Annamaria Sauer: Immigration in 1958 vs. 2016
Annamaria S. Sauer
I was born in 1943 in Budapest, Hungary during World War II. Due to new U.S. immigration laws I did not inherit my mother’s U.S. citizenship although she was born in Chicago, Ill.
Post-war Hungary was ravaged. Life was hard. I grew up during the darkest, most brutal days of the Soviet socialist oppression led by a Moscow-trained communist regime. All gun ownership became illegal. Private property ceased to exist. People deemed class enemies were deported from their homes, without notice or simply disappeared.
Factories, farms and government was in the hands of inexperienced, incompetent bureaucrats, who were good party members. There were critical housing shortages. Endless lines for the most important food necessities and essentials like toilet paper were the rule. Coal and wood for heating were hard to come by. When available we were limited to one cube of butter, small rations of flour, sugar, and one or two eggs at a time.
In the fall of 1956 there was something in the air. Revolution! On the afternoon of Oct. 23, as our last class was dismissed early, we heard whispers about demonstrations by students in the city. My friends and I decided to join them in the morning.
Night fell and the first gun shots were fired in front of the radio station where the students, by now joined by factory workers and intellectuals demanded air time. People started arriving from the country, bringing food and to join arms with the workers of the city. The revolution had its first victims. In the morning, my best friend and I volunteered at our local hospital for the next few days. We were welcomed to help with the many wounded, young men and women received through the night and following days. The smell of blood while attending these wounded is still a vivid memory.
Warehouses that contained merchandise we had not seen and were unable to purchase for years were broken into and the goods distributed to the general population. These stockpiles were only for the elite, the politicians and upper echelon of the Communist Party.
Heady, dangerous days followed. On Nov. 2, new Russian troops were sent to crush the will of the people. The Premier of the free Hungary, Imre Nagy, along with sympathizing Hungarian military leaders such as Paul Maleter, were executed without a trial.
My 17-year-old brother was advised by my parents to leave before the borders were re-sealed. He left for the USA, secured his American citizenship and realized his dream of becoming an architect. This was a heartbreaking decision for us all. It took my parents and I a year and a half to be able to follow him. We were reunited in Los Angeles, in January of 1958.
My mother was required to sign a promissory note to the U.S. government for $670 (roughly $12,000 in today’s dollars) for repatriation expenses for my father and me. Until that amount was paid back we couldn’t leave U.S. soil.
My brother worked as an architect’s draftsman at $2 an hour while going to night school. My father found employment as a precision mechanic at 69 cents an hour. My mother worked as a seamstress with the same salary. I started high school, baby sat, worked as a cashier at a car wash every weekend and at the Hungarian movie theater. The money I made allowed me to buy my own clothes and provided me with spending money.
My family was and I am forever grateful to the United States for this opportunity. We met our obligations, learned a new language and built a good life for ourselves. My father and I became U.S. citizens in 1966.
Currently, the overtaxed middle class supports millions of legal and illegal immigrants in numerous ways, including subsidized housing, Medicaid, welfare, food stamps. This is excessive, often unmerited and is certainly unsustainable. Why should today’s immigrants learn English when they can get a driver’s license, vote, fill out government forms in their native tongue? Is this multiculturalism? Or are we creating our future uneducated, discontented ghettos of foreigners?
My family worked for and earned our way to the American dream and we were proud of our accomplishment. Nothing was handed to us. How did we manage without all this aid and what stops today’s immigrants from the same?
As an ancient proverb says: Give a man a fish, he will have a good meal; teach a man to fish, he will never go hungry again.
Annamaria S. Sauer lives in Nevada City.
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