Where are you from?

I am from the Czech Republic.  When we escaped, however, it was Czechoslovakia.

What was your childhood like?

My childhood was fairly normal.  Growing up, I wasn’t ever very concerned with the communism in my country.  I was more worried about if my bike would run properly than anything else.  I participated in a lot of sports as a child.  We didn’t have organized sports, but my dad taught me tennis and gymnastics.

What were your first thoughts about coming to the United States?  Did those change?

In 1968, the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia.  Because we did have close family in America, we feared that our future was in jeopardy and we felt we needed to leave our country.  After a few attempts, we managed to escape.

What were your first thoughts about coming to the United States?  Did those change?

I came to the United States when I was a young boy at only 13.  I thought that coming to the United States would be a huge adventure.  Everyone behind the Iron Curtain kind of worshiped the U.S.  We felt that we had been chosen when we found out we were able to come to the United States.  

I was impressed by the size of things in the U.S.  I came from a small town of 20,000 people.  When I came to the U.S. through New York, I was overwhelmed by all the lights and the sheer size of things.  In my town, we only had one school.  I wondered how I would ever find my place in this country.  However, we eventually adjusted.  We realized that the country had its own problems.  It was not gold-plated, as I had previously thought.  We had to work at things to get ahead.

What challenges did you face transitioning here?

I was fairly young when I came to the U.S. and spoke some English.  Before coming to the States, I had some basic English skills.  However, adjusting to English was still challenging.  My father also struggled with the language.  However, we were both very multicultural.  We probably had an easier time than most immigrants. I firmly believe that English needs to be the sole official language, being able to communicate nationwide is what makes this country great.

What is your occupation?

I spent most of my career as an architect for the city of Cleveland.  I am now retired.

Are you a member of a fraternity, sorority, or any civic, religious or social organizations?

I am the past President of the Cleveland Cultural Garden Federation and am still a member.  I have served on many committees, including the Planning Commission for the city of Avon.  I started the French Creek Foundation and am a member of several ethnic organizations as well.

How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?

In general, Clevelanders have been warm and receptive.  My family worked primarily within the ethnic circles in the early years, but eventually we branched out.  I believe it was important to become engaged with the rest of the city and give back to your community.

What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?

On Christmas Eve we have a fish dinner, which is traditional in the Czech Republic.  We also celebrate St. Nicholas day on December 6.  On that day, we exchange small gifts and stuff stockings.  This is a big tradition in Europe, but is hardly heard of here.

What do you love about Cleveland?

I really enjoy being on the lake.  It is a great opportunity to have the inland sea at your doorstep.  I have learned to sail and greatly enjoy the lake.  I was a skipper for a Sea Scout ship for many years and was a commodore of the Lorain Sailing Club.

Why is it important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

Immigrants and refugees bring skills, knowledge and culture.  There are so many cultures in Cleveland that you can visit and learn about.  You can learn so much about the world while still living in Cleveland by simply talking to those around you.  When you know people individually, you look at news events differently than when you had no connection to them.  It makes the world more personal to you.

Right now, I think there is a negative perception of refugees.  I am a refugee and I think that I did well, not only for myself, but for the city in which I live and where I worked.  I have contributed to the city and enhanced its culture.  People shouldn’t view refugees as a source of potential trouble.  Immigrants built this town, and we should not shy away from that.  We should encourage it.