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Immigrant Stories

America is a nation of immigrants, and immigration is a theme that animates much of Illinois’s history as well. This project gives voice to many of our recent immigrants, as each new wave adds to the mosaic that is the United States, enriching us and invigorating us in the process

Walter Ade

Walter Ade was a German native who grew up in the Sudetenland during the Second World War. Both his father and older brother served in the German Army (Wehrmacht) during the war, and both were casualties of that war. In 1949 Walter's mother encouraged Walter to emigrate to the United States, but she stayed behind in the hope that her husband might still be alive and held by the Soviets. Walter emigrated to the United States and settled in Springfield. His father was indeed alive and was released by the Soviets in 1955.

Towfig Arjmand

Dr. Towfig Arjmand is a retired anesthesiologist and an Iranian immigrant. He was born in 1929 in Kermanshah, Iran, and studied medicine in Iran until 1956, when he decided to move to the U.S. to further his medical studies on a student's visa. Dr. Arjmand elected to remain in the U.S. after completing his residency at St. John's Hospital (Springfield, IL) in 1961, and became a US citizen in 1968.

Josephine Datz

Josephine (Jo) Datz was born into a Jewish family in Johannesburg, South Africa, and grew up during the nation's harsh Apartheid period. She discusses the nature of that system, and South African history and culture extensively. In 1989 she married Rabbi Michael Datz, who was working in South Africa on a sabbatical at the time. Following their marriage, they lived in Curacao for a short period, then moved to the United States. Rabi Datz accepted a call to Temple B'rith Sholom, a Reformed congregation in Springfield, Illinois. Datz concludes with her thoughts about becoming an American, and about the current situation in Israel.

Maija Devine

Maija Rhee Devine and her twin brother were born into a Korean refugee family in Manchuria in 1943. Her parents could not afford to keep her, so gave her to a friend, who then took Maija to Seoul and gave her to a childless couple. That couple raised Maija as their own daughter, but years later when they had no male children to carry on the Confucian traditions, her father took in a mistress. A year later, the Korea War began, causing the family to flee Seoul. Maija talks at length about the family's complicated relationship with the mistress, about her experiences during the Korean War, and about her marriage in 1970 to Michael Devine, a Peace Corps volunteer working in Korea at the time.

Lea Edelstein

Léa Edelstein was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1929 to Naftula (Nathan)and Golda Davidson, who were Jewish. Léa was the middle child of five daughters, and grew up in a comfortable home in Alexandria during the 1930s and 1940s. The family felt well-accepted as Jews until Israel was recognized as a state by the United Nations in 1948. The family immigrated to the United States in 1949, where Léa found work as a secretary, first in Philadelphia, and later in Chicago. She married WW II veteran SIdney Edelstein in 1952, and the couple made their home in Skokie, Illinois.

Veronica Espina

Veronica Luz Espina was born in Rancagua, Chile in 1970, the daughter of a chemical engineer and a pharmacist. He parents felt the impact of the Pinochet dictatorship from 1973 to 1988. She attended the University of Chile as a journalism major. In 1999, Veronica obtained a Rotary International Scholarship and emigrated to the United States with her daughter, Alemendra. She completed a Master's degree in Community Arts Management at the University of Illinois at Springfield, and later found work at the Illinois Department of Human Services.

Arvid Theodors Hammers

Arvid Hammers was born in Riga, Latvia in 1942 during the German occupation of that country. His family fled Latvia in 1944 as the Soviet Army was approaching, and he spent the next seven years in a series of refugee camps in Germany. The family emigrated to the United States in 1951, settling in the Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Kazimir Ladny

Kazimir Ladny is a Polish WW II veteran. He was captured by the Russians in late 1939, spending the winter in a Siberian POW camp. He was then exchanged with the Germans, and spent the remainder of the war as a slave laborer. Liberated in 1945, he married a German war widow, but struggled to survive, even dabbling in the black market before finally emigrating to America in 1951, selecting Springfield, Illinois as his new home.

Dr. Patrick Lam

Patrick Lam was seven when he fled South Vietnam on a wooden junk with several aunts in 1979. They spent several months on the small Indonesian island of KuKu. A refugee agency then assisted them on their journey as refugees to the United States, first landing in San Francisco before being sent to Port Arthur, Texas, and finally to the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. Over the next few years they followed work and moved to several Chicago suburbs, with Patrick attending a succession of schools. Patrick did well in school and eventually earned a medical degree.

Sonia Lang

Aspasia Sonia Anyfantaki Lang was born in Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete. During the German occupation of Greece from 1940 to 1945, she and her family fled to the countryside to live. She remained in Crete until she was seventeen, when she decided to go to the U.S. as an exchange student. After returning to Crete, she met and married a U.S. Air Force airman and moved to the United States in the 1960s.

Ossie Langfelder

Oswald "Ossie" Langfelder was born in Austria in 1926 to a Lutheran mother and a Jewish father. In 1938, the family fled Nazi persecution, passing through Switzerland on their way to England. By 1940 the family emigrated to the United States, first to Chicago, but finally settling in Springfield, Illinois. Ossie finished high school there, then enlisted in the U.S. Army. His wartime experiences include occupation duty in Japan. He served as the mayor of Springfield from 1987 to 1995.

