First Steps in a New World

for Toribio Moras, age 14, Vera Cruz, Mexico, 1908

The young Castilian boy set sail, alone,
and sought to build a life across the sea.
Adrift, so far away, you had no throne,
and homeless, you spent nights beneath a tree.

Your loyal sheep, the tawny fields of wheat,
the olden Roman walls, the lonely knoll,
your father’s strength, your mother’s voice so sweet
remained forever deep within your soul.

A thousand roaring waves away from home,
the winter snow gave way to sultry rain;
the ancient countryside, replaced by loam,
exotic fruited trees, and sugar cane.

I know! I wasn’t there for your arrival,
when you stepped off the ship that fateful day
and destitute, you fought for your survival
without a helping hand to guide your way.

I wish I could go back one hundred years,
so I could be the person you first saw
when full of faith, you conquered all your fears
and stepped on that new land of hope, in awe.

Your memories, Grandfather, light my ways:
Your life’s an endless source of inspiration.
The years have passed and gone too are those days,
but I remember you, with adoration.



Rafael Moras, Sr. is a professor of Industrial Engineering at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, TX. He grew up in Córdoba, Mexico. Some of his essays, short stories, and poetry can be found on opusmoras.com. One of his novels was published by Amazon, and his musical plays have been performed in Texas and Mexico.

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20 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Rafael, your poem really hits home to me. My great grandfather was a 12-year-old stowaway on a boat from Norway to America and was also alone in a new world. I have no stories from those days, but I always wondered how he survived starting in New York and then making it to Coal City, Illinois. Your heartfelt poem touches me deeply.

    • Rafael Moras, Sr.

      Thank you, Roy! I wish I had even more details from those days. I know now that I should have asked Grandpa to elaborate on those challenging times so many of our ancestors went through. Regards.

  2. Priscilla King

    Yes, although this weekend is a time when many people aren’t using the Internet, it’s also a time when they remember and celebrate the courage their ancestors brought to these United States. Somewhere (in my mind, at least) my Irish, English, Scotch, German, French, and Cherokee ancestors salute this Castilian.

    • Rafael Moras, Sr.

      Thank you for your kind words, Priscilla. Courage is of the virtues of those very brave people. It is indeed good to remember and celebrate them. Best regards.

  3. Russel Winick

    This lovely poem is a remarkable tribute to your grandfather, who surely would have appreciated it and been proud of you for writing it. Outstanding work! Thanks for sharing it.

    • Rafael Moras

      Thank you, Russell, for your very kind and moving words.

  4. Cheryl Corey

    Your poem made me think, yet again, about my own ancestors: What prompted them to leave Europe and endure the journey here? How did they come to settle where they did? Who did they leave behind? Do I have relatives back there, in the “old country”?

    • Rafael

      Your questions are most appropriate. In our case, my grandfather was trying to escape a life of extreme poverty. He told us that his family knew a friend who had settled in Vera Cruz (Staten Island’s counterpart in Mexico) and could offer him a job. Whether the person actually existed, his name was incorrect, or he had moved away, is something we will never know. The fact is that upon arrival, my grandfather never found this person and was homeless for a few weeks, until a fellow Spaniard gave him a job.

      I also wonder how many of those immigrants who settled here came with a plan—like my grandfather’s rather unsuccessful one—or simply headed towards the New World (the land of opportunity) armed with nothing but courage, determination, faith, and hope. Many of them left and never returned to the “old country,” receiving news about their family only through infrequent letters that took weeks to cross the Atlantic. With limited communication, imperfect information about the Americas, and little education (my grandfather said was fortunate to complete two or three years of grammar school), their experiences are something I frequently reflect upon.

      I think it would be a remarkable adventure for you to find your relatives! Thank you, Cheryl. Best regards.

  5. Rohini

    So beautiful and so emotional. I detected a recurrent sob in the rhythm and that truly moved me.

