05/30/2014 03:04 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Memory Postcard: What It Was Like to Be a First Generation Italian-American in the 1920s

Glimpses into the lives of ordinary Americans.



One day my mother was summoned to my grammar school to meet with one of my teachers. My mother's English wasn't very good (she was from Italy), so I had to act as the interpreter.

TEACHER: I am very concerned about Helen, she has not been doing her homework, and she flunked her math test.

MY TRANSLATION: Helen is doing great, she is very bright and works very hard. I am only making this concerned face because I am concerned that she is so smart, all the other kids might give up.

My mother frowned and tugged me out by the ear; she was no dummy.

Looking back, I think this is probably a familiar experience for many first generation Americans.

You're between these two different worlds, one that exists inside your kitchen, in your neighborhood, in the bakery where they speak Italian, and another, which is everything beyond.

You're the translator. The thing I regret the most in life -- I mean, I regret this so much -- is how I used to feel ashamed when my mother would speak Italian. I just wanted her to speak like everyone else, you know? This beautiful woman, speaking this beautiful language, and I tell you, I was mortified.

Memory Writer: Matthew Ross Smith, Age 32
Writing for: Helen, Age 90

Art by: Kristina Escala

Memory Postcards are 250-500 word scenes, sent from lost moments in history. The program was developed as a way for people with Alzheimer's to send their memories through the mail, to their friends and family.

What was it like to be you? WRITE A MEMORY POSTCARD