The new American citizen Ludek Pala voting for the first time in the Michigan Presidential Primary at Vergennes Township Precinct 1. Pala was naturalized as an American citizen in 2018 at the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids.
More than 70 immigrants naturalized at Gerald R. Ford Museum
“Write the next great chapter in the history of this country.”
Hon. Ray Kent, US Magistrate Judge
By Emma Palova
EW Emma’s Writings
Grand Rapids, MI – On a beautiful chilly October morning people lined up in front of the Gerald R. Ford Museum on the banks of the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids.
But, most of them weren’t there to see the newest “In Step with Betty Ford, 100 Years” exhibit.
The future American citizens waiting for the naturalization ceremony came from all parts of the world from Burma, Bahrain, Singapore to Canada and everything in between.
After registering and relinquishing their green cards, they took seats along with their guests and filled the auditorium. The tension of excitement was hanging in the air. The Color Guard practiced their routine to the clicking of their shiny black shoes marching around the auditorium.
Dressed up to the nines, the East Oakview 4th Grade Choristers sang “The Star-Spangled Banner. Then, the Magistrate Judge Hon. Ray Kent entered with other officials and stepped up on the sun lit stage.
“I do these ceremonies three to four times a year, and it is my favorite job,” Kent said. “This is my first time doing two ceremonies back to back.”
It was also the second day that the number of naturalized citizens from Burma beat Mexico.
“There must be upsets by Burma. Go Burma, the judge joked. “We have 73 candidates from 31 countries.”
As the judge named the countries, the candidates stood up. When Kent said Czech Republic, Ludek Pala of Lowell stood up. They took the oath for new citizens and all recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
Seventy-three people equaled 73 stories reflected in their languages, color of their skin and attire.
“You are America,” said Kent. “Ninety-nine percent of Americans are immigrants or descendants of immigrants.”
Among other famous naturalized Americans, Kent mentioned Henry Kissinger, the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who was born in Germany.
Kent also spoke about Albert Einstein as the smartest man who ever walked the earth and emigrated to the USA.
“You made the same decision like Einstein, you must be smart like him,” he said.
The numbers of naturalized Americans who made their imprint in science, technology and business were stunning. Among them are the owners of Google, AT&T and Yahoo.
The increase in population over the last 15 years can be attributed to naturalized Americans, according to Kent.
One out of four scientists are an immigrant, 31,000 have their own businesses, 76 percent of patents issued resulted from immigrants.
“You make America great,” Kent said. “We want you here.”
Kent spoke about a human chain formed by 80 strangers who saved Noah and Stephen from a rip current off the beach in Panama City.
“In that moment of need, they worked together to save other lives in the spirit of America,” he said. But, not everything is good.”
Kent also mentioned hatred in connection with the Charlottesville riots in Virginia in 1917.
“Do not hate, life is too short for that,” he said. “As Americans we’re all in this together, and when your turn comes to save Noah, join those hands. Each one of you has traveled your own road. You have different backgrounds. Hold onto your traditions.”
Kent encouraged the new citizens to practice their citizenship.
“Exercise those freedoms, they come with responsibilities,” he said. “You have the power to change this country. You exercise that power by going into that voting booth.
“If you see something wrong, say something.”
Since it was too late to register for the upcoming Nov.6 election, Pala plans on voting in future elections.
Each new citizen received a certificate of citizenship and a flag. There also was a photo opportunity with Kent, who joked that he will forego the $20 fee.
The ceremonies closed with “God Bless America” by the Choristers.
The judge’s last words to the new American citizens kept ringing in my ears:
“Write the next great chapter in the history of this country.”
In an era of detention of illegal immigrants and conversion of correctional facilities into detention facilities, the importance of citizenship cannot be understated.
Copyright ©2018 Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.
Happy Independence Day
Watch for more immigration stories, participate in survey about what makes America great
By Emma Palova
Lowell, MI- In the beginning, leaving your homeland is like leaving a part of you behind; not to mention friends and family.
Owners of Arctic Heating & Cooling Catharine “Kitty” and Evert Bek left the Netherlands in 1977 to pursue their dream in the USA. However, their parents Anna and Gerard Sr. Schuivens left first for Grand Rapids and ended up in Lowell.
Catharina and Evert visited them in 1976 and fell in love with the USA.
“When we came to visit, we loved the openness, the opportunities of having your own business, the freedom and the acreage,” said Catharina.
The Beks lived close to Rotterdam, a big harbor city, in the Netherlands. Much like the rest of Europe, everything was crowded, tight and overpopulated.
For the first two years, the Beks lived in Kentwood and in Wyoming.
