On Monday, July 11th, 2016, we had lunch at Maggiano’s Little Italy in Beachwood Place, Beachwood, Ohio, with Mr. Hans Leander, whom we met in November 2015 at an event put on by the Cleveland Council on World Affairs. Mr. Leander remembers the exact date that he immigrated to the United States with the intention of staying here, which was March 31, 1981. Remain here he did and in 2000, he became a United States citizen.
Actually Mr. Leander had visited the United States several times before he settled here. The first time was back in 1963, when he was a crew memberof a ship in the Swedish Merchant Marine. At that time, his two-three week voyage took him to Montreal, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Chicago, and back. Actually, he was only in Cleveland for four hours, which he spent shopping in a department store. English was no problem because, as a radio operator, he already spoke it quite well. Nevertheless, he learned the term “smart aleck” on this visit, when a great uncle, who he was visiting in Chicago, uttered it at a person in a car who tried to cut them off.
His next visit was in 1973, when, as a standards engineer, he attended a meeting of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in Washington, DC, wherein the International Systems of Units was adopted as an international standard. He returned twice in 1977, when he visited his then wife-to-be in New York City, who he had met at another standards meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark a few months earlier. They took a summer tour of New England, and according to what he told us, it was a beautiful New England summer with toasty but not too hot weather. He remembered seeing a lot of large sports facilities being constructed in a small village and wondering why this was so. A short time later, he learned that it concerned preparations for the 1980 Winter Olympics, which were to be held at Lake Placid.
After that, he returned to Sweden, taking with him his U.S.-born fiancé, and they were married in 1978. In 1981 he decided that he wanted to move to the United States permanently. His wife was a little taken aback because she had spent so much time learning the Swedish language, which would no longer be of much use.
When we asked him what particularly attracted him to the United States, he said that through movies and the Americans that he had gotten to know, he had formed the opinion that the people in the United States had a very “outgoing” quality about them. By contrast, the people in Sweden were generally quite “reserved.” He, himself, wanted to be more outgoing and by living in the United States, he was hoping that our outgoingness would “rub off” on him.
As we discussed the two countries, Mr. Leander made it clear that people in Sweden love people from the United States, no doubt about it, but that they have reservations about our economic system. Both the United States and Sweden have market economies, but in Sweden there is more of a social safety net. For Mr. Leander, getting acclimated to our economy was the biggest form of “culture shock” that he experienced. He contended that in Sweden, people believe that our government is too influenced by money and should be doing more for the people.
Anyway, Mr. Leander sensed that when he came here in 1981, the move would be permanent and he would not be returning to Sweden except, of course, to visit family and friends. He and his wife settled in New York and, after a few months, he went to work for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), in the standards division. In 1983, there was a company shake-up, so he switched to a job as an editor for a IEEE peer review journal titled “Proceedings of the IEEE“, and became its managing editor, remaining there until 1990.
In 1990, “Proceedings of the IEEE” re-located, but Mr. Leander and his wife chose not to follow it. He sought other work and found some via a translation agency in Brooklyn, which allowed Mr. Leander to work as a free-lance translator at home via a computer, translating documents from English into Swedish. The couple knew that they wanted to move to Florida to be near family and that is what they did. So during the time period from 1990 to 1996, Mr. Leander lived in Boca Raton, Florida (Palm Beach County). He continued to work successfully as a translator, mostly accepting free-lance assignments.
Around 1996, his marriage ended, and he decided to take a trip to Detroit, Michigan to visit a friend. Not only did he see his friend, he also met a very lovely lady who was very successful in her job as the executive director of a secular Jewish organization (CSJO). They married and lived happily in Detroit until 2002, when they decided to move to the Cleveland area to be near her youngest grandchildren.
Mr. Leander continued to work as a free-lance translator until he retired in 2010. Now he spends a lot of his time doing data base work, tending his garden and visiting with friends. He relished the opportunity to meet at Maggiano’s on this day, because he needed a break from the computer.
He was more than open to talking about his early life in Sweden where he was born in 1942 in Harnosand, a small town on the east coast. When he was eight years old, the family moved to Malmo, the third biggest city in Sweden with a population of 175,000 at the time. He says movies were his first exposure to the United States; he just loved to go to kiddie matinees and watch swashbucklers, starring Errol Flynn, and westerns.
We discussed recent changes in Europe and Mr. Leander believes that there is a lot of fear there now due to the influx of refugees from the Middle East. He wisely pointed out that it often takes a generation or so for a family to become acclimated to a new culture, and in the meantime, particularly in the case of the older members, they tend to keep to their own circles and avoid contact with other ethnicities. They are thus separated from the people already living there, and this creates feelings of suspicion and resentment.
Countries like Sweden, which have a history of being very open towards immigrants, are now leaning towards some sort of immigration control because they do not want their electorates to be tempted by the dangerous demagoguery that is clearly on the rise. As far as the United States, we agreed not to discuss personal politics, but Mr. Leander believed that the attractiveness (to some) of Mr. Donald Trump is more complicated than what is taking place in Europe.
To be sure, we discussed future immigration to the United States. Mr. Leander indicated that this subject merited and needed serious discussion before any concrete policies be put in place. He firmly believed, however, that we have a history of being a nation of immigrants and would like to see us continue along these lines.