  6. Margaret Coats

    What a wonderful idea, to go back in time and be the first person your grandfather saw, so that he would not be alone in a new world! You celebrate his faith and hope, you know that he conquered his fears, but how great to have welcomed him as a companion. I also admire the second stanza, where you go farther back in time, to depict the important memories forever in his soul. Your poem does what you wish, for through its well measured verse, you stand as the young Toribio’s companion and introduce him to readers as worthy of their admiration.

    • Rafael Moras

      Many thanks, Margaret, for your comments. Like most of us, I frequently wish I could travel back in time to help someone dear to us as they faced difficulties.

      I grew up at my grandfather’s home (with parents and siblings). I wish I could go back those times, when my grandfather was old, and flood him with questions about his childhood in Spain and his young years in Vera Cruz. But then too, I wish my younger self had the maturity that only time can give us.

      I am sure I am not alone in feeling like this.

  7. Paul Freeman

    A great tribute to what would be a boy these days (14 years old) rather than a young man seeking a new beginning.

    Just like today’s migrants seeking a new start in the US, you wonder at what internal and external motivations send them on what can be a perilous journey.

    My daughter’s working on our family tree and I too wish I’d asked more questions of my parents and grandparents.

    • Rafael Moras

      Thank you, Paul. Many of these immigrants were (and are) indeed boys and girls. How they cope with language, uncertainty, peril, and poverty is mindboggling.

      My wife’s been working on our family tree. We did the Ancestry.com test and now she pays a small fee to have access to very old birth and death certificates. Plenty of surprises (good and bad, all interesting) to be found!

  8. Anna J. Arredondo

    Rafa, very nice! Well-written, and made more poignant by being a personal tribute. I love the picture painted and feelings evoked by the line, “A thousand roaring waves away from home.”

    • Rafa

      Anna, thank you for your encouraging words. It is definitely personal, and I am grateful to you for saying it 🙂 We practically became a family with “two fathers and a mother,” as my parents moved into grandpa’s home and we–the kids–grew up having him around all the time. Regards.

  9. Janie Barnes

    My grandmother often remarked that her grandmother had crossed the Atlantic as a very young teenager in a very big wooden boat. She painted images of a young girl standing on deck, day after day, facing the wind and the sea, looking toward the home she had left behind in Spain. Your very touching poem reflects the hesitancy of leaving behind the familiar and expectations of the future. I see my great-great-greatmother in your lovely poem. It has given character to this lovely woman that I never knew. Thank you.

    • Rafael Moras

      Thank you for sharing. It was my hope that, as I made my verses as personal and as close to my heart as possible, they would pay homage to the ‘Immigrant’, that fearless individual who, faced with indescribable hardships and uncertainty, made the long trip from home to the mythical land on the other side of the wide seas and started a brand new life.
      Again, many thanks for your kind comments.

  10. Adam Sedia

    Reading through the comments, it’s clear why this poem resonates with so many. All of us have stories about how our ancestors braved the transatlantic voyage often alone in their teens, to make a new life in an unfamiliar land. Your poem does a good job of capturing how monumental of an achievement that was, particularly from the viewpoint of the descendants who reaped the benefit of that voyage.

    I also liked your perspective. I think people often forget about how the Latin American countries are similarly built by immigrants. My wife is herself an immigrant from Argentina, and our families share similar stories about our ancestors’ voyages from the Abruzzo region of Italy.

    • Rafael Moras

      Thank you for your kind comments and for sharing your perspective and common experience with your Abruzzi ancestors. A few years back, the port city of Vera Cruz built a monument to the Spanish immigrants. It is quite a statue to take in. It features a gentleman who appears to have gotten off the ship from Spain; he is taking his first steps on Mexican land and walks into the city carrying his scarce belongings in an old suitcase. An inscription at the foot of the statue reads, “In remembrance of the Spaniards who arrived in Mexico through Veracruz. Their hard work has contributed to the greatness of this hospitable nation.” Moving indeed.

      Visiting the old port of Buenos Aires where so many Italian and Spanish arrived back in the day would be a rather interesting adventure.

      Best regards.


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