“We wanted some property and found five acres on 36th Street,” Catharina said. “We moved to a different house in Lowell in 1997.”
One of the biggest challenges of immigration is learning the language. Any immigrant can attest to that including Catharina.
At the time, Lowell Middle School was offering English classes.
“I also learned English from shopping and TV,” she said. “Evert had no problems; he learned English at work. He has always worked in the heating and cooling industry.”
Another challenge was finding a job.
Pictured above are Dutch treats: Dutch Rusks, oliebollen fritters. The wooden shoes are now used as decorations.
“I worked in an office since 16,” she said, “and I went to trade school.”
Here, she worked for an insurance company in Grand Rapids.
But, it was friends who got them through the first tough years.
“It’s hard to leave your friends, but we still have friends in the Netherlands,” Catharina said.
It took three to four years to adjust to the new life in America.
“Friends helped us settle best of all,” she said. “This is home for me now.”
Catharina said she managed to combine the good parts from the old country with the good parts from the new world.
However, everything became easier when daughter Kim was born in 1983 at the Metropolitan Hospital in Grand Rapids. Kim went through the entire Lowell Area Schools system.
“I met new people at the school,” Catharina said.
And then finally, the couple’s dream came true when they started their own business, Arctic Heating & Cooling in 1983 in Lowell.
Pictured above: licorice, Dutch pancakes and St. Nick.
Catharina works at the business as a bookkeeper.
“Having our own business and owning a home, was one of our many dreams,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder how we would end up if we hadn’t left the Netherlands.”
There are no regrets about immigration for either Catharina or Evert.
“I wouldn’t go back,” she said. “Evert feels the same way. “I love it here. We met good people and made great friends.”
They speak Dutch at home including their American-born daughter and grandson.
As far as traditions go, the Beks celebrate St. Nick on Dec. 5th.
Kitty cooks Dutch dishes like meat, potatoes and vegetables, pea soup and Dutch pancakes.
She goes shopping for spices for meatballs to VanderVeen’s Dutch store on 28th street.
“You have to have windmill cookies with coffee or tea,” she said.
A typical Dutch tradition for breakfast is a slice of white bread with chocolate sprinkles.
Other Dutch specialties include Gouda cheese, a Dutch Rusk with pink or blue sprinkles when a baby is born.
“Dutch people love licorice in all shapes and forms,” Catharina said.
On New Year’s Eve, she makes oliebollen. They are fat balls or fritters, deep fried with raisins and served with powdered sugar. A typical beer is Heineken and egg nog liquor Advocaat.
They became naturalized after five years.
On the theme of the recent immigration crisis, Catharina said she doesn’t agree with separation of families.
“I don’t agree with mothers being separated from kids,” she said.
Over the years, the Beks have built up their business with repeat customers.
“We’ve been lucky,” she said. “I feel that I do fit in and that I am a part of Lowell.”
Catharina also works part-time at the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce.
Both Catharina and Evert are known for their community involvement.
Copyright (c) 2018. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.
Mom Ella turns 80 in a Visceral celebration
Big Rapids, MI – Today, my mother Ella Konecny turns 80 in Big Rapids, MI. Together with my father Vaclav, they’ve been living in this small university town, home to Ferris State University, for more than three decades.
Their friends at the Saturday’s birthday party for mom have known both for that long.
“Your parents are great people,” I heard over and over again.
Mom was born Drabkova in former communist Czechoslovakia on Aug. 23, 1937 in Zlin to Anna and Joseph Drabek.
My mother has inspired the memoir Greenwich Meridian, where East meets west about the family immigration saga. She was the one who didn’t want to leave the communist country after the Soviet invasion on the night of August 20-21 in 1968.
Their journey from the Moravian hilly villages of Vizovice and Stipa to Big Rapids in Michigan was tumultuous with many twists and turns.
Some of the milestones included the 1973 return to hardline Czechoslovakia from Texas, and then the escape back into the New World for my dad in 1976. Mom joined him in 1980.
Dad landed the math professor job at the Ferris State University, and that finally anchored them permanently in their new home.
To this day, mom says she loved her bio lab technician job also at the university. The warm friendly welcome atmosphere proved that at the birthday party.
Their true story has also inspired my fiction in the new Shifting Sands Short Stories book. “The Temptation of Martin Duggan” was inspired by some bits and pieces from the early years of immigration.
I wrote that story shortly after my immigration to the USA in 1989. When I compare some of the elements of the short story to the memoir, I consider them Visceral in character, coming from a gut feeling.
The main character in the story is professor Martin Duggan obsessed with his own quest for perfection.
