Tuesday, March 8, 2011

THE IMMIGRANT

I had a special opportunity back in the early eighties when the company hired a Russian immigrant by the name of Larissa to come work for us.  She and her husband were recent graduates of the University at Leningrad and had applied to immigrate to the United States.  I don't know if this had anything to do with the Soviet Union allowing them to immigrate but they were both Jews.

Her job at the company was her first job in engineering in the United States.  She spoke fairly good english although with a heavy accent.  She was easy to understand though and it became clear within a short period of time that the education she had received in the Soviet Union was not up to the education of our engineers who had received their schooling here in the States.

It wasn't long before we began to talk to her about things in Russia and she was asking questions about things in the United States.  We were in a cultural exchange that included many subjects.  Among the subjects she was extremely well versed in was America's role in Vietnam and how we had been beaten to a pulp by the ordinary citizenry of Vietnam.  I took my standard stance that it wasn't so much Vietnam beating us, which they did of course, but it also had a lot to do with the press and the protests of the American people that brought us to retreat from the war.

Her take on World War two was different from ours as well.  According to her the Russians defeated the German army all by themselves.  The American and British troops played a supporting role in the downfall of Hitler.  This was partly true as the Russians had reached Berlin first by making severe sacrifices pushing the German Army back to Berlin but she had no knowledge of D-Day or the battle of the bulge.  She knew there was a skirmish in the Pacific but that the Americans had it pretty easy on that side of the world and we dropped the atomic bomb because we were tiring of fighting the Japanese.  The dropping of the two atomic bombs were a testament as to how evil the American "empire" was in her eyes that they could kill hundreds of thousands of innocents to end a war that they were probably getting bored with.

She did not know of Stalin's death camps and his mass murder of the soviet people and she denied it with a fervor.  The Soviet army was the greatest in the world and any spoils they got from the war was well deserved while the Americans took land that did not belong to them and that they did not deserve.  I brought in some books for her and she read them to her credit.  She read them but then brushed it off as American propaganda against the Soviet Union.

Still she was extremely grateful to be in the United States where her and her husband felt they could have a fair chance at making a life for themselves.  Jobs were extremely scarce in her home country and Jews were not at the top of the ladder for hiring.  She knew that the United States was different in this regard.

We started talking to her about western music.  She had heard of some of the groups but had never actually heard the music.  I began to bring in tapes for her to listen to.  She spent two weeks with my Beatles tapes and said she loved them.  It was good music, the kind she had never heard before.  She didn't understand all of the lyrics but she would ask what a song was about and we would explain it to her.  She spent hours with the Rolling Stones, Three Dog Night, Eric Clapton, the Doors and Santana.  Santana was the group that really got her attention because they were a latin sounding band instead of the usual western pop scene music.  She asked for copies of all the tapes which I gladly made for her but most of the time you could hear her listening to Carlos Santana and his band of bongos and drums and spanish lyrics.

Then came the day we began talking about the space race between the Soviets and the Americans.  She insisted that the Soviets had done so much more than the Americans.  She had heard of the tragic fire aboard Apollo one that took three astronauts lives.  She was very determined that The event was commonplace in the American space program.  We talked about the Gemini program and our walks in space.  She had never heard of such of thing.  We told her about having more than one craft in space and the docking that occurred joining the two space craft together.  Again, according to Larissa no such thing had ever happened.  Then we told her about Apollo Eight orbiting the moon and Apollo eleven landing on the moon.  We told her our Astronauts had walked on the surface of the moon and we had even sent a car up to the moon to drive around in.

When we finished telling these stories she just laughed at us.  This was science fiction.  We were making it all up just to tease her.  There was no way anyone had been to the moon.  She was adamant about this.  She thought our teasing was going just a bit too far.  Yes she admitted that the United States had done things that she wasn't aware of and she acknowledged that it was the soviet government that kept these events from the soviet people.  But to say that we had sent men to the moon and that they had walked on the moon was pushing it just a bit too far.

The next day I brought in my collection of newspapers that I had saved from 1969 that had pictures of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface.  It had the transcripts of all the radio communications during the moon walk.  Pictures were black and white and very fuzzy but you could still tell that those were men and they were on the moon.

Larissa borrowed the papers for two weeks while her and her husband poured over them reading everything there was to read about it.  After two weeks she brought the papers back and although she said that she believed that the Americans had indeed walked on the moon there was still a hint of doubt in her voice.  She could not believe that the Soviet Union could keep such a huge event secret from their people.  We explained to her that we could not believe that the secret had been kept for the last twelve years.  She began asking more and more questions and eventually I do think she came around to believing that the moonwalks were not a hoax.  It really was no different the history taught by northern states as opposed to the history taught by southern states concerning our Civil War here.  Two sides to every story.

The next step with Larissa was helping her to study for her citizenship test.  We all pitched in to help her with it although she knew it all pretty well.  Part of me thinks she was letting us pretend to help to make us feel better about ourselves.  At any rate both her and her husband took the citizenship test and passed with flying colors.

She invited us to come to her swearing in ceremony and all of us jumped at the chance.  It was held in the courthouse in Kansas City, Kansas just a few blocks from our office at that time.  We walked into the room and stood around the walls while the soon to be citizens sat in chairs preparing to change their nationalities.  I looked at all the different faces in that crowd.  All the different nationalities that were represented from all over the world.

The judge gave a very good speech on what this day meant not only to them but to the rest of the country as well.  I saw tears in some of the eyes of those sitting and waiting.  When it came time all of the people in the middle of the room stood up and raised their right hand and took the oath of being a citizen of the United States.. The oath was spoken in unity as an oath to be a citizen should be.  All together they spoke the words"

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."

There were lots of tears in the eyes of not only those who had just spoken those words, but of those of us who had witnessed it.   Larissa was now a full and complete citizen of the United States and she was so very happy.  I was never so proud to be an American and to be able to welcome new Americans to my country then I was on that day.

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