I was 19 years old and sitting in a bar with all my friends, but suddenly I felt all alone…
I was moving to America tomorrow. All that was going through my mind was why, but I knew I needed to escape Ireland.The small time country life of Ireland had gotten to me. I felt like I was suffocating inside. I needed to get out, and quickly at that. This was my chance.
I arrived in the U.S. on a three-month visa waiver, with no job and $450 spending money in my pocket. It was either sink or swim. Everyone in the bar the night before my departure was happy and having a good time, but I had felt a real sense of worry. I was leaving all this, all my friends, all my family, and everything I knew. I wasn’t quite sure what I’d find in America, but I knew I had to try and grab my version of the American dream.
The next morning I woke at 5 a.m. When I opened my eyes the room was throbbing with the pain in my head. “Ugh, too much to drink and I have to be on a flight at 8:30,” I thought to myself. “I hate flying.” Even though then I had only flown once before I really detested it. As I gathered the rest of my clothes into a bag I could not shake the nervous feeling over flying across the Atlantic, and what awaited me when I got there. I said a final goodbye to my family and told them I would see them soon, but I had a feeling they would be coming to see me if anything, and that I would not be returning to Ireland for some time.
The drive to Dublin Airport went by fast enough, as all that was on my mind was questions. “Will I find somewhere to live? Will I find a company to extend my visa? Will I have enough money?” When I went into the airport it was busy, but there was a light feeling in the air. I checked in and went down to the restaurant by the gate and waited for the boarding call. I remember picking at the food on my plate when the announcement came: “Ladies and gentlemen we are now boarding Aer Lingus flight EI105 with nonstop service from Dublin to New York.”
This was it. Here I go!
Eight hours later we landed at JFK Airport only to be greeted by hour-long lines to get through immigration. Eventually I collected all my bags, got through immigration and made my way to a taxi. I got in and gave him the address of my aunt’s house in Brooklyn This is where I stayed for two weeks until I got my own place.
When I came here finding a job was difficult. It was as if I was unskilled and had never gone on an interview before. This is one of the things growing up in rural Ireland had not prepared me for. Growing up at home and working on the family farm meant I never had to work for someone else, never had to go on a job interview or be told what to do. I decided I was going to try bartending in New York as I had heard the money was good. After three days of walking around Manhattan and going into bars to find out if they were hiring, I was beginning to feel it was a lost cause.
The main problem I had was my lack of a proper work visa. So with money running very short I knew I had to get some kind of work fast. My uncle in New York told me there was a moving company hiring movers, and they probably did not require a visa. So my first job in New York was a mover that paid me $60 a day with tips. At this point I was slowly beginning to realize the stories I had heard in Ireland about people making big money and having great lives in New York were untrue – or, at least they didn’t apply in my case. I was beginning to realize that for an illegal immigrant to come here and make it, it was not going to be easy.
I lasted at the moving job for two weeks. I heard from a friend that there was a bar hiring and my status would not matter. So I jumped on this opportunity to start bartending.The first bar I worked in was a college bar also known to be A DIVE BAR. I liked working in this bar. It was very relaxed and anything went. I also liked asking people for ID to make sure they were over 21 when I was only 19.
The problem with this job was that I didn’t make too much money. All the customers were poor college students, so tips were pretty bad. I was also working five nights and one day a week so the hours were very long. After working there for two months I knew I had to find a new job in some kind of a company, as bars would not be able to sponsor me. If I didn’t get sponsored I would become an official illegal immigrant, and would never be able get legalized here.
So on days off I started to spend my days walking the streets again looking for a new job. Two weeks later I met an old friend from home who told me there was a newspaper looking for someone to supervise printing one night a week. I got the contact information and set up an interview. The interview went great and I was offered the job. It was only one night a week but they could sponsor me for a visa. I had really fallen on my feet.
The one problem was that the newspaper wanted me to work on one of my bar nights. When I asked the owner of the bar to swap my nights around he would not. The main reason for this, I believe, was his cousin was the other night bartender. So I had to leave my job in that bar. I found another job easily enough as I now had bartending experience and a visa on the way. The place I got a job in was a trendy bar and restaurant in Uptown Manhattan.
Again the money was not great but the nights suited me with my other job. I was now working six nights and one day a week. One year later I was still working the same hours and in the same places. My employment situation was really starting to affect me as I slept by day and worked by night. I had no real friends. All the people I knew were a few local bartenders who were late night drinking buddies. We were only friendly because at four o’clock in the morning there was nobody else to drink with.
My life had become very dull. Even on my night off I was so tired that all I wanted to do was sleep. I also noticed I had started to drink way too much. I was drinking six or seven days a week.
The stark realization I came to was this — only the thought of having a few beers after work was what made it bearable to go to my job in the first place. I realized how much I hated bartending, and the availability of alcohol was all that was keeping me in it. This definitely was not like the stories I had heard back home about a wonderful life in America, but I still did not want to move home. Later that year the boss of the Paper I was working at called me and asked me to come into his office on a Monday morning. I was wondering what was wrong as he had never called me in early in the morning, for they knew I worked nights.
When I got there I was a little hung over, truth be told, and still half asleep as I had only three hours of rest the night before. During the meeting he told me that a salesman had handed in his notice as he was opening a bar. He offered me a full time job as a salesman. I jumped at this great opportunity. I also knew it would be a great way to get my life back to normal.
I have now been living in New York for four years and am still working at the newspaper. I have also started going to school at CUNY. I only received my visa recently as there were some filing issues that delayed it.
Since the day I left Ireland I did not see my family for over three years. This was a very long and hard three years. The stories that I had heard at home about the great easy life, filled with riches people that Irish people lead in America, were all untrue.
When I moved here it was these stories that had left me unprepared for the long working days and the struggle immigrants face to establish a life for themselves in New York. I also realized it was these stories that gave me the drive to succeed, and in my mind I did not want be the one to move home and have failed in America.