On board the plane on my flight to New York, I felt like singing, and I honestly laughed when the cute stewardess served me salad, because I had never seen peaches in salad and thought that was so funny!
My heart was bursting with anticipation; I wanted to push the plane to go faster. When we finally arrived in Idlewild, New York, I thanked the Creator with all my heart for the great privilege. I still had to pinch myself to realize that I was not dreaming.
A taxi took me to a Manhattan hotel near the United Nations building. The driver asked me my name as I pointed out the wonders of the city. Just by coincidence, six months later I took the same taxicab. The driver remembered my name and said that my enthusiasm made him realize what a privilege it was to be an American.
I was so excited to be in New York. I started to walk down the streets-I walked and walked for two consecutive days without sleeping. Everything was new and wonderful: the people, the stores, the windows, Radio City, the Rockefeller Center ... I could not believe the amount of magazines and newspapers in some of the stands. I decided to buy the entire bunch and send them to my parents, because I thought that if I told them how many there were, they would have thought that I was exaggerating. I sent the huge package by ship.
Soon I was assigned to my position in the United Nations. They said that they wanted to introduce me to Latin American people, but I said 1 did not want to meet Latin Americans, I want to meet Americans. I did meet Joan Crawford. She looked so old in person but she was extra nice; she gave me a large autographed photo of her glamorous self.
Besides my assignment, I worked for radio programs, transcribing and acting in different episodes, including the one that I had written, "Citizens of the World."
I lived on Second Avenue, just a few blocks from my employment. It was a rooming house, but I thought it was a palace! The landladies, two Swedish sisters, were former maids of dancer-actor Ray Bolger.
I used to have breakfast at a coffee shop opposite my house. Everybody there became very friendly with me, so I felt as though I was with a new family.
One early morning, as I was getting ready to go for breakfast, a very familiar face looked at me. I though she was a relative or something because she looked so familiar. It was Miss Greta Garbo! She crossed the street and went into the same coffee shop that I used to go to, and I followed her like a puppy. When she went inside a phone booth I asked the manager to introduce me to her. He said definitely not-Miss Garbo did not want to be bothered by anyone. My pleas were completely ignored.
When Miss Garbo came out of the booth, I approached her and asked if she was Miss Garbo. She responded affirmatively. I introduced myself, saying, "My name is Ralph Campo and I am from Argentina!"
"Oh how interesting," she said, "I always wanted to go to Argentina!" I invited her to breakfast and she accepted. We talked about everything. She was extremely interested in hearing about Eva Peron, and she stayed with me for more than an hour. At the end of our conversation I said, "May I kiss your hand?" She responded, "Why don't you kiss my cheek instead?" My face turned tomato red. Since I was a little boy, I had admired Miss Garbo; she was the epitome of everything imaginable, and there I was in America, kissing her! As soon as I got home, I wrote an eight-page letter to my mother describing every single little detail about that meeting. It was heaven to me!
A few months later the UN assigned me to Palestine, but I did not want to leave the United States. I was determined to stay here! Go or resign was the ultimatum, so I resigned. I had a diplomatic type passport and visa that only allowed me to stay in the States 30 days longer.
I mentioned my predicament at the coffee shop, and all the customers pitched in to help me, placing an envelope in my hand with $300 and the address of immigration attorney Ira Ehrlich, who would help me get my immigration visa. After a couple of days of instructions, he said that I must visit the American Consulate in New Laredo, Mexico, where I could obtain my proper visa. I got a plane ticket to Dallas, Texas, taking a bus from there to my destination.
After a week of crossing the bridge daily from Laredo, Texas, to Nueva Laredo, Mexico, I finally obtained the consular visa. When I tried to return to the United States, a Mexican official told me that since I had not reported that I was there trying to get my visa, I was in Mexico illegally. He took my wallet and all but $10 of my money, then let me cross the bridge just a few minutes before US Customs closing time at 6:00 p.m.
I ran across the bridge, and as soon as I arrived in the United States I fell on my knees and kissed the soil, thanking God for getting my papers in order and giving me this new, proper chance.
I had to pay $8.50 for the fiscal stamp, so I was left with only $1.50.
I did not want to call my parents at home and alarm them, so I went to a hotel, where I took a bath and prayed for a solution. I had a vivid, divine dream that I must buy a red tube of paint and a small brush. In the morning I went to Woolworth's, where I had coffee and a dough-nut and bought a tube of bright red paint and a paintbrush.
As I left the store, I noticed a large department store with a lot of mannequins, all of which had faded lips due to the strong sun. With my broken English, I insisted on talking to the manager of the store. I took him outside to show him the discolored lips on all the mannequins, and I said to him, "1'll paint them for 10 cents per lip." He said, "OK!" I started to paint lips, lips and more lips ... At the end of the day I had painted more than 300. While I was painting the lips on one mannequin, a man knocked on the glass. When I came out, he said that he was the manager of the store across the street, and he asked me to paint the lips of his mannequins. I told him I charged 20 cents per lip, and he said, "OK!" After a few days, I had painted not only the lips of every mannequin in every store, I had also bought different brushes and many colored paints for eyebrows, cheeks, etc.
I soon had enough money to pay the hotel and my bus fare back to Dallas, where I decided to cash the return plane ticket for a bus ticket in order to see a, little bit more of the United States. As the bus headed north, it got colder, and I was forced to buy a sweater and other clothing to keep warm. It was snowing in New York when I arrived. Like Gene Kelly in "Singing In The Rain," I was practically singing and dancing in the snow. What a sight!
Dr. C. Ralph Campo
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.
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