Jose Lera

Jose Lera was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, and learned a lucrative trade maintaining maritime engines. Shortly after marrying Yeni Maza, the couple immigrated to Florida in 1995. They struggled to learn the language and adapt to the American culture, but due to the help of friends and mentors, Jose eventually opened his own maritime maintenance business in the Florida Keys. Jose and Yeni are now proud citizens of the United States.

Yeni Carolina Lera

Yeni (Maza) Lera grew up in a close-knit family in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, and attended the University of Santiago Marino, majoring in civil engineering. Following her marriage to Jose Lera, the couple immigrated to Miami Florida in 1995. They later moved to the Florida Keys as she continued to improve her English skills and adjust to her life in the United States.

Jose Martinez

Jose was born in Mexico, with six years of school. With few opportunities for work, he came to North Carolina where he soon found work picking tobacco and cucumber, returning regularly from living in Mexico with his family off season. Since 1994 he's worked for Eckert's Orchards in Belleville, IL.

Martin Mauricio

Born in 1971, Martin Mauricio grew up in the state of Michoacan, Mexico, but left Mexico and headed for Texas in 1989. In 1990 he began working for Eckert's Orchards in Belleville, Illinois, trimming peach trees. He returned to Mexico each year for the next several years, spending seven months in the United States, and five in Mexico. He started the citizenship naturalization process in 1999, the same year he began managing the operation's farm labor force. He was also married that year. Martin became a U.S. citizen in 2004, and at the same time opened his own business in Belleville, starting with a grocery story and a Mexican restaurant.

Martha Rose Moser

Rose Moser, born Martha Roswitha Russler in Auerbach, Germany in 1944, was the daughter of a German soldier who never returned from the war. She spent her childhood growing up behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany, but in 1960 she escaped with her mother, step-father and siblings across the border between East and West Berlin. In 1963 she married Donald Moser, an American soldier, and in 1965 the couple came to the United States, settling in St. Louis. She became a U.S. citizen in September, 1970, and later moved to Springfield, Illinois.

Thien Khoc Pham

Pham Thien Khoc served in the South Vietnamese Army from 1967 to the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, then spent a year in a brutal reeducation camp until his health broke and he was unable to work in the camp. He was then released, but was constantly harassed by authorities. In 1978 he decided to change his identity and move the family. Knowing they were constantly at risk, he fled Vietnam in 1989 with his oldest son, and finally made it to a refugee camp in Thailand. In 1996, faced with no good options, he returned to Vietnam with the understanding that American embassy workers would help him leave Vietnam. He and the family were finally able to come to America in 1998.

Marjorie Roth

Margorie Roth was born Marija Strukel in Krasnja, Slovenia, and immigrated with her family to the United States as a small child in 1933. The family eventually made its way to Springfield, Illinois, where Marjorie soon mastered English and adapted to life in American. She began her career as a beautician in 1959, and married Arthur Roth, a military veteran, in 1974. She began playing a button box, a traditional Slovenian instrument, when she received one as a gift on her sixtieth birthday.

Ziyad N. Samara

Ziyad Samara, a Palestinian from the West Bank, grew up in Palestine and Kuwait in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, and met his future wife, Souad, while living in Kuwait. His older brother emigrated to the U.S in 1969 and in 1971 Ziyad’s father borrowed money to take the rest of the family to the U.S., initially settling in Chicago Heights, Illinois. Ziyad attended Prairie State College while working as a busboy and dishwasher. Continuing to work in the restaurant business, he became a restaurant manager in Springfield, Illinois, working at Lum’s Restaurant from 1978 to about 1996. In 1999 he became the owner of Sgt. Pepper’s Café.

Gustav Speder

Gustav Speder is a West German immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1956. He was born in 1941 at a transition camp in Rummelstein, Germany (now part of Poland). Originally from Lithuania, his family was forcibly moved to a transition camp when their home was sold by Germany to the Soviet Union. Gustav's father was drafted into the German Army in 1943 and sent to the Eastern Front, from which he never returned. After the war, his family lived in poverty in East Germany until they were able to escape to West Germany, and later to the U.S.

Kathleen Sullivan

Kathleen (O’Connor) Sullivan was born in 1934 in Trinidad, West Indies, and grew up there until she traveled to Scarsdale, New York in 1950 to work as an au pair for her aunt and uncle. She met Jerry Sullivan in 1951, and the two were married in 1953. From that time on, she viewed herself as a career homemaker, raising six children in a very successful marriage. Kathleen talks extensively about the multicultural and multiracial society that she remembers during her childhood in the island country of Trinidad and Tobago, just north of Venezuela.

Benedict Zemaitis

Benedict Zemaitis was born in Vilkauiskis, Lithuania in 1933. Following the Soviet invasion of Lithuania in 1940, his family fled Lithuania and moved to Wurtzberg, Germany, where they stayed until the town was destroyed by an allied bombing raid in 1945 near the end of the war. Following the raid, his family lived in a Bavarian displaced person's camp until 1949. They immigrated to Chicago the next year, where Benedict married another Lithuanian immigrant, Vita Zubkus, in 1956.

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