was a Christian from the south of Syria, and lived in Tripoli. He was a camel driver who brought produce from Tripoli down to Beirut. My grandmother lived in Lebanon just across the border. She was 16 years old, and my grandfather was probably 20. They had heard of a better life in the United States.Gallacher: So they immigrated through Ellis Island. Salmen: Well, their trip to Ellis Island was difficult. It took them three years to come from Lebanon to the United States, working along the way. They stopped in Spain to make enough money to continue their journey. But my grandmother always told us that their final destination was the United States. They had a baby in Spain, and the baby died at about a year of age. My grandmother always talked about that as the most sorrowful thing in her life, to leave that baby buried in Spain, board a ship and come to the United States. They traveled by steamer to the United States in steerage class in the very poorest of accommodations. It took them about a month to arrive at Ellis Island. Once they were in New York harbor the first class passengers got off right away, the second class passengers followed, but it took the steerage class passengers two weeks to get off the boat and onto Ellis Island. My grandparents were very fearful that they might be rejected at that time. They were tested for infectious diseases as soon as they arrived at Ellis Island, and indeed my grandfather – who had been on board ship now for about a month – had developed an infection in his eye. He had conjunctivitis, or pink eye. He was turned away from Ellis Island and sent back to the ship. He was devastated, obviously. They somehow made their way to Venezuela and ended up spending about a year and a half in Venezuela. They still wanted very much to come to the United States, because they had heard about the good life in the Midwest. So, eventually they made their way back overland and came through Mexico all the way through the southern United States and into Minnesota. They probably entered the United States illegally about 100 years ago sometime around 1907. They were determined.

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