Becoming U.S. citizensPhoto by Kelly O'Brien
The reasons immigrants come to the United States today are as diverse as ever: to flee tyranny, to seek economic opportunity, for love—you name it. And so it was for the 75 new Americans who took their citizenship oaths in Willey Hall this past March.
The naturalization ceremony, sponsored by CLA's Immigration History Research Center (IHRC) and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), welcomed people from Denmark and Croatia, Ethiopia and Somalia, Tibet, Colombia, and Canada—in all, people from 25 nations, each with a unique story about coming to the United States.
The IHRC is in the business of keeping those stories. For more than 90 years it has advocated for the importance of listening to what immigrants themselves say about their experiences. In fact, as one of the first institutions established to preserve the personal histories of immigrants, the IHRC is today North America's most prominent center for the study of migration.
AILA used the occasion to make its annual Immigrant of Distinction Awards. One went to Olga Zoltai, who, as a child, fled her native Hungary and the invading Nazis by donkey cart. She and her husband, the late U of M geology professor Tibor Zoltai, eventually settled in Minnesota, where she spent decades helping other refugees settle into life in the Twin Cities. The other award went to Victor Contreras, a native of Mexico who co-founded Centro Campesino, a nonprofit fighting for migrant workers' rights.
Every year, IHRC scholars record the oral histories of the AILA awardees—opening windows onto the journeys of many people and entire communities, inviting us to consider the dreams they bring to their new lives in our midst.
- Kelly O'Brien