The Transatlantic Journey Continues
by Angie Van Ruiten-Rogan
Last month, I shared the immigration story of my mom’s family. Now, I’d like to tell you about another family that faced challenges and hard work in order to make a new life in America, the land of opportunity- the Van Ruitens. As I mentioned in my last story, my parent’s families were from the same small village in North Holland. The Dykzeul family immigrated on April 13, 1948 and the Van Ruitens began their journey the previous year.
My grandparents, Jacob and Jacoba Van Ruiten, came to the United States with six of their eight children in May of 1947. My father, John, and his brother, Hank, had already immigrated in December of 1946. Upon arrival, my father changed his name from Johannes to John and his brother was now Hank instead of Hendricus. They wanted to be like the American cowboys they had heard about so their Dutch names just wouldn’t work. Once in Bellflower, California, they started milking cows on their uncle’s dairy farm. My grandparents, Opa and Oma, courageously decided to come to California at the age of fifty. My Opa sold his farm in Spaarnwoude to his older brother, Thomas, who could not afford to pay him in full for the dairy and milk cows. In order to travel to the U.S., Opa borrowed money from his brother, Bert, who owned a dairy in Southern California.
A bus picked the family up at their farm and took them to the airport in Amsterdam. On the plane, Oma experienced severe motion sickness due to turbulence, so when she got to New York, she refused to get on the connecting flight to Los Angeles. Instead, the remainder of their trip was by train across country. Purchasing tickets was very frustrating due to the family’s inability to speak English. After much confusion, a young woman in the train station overheard Opa and Oma and took my dad’s oldest sister, Sophia, to her father who spoke Dutch. This kind gentleman was able to help the family purchase their tickets. After three days, the Van Ruitens arrived in Bellflower. They could not afford to ship any furniture or belongings from Holland, so they only had the clothes and small items they carried in suitcases.
After owning his own farm in North Holland, my Opa had to work for his brother, Bert, as a hired hand to pay off his debt. Opa, my dad, and Uncle Hank milked cows, scrubbed five gallon milk buckets, and did other manually difficult chores. The family moved into a small home near the dairy in Bellflower. They borrowed pots and pans and took furniture and other household items from neighbors who gave them the things they needed. After some time, my dad left Southern California. He enlisted in the army and then moved closer to my mom and the Dykzeul family in the Central Valley. Opa and Uncle Hank continued to work on Bert’s farm for several years. With the help of Avert Dykzeul, Opa and Hank were able to purchase a dairy in Artesia, California.
I am grateful to my aunt, Mary Spruit, who documented much of the Van Ruiten story. In addition to the pictures, dates, and specifics of their immigration, my Tante provided insightful details about the difficulties of starting over in a new country. For example, the language barrier was one of the most challenging adjustments to living in America. There was a Dutch minister who taught English in the evenings. My grandparents, Dad, and older siblings attended these classes. The Van Ruitens also had a Dutch neighbor, Mrs. Basen, who helped Opa and Oma read the newspaper comic strips and translated the news on television. Oma had a greater desire to learn English than Opa, so she attended movies with Mrs. Basen to help her acquire the language. The Van Ruiten family eventually acclimated to the language and traditions of America. Through determination, hard work, and perseverance, they made a good and successful life in California.
Both the Van Ruiten and Dykzeul families helped others come to the United States and demonstrated that with faith, family, and tenacity all things are possible. My four grandparents left an indelible imprint on all of their descendants. Their legacy continues today in the hearts and minds of each of us who are humbled and proud to say we are members of these remarkable families.
Blessings and Happy Mother’s Day from our family to yours, Angie
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