When I Journeyed from America

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When I Journeyed from America

Song Lyrics

By: Harriet M. Pawlowska

Date: c. 1910

Source: Pawlowska, Harriet M., ed. Merrily We Sing: 105 Polish Folks Songs. Boston: Bay Back Books, 1961.

About the Author: Harriet Pawloska's volume on Polish folk songs has been widely cited by other writers chronicling the voyages of immigrants to America.


The United States has long been seen as a land of opportunity. Since the first European explorers landed in North America men and women have frequently arrived in search of economic gain; much of the original mapping of North America occurred during Spanish, French, and British searches for treasure. Most of these treasures, including the mythical golden cities of Cibola, were never found.

While the legend of the golden cities persists even today, few foreigners travel to the United States to search for treasure. But many do move to America in the hope of finding higher-paying jobs than are available in their home country. Such a move frequently means relocating the entire family, but in some cases it requires a long stay away from family, followed by a trip back home to deliver accumulated earnings. For some families, such an arrangement is merely a stepping stone to an eventual move, after the father has amassed enough money to fund the trip. For others, an absentee father is simply a hard fact of economic life.

Workers traveling to the United States are neither the first nor the only laborers who leave home for long periods of time. Sailors, away from home for many months at a time, face challenges in maintaining a home life. Entertainers, whose work requires them to travel many months each year, sometimes struggle to re-integrate with their families and communities when they return home. Soldiers have historically left home for long periods of time, and in World War II many civilians were drafted and sent overseas. Oil field workers drilling in Alaska frequently work two-week shifts, followed by a plane flight home and two weeks off. In each of these situations a family member is forced to pursue balance between economic and social needs. In some cases, this balance can be achieved, but in other cases dislocated parents find that their time away from home has cost more than they expected.


When I journeyed from Amer'ca,
And the foundry where I labored …
Soon I came to New York City,
To the agent for my passage …
Then I left Berlin for Krakow;
There my wife was waiting for me.
And my children did not know me,
For they fled from me, a stranger.
"My dear children, I'm your papa;
Three long years I have not seen you."


As real estate prices in large cities continue to climb, workers have begun buying homes farther from the cities, resulting in increased commute times. Other workers find themselves facing temporary situations in which it is more practical to temporarily endure a lengthy commute than to relocate permanently. These factors have given rise to the so-called Extreme Commuter.

While most Americans consider thirty to forty-five minutes a reasonable daily commute, some employees now travel much farther to work each day. Leaving at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., they endure commutes of up to two hours each direction. This drive, when tacked onto both ends of a normal work day, means that some leave home before their small children wake up and return home just before the kids go to bed. And while two-hour commutes remain the exception, by 2006 approximately fifteen percent of American commuters were driving more than forty-five minutes each way.

Beyond the time and expense of such lengthy trips, sociologists suspect that this type of lifestyle is unhealthy over the long term. Beyond the sheer time demands, such arrangements place inordinate stress on family relationships, making normal family life difficult. In some cases, homes grow accustomed to functioning without the commuter, only to face difficulty on weekends when he or she is home all day.

As commutes have grown longer and gasoline prices continue to climb, urban planners have begun rethinking the design of communities. In contrast to typical city-suburb arrangements, in which virtually every trip requires the use of a car, "Urban Villages" are designed to connect with urban work areas by light rail, allowing commuters to avoid rush-hour traffic. These new living areas also include movies, shopping, and restaurants and are specifically designed to encourage foot, bicycle, and roller blade traffic. Designers hope these new hybrid communities will provide the benefits of suburban living without the extensive commuting such lifestyles typically involve.

Migrant workers remain a fixture of American life in the twenty-first century. Most current migrant workers are Mexican citizens rather than Europeans. Migrant farm workers often follow crop harvests across the United States, moving their families with them then and returning home for the winter. In other cases, laborers come to the United States alone, locating near the border to simplify trips home. As of 2006, Mexican immigration was becoming a major political issue.



Fox, Jonathan, and Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, eds. Indigenous Mexican Migrants in the United States. Dallas: Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, 2004.

Maruggi, Edward Albert. Mushrooms, Sausage, and Wine: Life with an Immigrant Father. Pitsford, New York: Winston Publishing, 1997.

Neal, Peter, ed. Urban Villages: The Making of Community. London: Spon Press, 2003.


Spector, Mike. "Mass Transit is Gaining Riders, and Cachet, as Gas Prices Climb." Wall Street Journal (June 20, 2006): D2.

Stodooska, Monika, and Carla Almeida. "Transnationalism and Leisure: Mexican Temporary Migrants in the U.S." Journal of Leisure Research 38 (2006):143-167.

Web sites

Outside Magazine Online. "Crude Reality." 〈http://outside.away.com/outside/features/200402/200402_anwr_1.html〉 (accessed July 10, 2006).

Public Broadcasting Service. "Mexican Immigrant Labor History." 〈http://www.pbs.org/kpbs/theborder/history/timeline/17.html〉 (accessed July 10, 2006).

USA Today. "Think Your Commute is Tough?" November 29, 2004 〈http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2004-11-29-commute_x.htm〉 (accessed July 10, 2006).

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