loren Eric Swanson: Awesome Golden Anniversary

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Awesome Golden Anniversary

Got this from a good friend of mine--Art Walsh. Art taught me how to coach 7-a-side Rugby back in the 80s and we share many things in common. His father grew up across the street from Liz's father in Cortland New York. He was a very good wrestler at Cornell and played rugby until he was 56... so you've got to be impressed. This letter is from a good friend of his--Rodo Sofranac--a Serbian who grew up in DP camps (displaced person) after World War II and came to the US through the Serbian Orthodox Church. It represents what it means to be an immigrant in America and I thougth it should be published somewhere.

Awesome Golden Anniversary

By Rodo Sofranac

“Dodji! Dodji!” (“Come here! Come here!”), my mother yelled, in Serbian first. Then she spurred us in German, “Schnell, schnell, kommt doch hier!” (“Hurry, hurry, come here!”) Between the two languages, I guess she thought we would listen to at least one.
My sister, Maria, and I wanted our legs to move in response to the thrill, but they were still a little shaky. Our stomachs were also still churning from our long, hopscotch airplane ride. Now it came time to turn in our airplane wings for sea legs. We were in this boat, swaying and bobbing on the water in New York harbor. Just what we needed. It was a ferry taking us from the airport to a refugee intake center. Ellis Island, the long-time Gateway to America, had closed eighteen months prior to our arrival, so we were examined and chronicled at another immigration station.
Our family left Munich, Germany at 9:30 a.m., April 4, 1956, and was admitted into the United States around noon on April 5th. I know it was around noon for two reasons. One clue was that just a bit earlier, on the last leg of the flight, I lost the breakfast I worked so hard to get down. The other indicator was that we were given a sack lunch upon arrival. Inside the brown bag were a sandwich and the biggest, reddest apple I ever saw. A few days before leaving Munich we were living in a refugee camp in Salzburg, Austria. I don’t recall having even a little red apple there.
We flew out of Munich on Flying Tiger Airlines. Back then Flying Tiger was primarily a freight carrier—and maybe that’s what we were seen as. It carried us from Munich, to Scotland, to Newfoundland, and finally to New York. Flying Tiger was infamous for some harried flights in the growing air travel industry. Ours was one of them. On top of that, my sister and I were not used to engine-driven motion. We had almost no experience with trains, plains, boats, or automobiles. So, any flight would have been a roller coaster ride to us. The apple would be the first food in some time to stay down.
My sister and I moved across the deck of the ferry as quickly as our stomachs allowed us. We had more enthusiasm than we could muster and more amazement than we could express. But, our timing was just right.
As we came to where my mother and father stood, the bow of the boat began to turn so that we could face and easily see our mighty greeter.
We had seen impressive pictures and heard inspiring stories about America and the Statue of Liberty. But none defined, portrayed, or lived up to the word of awesome like being in her presence.
I don’t remember if the air was filled with fog, mist, rain, or tears; but it paused and then seemed to part like an opening curtain, right on schedule, revealing her highness. Truly awesome!
Our legs steadied and our stomachs settled.
As I looked up at that magnificence, I deeply felt the passion described in the words of a song by John Denver that I learned later in life, “Coming home to a place he’d never been before.” After four years of fleeing from country to country, it was a relief to come home yet dreamlike when it was to a place we’d never been before.
Sure, we had to learn our third language and our fourth culture. Certainly, we would be far away from any family and friends. But we were being welcomed home, as well.
Besides being awed, I was overwhelmed. Given the opportunity, I would not have been able to describe my feelings then. Now I have the opportunity, and it still is difficult for me to articulate them well.
A much better writer than I wrote a most profound and accurate homecoming theme, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Plus, they are “unalienable”.
But my childhood awe created a simpler description. Coming to America felt like being picked up, dusted off, and hugged after a bad fall; someone finally choosing you on their side for a big game; new friends inviting you to play at their house; the doctor looking at you, smiling, and saying “You’re going to be just fine”; a soft, warm bed after a long winter hike; or a small square of very dark, bitter chocolate slowly melting in your mouth.
Today, even more than when my childhood awe and security needs ruled my thoughts, I believe the U.S.A. welcomes people, from all over the world, home to a place they’ve never been before. We do, and we always will. We keep willing to help turn fear into hope. Those offers of opportunity coupled with the acceptance of responsibility are the bonds that nourish the American character.
Having lived in and traveled to various parts of the world, I know why so many people want to call America home. Having my own roots transplanted and helping numerous new arrivals adapt, I also know the transition is not without pain and sacrifice.
This April 5th will be the Golden Anniversary of our awesome homecoming. Fifty years in the U.S. and what a trip!
I want to hold a homecoming parade, or maybe a football game, or maybe a little party. I want to thank my benefactors and share with my friends. I want to reinforce the enthusiasts and remind the unaware. Like they have so many times before, the people I care about will laugh and cry with me. They’ll continue to show unparalleled grace and mercy in opening their minds, arms, and especially their hearts to the kid from Montenegro.
But, I’m going to have to keep the parade, party, and being homecoming king in my head. To those who care, except for my ‘interesting’ name, my integration is fairly complete. To them, I’m just another American.
So, on April 5th, as well as most every other day, I am very satisfied to just sit back and reflect about another day in paradise; looking out at the spacious skies, the purple mountain majesties, and my blessed family. Coming home to a place I’d never been before has given me much more than I ever hoped for.
Don’t get me wrong, I realize the assimilation journey is more like the Flying Tiger flight than a glide on smooth ice. There is plenty of ‘motion sickness’. However, other than sometimes more extreme, that feeling is not reserved to groups of immigrants, or individuals like me. It’s just a matter of degree. All of us have jarring bumps and blind curves on our roads.
Yet, I think every bump and every curve helped confirm my belief in the sonnet, The New Colossus, written by Emma Lazarus and inscribed in bronze at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
I thank God, and I thank the people of the United States of America. Now, even more than when my childhood awe and security needs ruled my thoughts, I believe in the American soul; the spirit that is alive and well and says:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land: Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


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