May you both enjoy many more years of love, good health and optimism. Thank you for all your love and support.
Copyright (c) 2017. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.
Storyteller 2017 journey from writer journalist to author
By Emma Palova
In the Storyteller 2017 series leading up to the June 30 publication of Shifting Sands Short Stories, I write about the origins of the characters and the stories.
I’ve named my campaign Storyteller 2017 because of the big changes taking place this year. These changes continue to inspire me, along with my passion for history, arts and nature.
I can divide the 13 stories in the book into three circles: The first circle draws on my early years of immigration to North America, and living in between Canada and the USA.
These stories in the first circle include: Danillo, Honey Azrael and the Temptation of Martin Duggan.
The second circle of stories is from the time of assimilation into the American culture. These stories draw on my experience of working in a Midwest retail store. They include: Tonight on Main, Therese’s Mind, Boxcutter Amy, Orange Nights and the Death Song.
The third circle of stories is from the newspaper business for various media; on staff and freelance. These stories include: Foxy, In the Shadows, Iron Horse, Riddleyville Clowns and Chatamal.
The characters in the first immigration circle of stories Danillo in the story “Danillo”, Vanessa in “Honey Azrael” and Martin with Ellen in the “Temptation of Martin Duggan” embody impermanence as they struggle under the burden of immigration.
They find themselves in a transient state between their old countries and the new American world. They have trouble adapting to the new culture in everything that surrounds them: food, people, spices and love.
In that aspect, the characters are living in a state of impermanence, and as such are transient for the rest of their lives like driftwood on the beach.
Also the featured photo of transient dew on grass in the morning.
They adapt or go back to the old status quo in their homeland. Either way this struggle transforms the transient characters into a new state.
Excerpts from “Danillo”:
He had trouble adapting not only to the winters Up North, an expression Danillo never quite understood, but also to the language. And of course loneliness. He had no friends, except for old Jose on the apple farm.
His family was thousands of miles away. His only connection with the warmth of home was the phone, the letters and memories of the past; the rising and the setting sun on the horizon of the small bay.
Danillo was living between the sunny past and the cold present. Back home by the Sierra Madre, he used to drive to the warm waters of the bay, but here Up North, the waters were cold.
Another cold wave came and washed more sand from under his feet.
About the design of the cover to Shifting Sands Short Stories by Emma Palova:
People have also been asking me about the cover design to the Shifting Sands Short Stories collection.
I used the hour-glass with the shifting sand as an anchor to the cover. The grains of sands make up the characters like the genetic make-up of our DNA. This was inspired by Dali’s fascination with genetic spirals. The grains shift like the destinies of the characters, like the fluid energy of our lives.
Further the mood/tone of the stories is expressed in the shade of the hour-glass and the fallen mauve colored petals of a tulip at the base.
Watch for more excerpts from Shifting Sands Short Stories now available for pre-order on Amazon
Copyright (c) 2017. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.
Turning back time to life in Canada
By Emma Palova
Note: This is the second part of a story series, “If I could turn back time” based on a prompt by the WordPress Daily Post that spurred my imagination.
The first story posted at https://emmapalova.com/2016/01/17/my-story-if-i-could-turn-back-time-2/ delved into an action packed time in my life spent on the ranch in Vizovice, Czech Republic with my grandparents.
As I start my second story, I look back at a transition time in the early 1990s as the family adjusted to life in North America. This time in Canada. It surprises me that I would like to turn back time to a difficult period in a foreign cold country, where initially I didn’t know anyone, I had no relatives there or any other bonds. I didn’t speak the language and I barely knew how to drive.
A lot of this theme “If I could turn back time” is reflected in my memoir about the three generation family immigration saga, “Greenwich Meridian.” ©
Montreal, CAN After immigrating first to the USA in 1989, our family ended up in Montreal the following year. I wanted to join my husband Ludek who got visa to Canada.
It was a long haul, both physically and mentally. The 10-hour drive on 401 through Toronto gave me a lot of time to think.
I haven’t had time to get used to the rural life in US and I was changing the path that would take me to a fully bilingual cosmopolitan city.
At first we lived in a one-bedroom apartment in LaSalle close to the Saint Lawrence River. My husband Ludek and I slept in the living room which was also the dining room separated by a bar top from the kitchen. We had an old green Chevy that my dad Vaclav gave us.
After living with my parents for six months in Big Rapids, MI I was happy I had my kitchen. I didn’t mind the smells coming from the kitchen. I love to cook. I remember the weekly trips to the grocery store. We examined each item twice before it got thrown into the cart. We retrieved some of them later in the next aisle and put them back on the shelf.
