First years in America

An article in the newspaper about the Simsons family’s arrival in the USA, 1951

Like the majority of refugees, the Simsons family left Latvia convinced that their time away would be brief, that „we’d depart, the war would finish and we’d return”. But with the occupation of Latvia dragging on, this hope began to fade away. They had to find a more permanent home somewhere else.

As there were five children in the Simsons family, the possibilities of them getting away were very limited as almost no countries accepted such large families. Finally, in 1951 the Simsons received a guarantee from the Catholic “Relief Organization” for work at a farm in Iowa, in Midwestern America, where they had to work the first year and repay the guarantor the fare for their trip. The living conditions in their new home were much more primitive than in the German refugee camp. Zelma remembers:

We arrived in Maloy at five in the morning, in the dark. We were driven along a muddy track a few hundred metres from the station to the building, a little house where we now had to live. There was no running water, no central heating, with an outside toilet and we had to use firewood to heat the place. One could obtain water from a small pump – a very difficult to use hand pump in the yard – which eventually broke down. Then I had to go to the neighbour’s yard with buckets to carry the water. The hardest thing was washing the clothes, as with seven people there were always quite a lot of clothes. The water had to be heated on the stove in a saucepan and then carried out to the little porch, where there was a kind of little metal tub which we’d borrowed, which could be used for washing. In the hot weather there wasn’t anywhere to store food, since there wasn’t a refrigerator. The hardest thing was to get used to having no comforts at all. In Germany we had gas heating, an oven, and we had running water as well as an inside toilet. Here there was nothing.

At Albīns Simsons’ farm in rural Iowa, USA, 1951

The children went to a small country school. In the high school, all of the four years were in one classroom, with ten students in each class. In the first summer, both of the older children got work with an Irish Gypsy family, which travelled around America painting houses and barns for farmers. Sixteen year old Inta looked after a little child, while fifteen year old Aldis painted the houses with the rest of the team. Aldis:

We slept in the back of the car. The cars in those times were pretty big. When you’re young you don’t give two hoots, it’s no real problem. I learned to understand the language, and you saw and learned how „business” takes place, how they took advantage of the farmers.

The Simsons family by their house 1962

When the year’s contract with the employer was almost over, the family moved to the City of Des Moines, where there were other Latvians who had recently arrived. They gained employment, settled down and actively participated in the development of the Latvian community and its social life. From 1951, Zelma was already teaching at the Des Moines Latvian Saturday School in addition to her paid work, and Albīns was the custodian at the Des Moines Latvian Hall.

All five children gained a higher education and moved to various cities in America, eventually starting their own families, without losing their connection to the Latvian community and its culture.

Alda Simsona kakla birka, iebraucot ASV, 1951.g.

Aldis Simsons' immigration tag for the USA, 1951

Vilciena biļete visai Simsonu ģimenei, iebraucot ASV, 1951.g.

Train ticket for the Simsons family when arriving in the USA, 195