MATT BREJCHA: U.S. citizenship is not what it used to be

To the editor:

I had the privilege of growing up in Chicago within the largest Czech community in America; a mix of first, second and third generation Czechs and other nationals.

Prior to Ellis Island 1892 and dating back to pre-Civil War, New York’s Castle Garden was America’s first immigrant receiving station.

Immigration was not a free-for-all. To qualify for entry, immigrants had to meet strict entry standards of the Federal Immigration and Nationality Act, which is still on the books.

The following were key elements provided for quality control:

  • Quotas set by the federal government.
  • Medical examinations for all. Anyone with a major threatening disease was sent back to their home country.
  • Immigrants had to be financially self-supporting and provide proof they would not become public burden.
  • Immigrants had to know where they planned to settle and have  a sponsor.

Those who entered were qualified in the skilled trades and crafts, venture entrepreneurship, medical services, educators, public administrators, farmers and laborers. To survive, the community of immigrants pulled together and helped those in need. Government solutions were not available and not needed.

Priority was given to assimilating into the great melting pot of America, speaking and reading English and attending public schools. Physical fitness and community social centers were widespread.

Reading, writing and arithmetic were the core curriculum. What had to be taught was not dictated by the government. The word “God” was not censored. There were no federal financial subsidy programs for school buildings and playground facilities. There was not an intrusive federal Department of Education to dumb down and mess up what was working. Education was locally controlled in a joint partnership with the sovereign state authority.

School classes were taught only in English. School principals and teachers were held in high esteem.

Using Chicago as a temporary residence, farmers spread out and settled in the farmlands of Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, the Dakotas and Nebraska. My uncle, Joseph Prochaska, farmed 50 acres in Rothbury.

To the immigrants, family, church, education, job training and work ethic were paramount. They made sure that their American dream was not wasted, and that the next generation was prepared to continue carrying the torch.

With few exceptions, they all became U.S. citizens and great Americans.

Matt Brejcha
Big Rapids


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