And it was chicken and chicken again; once roasted, at other times fried, curried or on paprika with sauce and dumplings. Ludek’s friends from Slovakia did the same.
“I’ve had enough of your chicken,” yelled Willi at his brother Joe. “Can’t you cook something else?”
“I could but it’s expensive,” said Joe puffing on his cigarette while he stirred the chicken on paprika.
We made many friends in Montreal. The province of Quebec welcomed immigrants from all over the world.
Days went by fast. I went to COFI, the French Immersion School sponsored by the Quebec government full-time. It was a six month-long intensive course with six hours of French daily. We didn’t have to pay a dime to learn a foreign language. On the other hand, we got paid to go to the French school.
It was a very social and productive time in life. I met Judith from Slovakia and Emil from Rumania, people from Bulgaria, Africa, Japanese and Russians as well as people from all walks of life.
We nurtured our immigrations dreams together side by side sitting in desks with doctors, surgeons, poets, writers, musicians, healers, programmers, factory workers, teachers and stay-at-home moms.
It was at this course that I learnt how to teach languages immersion style.
We were not allowed to speak any other language than French, which was for the better of it, because we wouldn’t be able to understand each other.
We had to act out little scenes from life. I remember I did not want to act in the doctor’s office scene, because I am afraid of doctors and the Rumanian guy Emil liked me way too much.
Ludek worked at a Czech chemical company called Anachemia. Actually, most Czech and Slovak immigrants worked there. I worked in their branch for a while packing medical supplies. This is where I met Liba from the same Walachia region that I came from in Czechoslovakia. We would have probably never met in our homeland and out of all the places in the world, we ran into each other at a factory in Montreal.
We had no mortgage, so we could go skiing in the Laurentian Mountains or drive to Toronto to see a lifelong acquaintance from Technical University of Brno, Dana Pastorcakova who was also from Walachia.
Only, now 20 years later I realize, that it was an advantage not to have a mortgage, because it is what it means.
“Mortgage is a death pledge,” said real estate instructor and broker for Westdale.
Times would prove him right during the mortgage/economic crisis in the mid to late 2000s. My artist friends lost their home on Long Lake.
We moved to a bigger apartment also in LaSalle close to an island in the St. Lawrence River.
“You’re living here like on a vacation,” said Liba during a visit.
“I can’t live and write any other way,” I said.
To be continued……
Copyright © 2016 Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.
Author dedicates book to mother
I embarked on this journey through my memories called “Greenwich Meridian where East meets West” on December 12, 2012 after being asked by many colleagues, friends and acquaintances to write our story.
I have attempted several times to pen our immigration saga now spanning three generations. I saved evidence of such attempts like the personal essay, “Fire on Water.” I used the same title for my novel based on the communist experience from former Czechoslovakia. Some trace elements of the story can be found in a newspaper article about my naturalization as a U.S. citizen in 1999, “Lowell woman gets naturalized.” It was syndicated by the Associated Press and well received by the audience. I got phone calls from all over Michigan.
Finally, I decided to pursue my lifelong dream of writing for the pleasure of others. Until recently I have been writing mostly for information capturing tragedies, disasters, events, politics and corrupt police chiefs or superintendents. However, my forte are human interest stories often about ordinary people doing unusual things either by their own will or against it. The memoir is a true work of creative non-fiction in which I combine real life exotic settings like Africa with real life people, who are either put in a bizarre situation or get into one by their own doings.
Today, on this Mothers Day, I dedicate the book to my mother Ella Konecny who suffered the most in immigration because as Mr. Jan Skvor said at a Czechoslovak Conference for Arts and Science in Emigration in Horgen, Switzerland, 1970.
“Immigration is not for missies.”
For me immigration has been one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in my entire life. And that includes studying calculus, seeing my grandparents through their illness to the end and living by myself with two young children, so I could leave the country to join my husband. And now by writing about it, I am reliving it. But, I want to preserve some of the events, and to a certain point even history.
I have no regrets. America has helped me realize my dream of writing. I would do it all over again. I have a Daruma doll used by Japanese businessmen for motivation and to stay on task. One of my former editors gave it to me when I was facing a tough project. When things are not going your way, you just knock it down. A little steel ball at the bottom makes it bounce back. You also color only one eye, and once the project is complete you color the other eye. So, Daruma has been watching me pounding away on my keyboard at early morning hours chapter after chapter.
“Life went by so fast,” said mom when we talked about immigration in Venice, Florida and at the Selby Gardens.
