Immigration has been a hot topic in the news with the number of Syrian refugees escaping to other countries increasing. What the news doesn’t tell you though is that political refugees are a real issue. People cannot live in environments that harm them morally or physically.
America is supposed to be a melting pot full of different cultures coming together as one. Rejecting refugees into the United States or separating them from their family for years puts this idea of a melting pot to shame. The struggle of refugee acceptance has been an issue for more than 50 years, I know because my family went through the same thing in 1953.
I am a second generation American – meaning that only my mother and myself were born in this country. This is a retelling of the hardships my grandmother, grandfather and aunt went through to better their lives in a country we call a “melting pot.”
Jó napot! Hogy vagy (Good morning, how are you?) A common phrase said within the Racz household every morning, but this particular morning in 1953 was different, for there was one less family member present – Sandor Racz – my grandfather.
At five-years-old, Tilly Racz did not understand why her father was not present at the table, or on the train ride home last night either. She knew something was wrong though because the village members of Rusko Selo gave the family horrible looks the day after Sandor left.
The night before, Sandor, his wife Anna and daughter Tilly went on vacation to the Adriatic Sea. This was odd for the family because they didn’t have enough money to take vacations.
This vacation turned out to be an escape plan between Sandor and a couple others who lived in Rusko Selo. Sandor’s sister Velma, who married an American and moved to the United States some years ago, hired a boatman who would take the escapees in the middle of the night to America.
One might think that if they wanted to leave the country, they could hop on a plane and travel wherever they pleased. But in Hungary, this was not possible.
Hungary, in 1953, was run by the Hungarian People’s Republic which claimed the country as a Soviet Union – or communistic country. As a WWII veteran, Sandor fought against the communists, so when forced to join the communist party, the plan to escape hatched.
In the middle of the night, Sandor and the others escaped by boat on the Adriatic Sea with only the essentials to survive. This boat trip would take weeks and 5,000 miles, but to Sandor, it was all worth it.
As the boat was traveling around Italy, a storm broke out with waves the height of a house and with the force to kill all the men on that boat.
An Italian fishing boat in the area at the time of the storm – fishing in illegal waters -- picked up the escapees on the boat and fled the waters to Italy.
Sandor stayed in Italy for over 2 years, working with the fishermen who saved his life in order to earn enough money to finish his travels to America. At the time of his rescue, the items brought on the dingy were left at sea with the boat. All Sandor had were the clothes on his back.
Italy at the time, was run by the Christian Democracy party, so Sandor was free to come and go from the country as he pleased. In 1956 at 27-years-old, Sandor made it to America.
Sandor stayed with his sister Velma in Michigan when he first arrived. Velma owned a couple of bars in present day Allen Park area, so Sandor worked at the bar with his sister. Working at the bar helped Sandor learn enough English to get a job on the factory line at General Motors, which is where he stayed until retirement.
Sandor’s next task was to get his wife and daughter to America so that they could be a family, but the Communist Party knew he had escaped and as punishment, denied the papers needed to leave the country.
For ten years Hungary denied Tilly and Anna the paperwork and visas needed to leave. The only communication between Sandor and his family were letters that arrived once a month.
Finally, in 1963, the papers appeared on the Racz family doorstep and Tilly and Anna were off to America.
The 10 years of struggle and hardships were worth the wait. The Racz family was a family again and could live as free citizens of the United States.
Escaping a country that controlled the way you think and act can be one of the most difficult things a person endures, but as a second generation American citizen, I could not be more proud of my grandfather for what he did. By risking his life, Sandor was able to make my life better because without him becoming an American citizen, I would not be either. Isten Hozott (Welcome to America).