Monday, July 3, 2017

I am an American, by Rita Monette


by rita monette

With the blood of many cultures flowing through my veins, I am an American. I am not a Canadian-French-Spanish-Swedish-Italian-American. I’m an American. My ancestors all came to this country for different reasons, and in my case ended up in the state of Louisiana.

After years of extensive research up and down the branches of my huge family tree, I asked myself, what made them Americans, other than just setting foot on it’s soil, and swearing an oath. 

Each of my ancestors had their own challenges and reasons for coming to this country, and each of their stories are an integral part of what America is today, and who I am as a person. These are just a few.

Depiction of the "Grand Derangement" of the Acadiens
My Acadien (French Canadian) ancestors came here by force in the seventeen hundreds. Expelled by the English Crown because of their French allegiances, they were taken in bonds from their Canadian homes to the colonies of New England to become indentured servants—which meant they were slaves that could buy their way to freedom. Years later, they found their way to the French-controlled areas of Louisiana, where they were granted some land. It was swamp land, but it was land, and it was theirs. They forged a life out of those swamps, built canals and levees to control the water, so cities could be built. They planted sugar cane, trapped and hunted game, and traded with the native Indians. 

Sophia VonHolst [my great grandmother]
daughter of Moritz VonHolst
from Sweden. Pictured with her second husband, Jack Edmond,from

My Swedish ancestor came to this country in the early eighteen hundreds to escape religious persecution. He made his way to Louisiana to use his skills as a tanner to fill a need in the area for saddles and other leather products. He eventually opened a business, taught his grandchildren how to tan hides and create quality leather products, passing his trade down to his descendants.

Salvador Castigliola from Italy. In front is my
grandmother, Clara Angelina

My Italian ancestor came to this country as a young man in the eighteen hundreds to forge a new life. He started out gathering oysters from the gulf and selling them as a street vendor. He went on to open a restaurant in New Orleans and served up the Italian food he was used to his his old country.

Some came by force and some by choice. But, regardless of how or why they came here, they struggled to overcome the odds against them. Some had many children here, and some lost just as many. They built land out of swamps. They fished the bayous and grew sugarcane, peddled from a cart on the streets of New Orleans.

Their stories vary, but they all had one thing in common. They wanted a better life. So they gave up their country of origin, by force or by choice, and came to a new land, with big hopes and dreams. America offered them a place to use the skills and talents they each possessed to improve their situation…and their new country.

I learned from my ancestors’ stories that everything you want in life takes hard work and an ability to persevere outside of your comfort zone. I became grateful that, through no choice of my own, I was born into a free country and did not have to deal with the extreme challenges and hardships of my ancestors.

Are you an American?

If you are a person born in this great country, or If you came here seeking a better life and have sworn an oath to become a productive citizen; If you respect her constitution and laws; and if you hold her flag high, regardless of the sometimes bad decisions of her temporary leaders, you are an American.

Join me in celebrating America’s birthday. Enjoy some fireworks and have come birthday cake.  Happy Fourth of July!