I completed a 50-page book proposal for Greenwich Meridian to an agent yesterday May 9th , on my birthday. This article contains some excerpts from the overview of the project.
Copyright © 2013 story and photo by Emma Palova
All my parents Ella and Vaclav ever wanted was to have enough money to buy a small car, so they could drive from Brno to visit with my grandparents in former socialist Czechoslovakia. At the time, with their rookie wages fresh out of school, that was a utopia. So my dad, a physicist, took an advantage of a teaching opportunity in Africa in 1964. The plan was just to make money for that coveted small car, and to add to some savings for an apartment, in a country with chronic shortage of housing.
“I was ready for the opportunity,” Vaclav said. “The politics were beginning to loosen up.”
Dad already spoke fluent English, and he had a deep desire to expand his knowledge of mathematics.
And the opportunity in Africa turned into the best years of their lives. That is until Prague Spring came along with Soviet invasion in 1968, and put a hamper on many people’s dreams of freedom.
Following is an excerpt from an interview with my parents in Venice, Florida on March 5th, 2013. It tracks the beginnings of the immigration.
Emma: Why did you decide to leave Czechoslovakia?
Dad: Because of the Soviet occupation. There was a legitimate fear that the country would be annexed to the Soviet Union.
Mom: My friends were leaving the country crossing the border on foot with just a suitcase in their hands.
Emma: How did you find out about the Soviet occupation?
Dad: From radio BBC and from colleagues at school.
Mom: I was back home in Carlsbad on a spa treatment. I went to the colonnade and people were crying. They were listening to the radio, and there were big demonstrations. People were knocking down statues. There was no telephone connection. I had to spend extra three days because the roads were closed. Then I took a detour bus through Shumava to Brno.
Emma: What was you reaction to the Soviet occupation?
Dad: We were discussing it with colleagues in Africa. Many of them talked about immigrating to Canada.
Mom: I did not want to leave my parents, my country.
Emma: How did the transition to Canada come about?
Dad: In 1970, a colleague helped me land a post-doctorate fellowship at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
Mom: We flew out of Vienna to Montreal and then to Saskatoon. We had tourist visa. But our exit visa were only valid until the end of the year.
Emma: What happened after that?
Dad: I worked on research for the university. I applied for several jobs in Toronto, but it just didn’t work out. So, I found an ad for a teaching job in Texas, and had a telephone interview. I sent out 20 applications.
Mom: You went to school, and we all took tutoring in English.
Emma: How did we end up in Hawkins, Texas?
Dad: Well I took the first offer, which was from Jarvis Christian College in Texas.
Mom: I had no choice but to go with your dad. We got a letter from Czech officials that we have to return by March 31. Your dad did not want to go back. I threatened that I would return home. For two years I lived in limbo.
Emma: What was the biggest surprise when you arrived in Texas?
Mom: We had no idea that a college could be in a small town. It was a shock, that I will never forget. Hawkins had population of 800.
Emma: What were the repercussions for the immigration?
Mom: We were tried in absencio in Brno. Your dad received a two-year sentence. I received a year and a half for illegally leaving. Grandma went to the trial.
Emma: What were your reactions to the sentencing?
Dad: That I would never go back to Czechoslovakia.
Mom: I cried and cried. I wasn’t a criminal. I always wanted to go back home.
Emma: If it wasn’t for the Soviet occupation, would you have left the country?
Dad: Probably not. I would have gone to another university to gain more expertise, and to make some money.
Emma: Now, forty years later; do you have any regrets?
Dad: No. I have achieved my professional goals.
Mom: Living in a foreign country is not easy. But, USA was the best choice for immigration.
Emma: How has the immigration changed you as a person?
Dad: I have gained great expertise.
Mom: I got used to living here. But I feel like I was hurled out of the Czech society. I feel split between the two countries.
Emma: Is there camaraderie among fellow countrymen in immigration?
Mom: Any solidarity between Czechs, whether in immigration or at home, disintegrated with the fall of communism.
Emma: What do you miss the most?
Dad: Nothing now. My parents and friends have passed, and the entire country has changed.
Mom: I feel guilty not being able to help my own parents. I shed a lot of tears. In life, you always trade something for something. It all turned out for the better.
Emma: What kind of character attributes do you need to “make it” in immigration?
Dad: You have to pursue things. Be humble, go with the flow, and learn from others.
Mom: You have to fit in the best way you can. We were taught to obey, and to listen.
Thank you, mom and dad.
This story is one of three installments about the interview with my parents for memoir “Greenwich Meridian where East meets West.” Previous installments were published on March 10 and March 13.
Copyright (c) 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova