Story of an American Immigrant

My Great Grandma is one of the most inspirational people I know. Here is wonderful story about her life.

Oma Oma- Great grandma in Dutch as well as other European languages.
Opa Opa- Great grandpa in Dutch as well as other European languages.

Antonietta De Jong, my Oma Oma (great grandmother), is one of the most amazing people I know. The head of the family, the last of a generation, and a 96-year-old sage.

Her story began in Suriname, South America in 1920. She was the fourth eldest child in a family that eventually became eleven children. The family grew up in a small, three bedroom house. They had just enough to get by. Their father worked as a jeweler to support the family while the mother stayed home to take care of the children.

When she was just eleven years old, however, everything changed. Her father, still working as a jeweler, had confrontation with another jeweler. Unfortunately, the confrontation escalated, and her father was murdered (no need to get into details).

She was then forced to become mother figure to her siblings at a very young age. With many brothers and sisters, she was did her best to help out.

“It was very hard, but my mother was strong,” said Oma Oma. “My mother would bring home a slice of chocolate, and one piece of chocolate fed eleven children. My mother took none for herself.”

At this point, her mom was forced to work. The family decided to move to Aruba, and her mother opened up a home for young women. The family now had enough money for at least one meal a day.

Once the family got their feet on the ground, my Oma Oma was able to have a normal childhood. They played lots of soccer and had no electronics. And according to my Oma Oma, she got in lots of fights.

“There were kids who made fun of my little sister. I told them if they didn’t stop I would beat them up, and that’s what I did,” said Oma Oma.

When she was 18, she met a man named Gustaf with whom she would eventually fall in love with.

“I was walking to a friend’s house, and a young man stopped by me and told me he could drive me the rest of the way,” said Oma Oma. “Of course I told him no because I did not talk to strangers. So I told him I’ll meet you at my friend’s house.”

After about two years, the couple married. They stayed in Aruba and had three children, but decided it was time to move when food was running low.

“There was nothing to eat in Aruba, and the opportunities were better in the United States,” said Oma Oma.

What followed was an eleven day trip on a banana boat which brought sea-sickness and discomfort.

Once in the US, the family stayed with my Oma Oma’s sister in Bronx, New York. Once my Opa found work, however, they were able to move into their own apartment. The family was living the American dream.

“New York had the most people I have ever seen in my life; it was crazy. But for once everything was going right,” said Oma Oma.

After living in the Bronx for five years, they moved to Roselle, New Jersey. This enabled them to have a house of their own. Here my great grandmother was a school teacher and a mother of three children, while my Opa Opa often travelled for work. The family stayed in Roselle for many years; I have my earliest memories here.

When my Oma Oma reached her late 80’s, her and my Opa Opa moved into an apartment under my Oma (grandmother) in Frenchtown, NJ. Here my Opa Opa lived his final years, passing away in 2011. My Grandma and my Great Grandma now live in Raleigh, only five minutes away from me and my family.

In the end, my Oma represents a great sacrifice, a story of immigration that many of our grandparents went through. I am grateful to have opportunities that my grandmother never had as a kid. Thank you Oma.


  1. Wow! Henry, you remember a great deal of detail! I know Oma tremendously enjoyed sharing her story with you!
    May she rest in peace! Missing her every day!


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