Faces of Immigration: Part II

by Attorney Elyssa Williams and Joan Lownds

American immigrants have made incalculable contributions to our society and culture. Here are a few more snapshots of just some of our extraordinary immigrants, and the ways they have strengthened the fabric of our country.

Elie Wiesel

Born in Romania in 1928, Wiesel was imprisoned by the Nazis in the Auschwitz death camp in 1944, where his mother, father and sister were killed, according to his biography at Wikipedia. After subsequently living in a French orphanage, he moved to New York as a writer for an Israeli newspaper. Wiesel went on to become the author of more than 30 books, many of them dealing with the Holocaust, including his classic, “Night.” He became an American citizen in 1963.

Wiesel established the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, whose mission is to advance the cause of human rights and peace throughout the world by creating “a forum for the discussion of urgent ethical and moral issues,” according to its website. The Foundation sponsors international conferences of Nobel laureates at various locations throughout the world. Among his many other initiatives, Wiesel served as chairman for the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust from 1978 to 1986, and helped lead the effort that led to the building of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for speaking out against violence, repression and racism. Wiesel’s other accolades include the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, along with honorary degrees from more than ninety American and European universities.

Dikembe Mutombo

Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1966, Mutombo arrived to the U.S. on an academic scholarship to attend Georgetown University, where he interned for the U.S. Congress and the World Bank, according to his biography at Wikipedia. He also played college basketball, and his exceptional ability was soon apparent. Mutombo entered the pros and became one of the greatest shot blockers and defensive players of all time, winning the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award four times. He was also an eight-time All-Star.

Mutombo is equally well known for his humanitarian work. In 1997, he launched the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve health and education in his native Democratic Republic of Congo. One of the initiatives was to open a $29 million, 300-bed hospital on the outskirts of his hometown, the Congolese capital of Kinshasa —to which he personally donated $3.5 million. Later, his foundation began a project, in coordination with his alma mater, Georgetown University — to offer medical care for visually impaired children from low-income families in the Washington, D.C. area. Mutombo is also a spokesman for the international relief agency, CARE; a longtime supporter of Special Olympics; and is currently a member of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors, as well as a Global Ambassador, among many other charitable works. Mutombo became a U.S. citizen in 2006.

He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by the State University of New York College at Cortland for his humanitarian work, and was elected as one of 20 winners of the President’s Service Awards, the nation’s highest honor for volunteer service, in 1999.

Irving Berlin

Irving Berlin was born Israel Beilin in the Russian village of Tyumen in 1888, according to his biography at Wikipedia. When he was a child, his family fled the persecution of the Jewish community in the region, and settled in New York.

As a teenager, he worked as a singing waiter in the Lower East Side before publishing his first song in 1911. By the time he died in his sleep at the age of 101 on September 22, 1989, the Russian immigrant had written an estimated 1,500 more tunes. These include such standards as “White Christmas,” “God Bless America,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” Always,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Blue Skies,” “Easter Parade,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” He also scored dozens of musicals and films, and was nominated for nine Academy Awards, with seven nods in the song category, winning in 1943 for “White Christmas.”

George Gershwin described Berlin’s songs as “exquisite cameos of perfection, and each one of them is as beautiful as its neighbor. Irving Berlin remains, I think, America’s Schubert. But apart from his genuine talent for song-writing, Irving Berlin has had a greater influence upon American music than any other man.”

Joseph Pulitzer

Pulitzer was born in Hungary, and came to Boston in 1864 at the age of 17, according to his biography at Wikipedia. His passage was paid by Union military recruiters seeking soldiers for the Civil War. He served in the Lincoln Cavalry for eight months. In 1867, Pulitzer became an American citizen.

Later, Pulitzer’s aptitude for newspaper reporting landed him a job with “The Westliche Post,” a German language newspaper. The young reporter also had a strong sense of business acumen, and within a few years, he obtained a controlling interest the paper.

By the age of 25, he was publisher. Not long after, he became owner of both “The St. Louis Post-Dispatch” and “The New York World.” Pulitzer raised the bar for journalistic excellence, exposing corruption and crusading for issues such as the keeping the Statute of Liberty in New York. “The New York World” became the best-selling paper in the country under his watch. A fierce advocate of freedom of the press, he once said, “Our republic and our press will rise and fall together.”

Pulitzer founded the Columbia School of Journalism, which opened in 1912, by a philanthropic fund. The Pulitzer Prizes were established in 1917 by a grant he bestowed to Columbia University to recognize artistic and journalistic achievements. The prizes are given annually to honor achievements in journalism and photography, as well as literature and history, poetry, music and drama, and stand as a permanent testaments to Pulitzer’s legacy.

The purpose of this blog is purely informational. It is not intended as legal advice and should not be viewed as such.

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