My mom was nearly 4 years old when Mickey Mouse was first presented to the world. Her father, Salvatore Fiore, Americanized to Sam, was 28 when they lined up to see “Plane Crazy“ on what I'm guessing was a cold night in November, 1928.
My grandpa was an immigrant from Sicily who learned English through experience rather than school. I like to think of him that evening, smelling vaguely of the gasoline and oil he and his brothers delivered. A hard earned $.75 in his pocket, maybe another buck for popcorn as a Saturday night treat. A quintessential American night out, less than a year before the Great Depression began.
Sam, along with his dozen brothers and sisters came to America legally. The process was far less complicated back then. Anthony, the oldest sibling came to New York, got work, lived like a church mouse to save money, sent for the next one and efforts doubled, tripled and so on until everyone was together again. Once reunited, they took off for Wisconsin, where they had friends from their village. Together they built a company that still exists and has helped thousands of people support themselves and their families.
All this won by hard work and their collective vision for the future of our family.
That dream was personified by a 3-year old named Dorothy, holding the hands of her parents at the Orpheum Movie House on State Street, which had just opened the year before. Infinite possibilities for them, Walt Disney and the world.
Sam died before Disneyland opened, before I was born, before "Toy Story" and so many of the other Disney milestones that began that evening. I often wonder what he would think, knowing that in the very next generation someone in his family would work for the company built by that little mouse. To him, who had crossed the Atlantic to come to America on his own at 12 years old it might’ve seemed impossible.
Yet, perhaps not. Like Disney, immigration is fueled by imagination. It’s about embracing possibilities. It’s about refusing to accept the limitations of fear or prejudice. It’s about believing that getting on a ship can change the world or that a series of drawings can tell a story.
Happy birthday Mickey Mouse. You're part of my family and it has been an honor being part of yours.