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European Union and Immigration: High Stakes-What's the Future?; Cleveland Chapter of The Carpatho-Rusyn Society; Fundraising with Ohio State Rep. Nickie Antonio

On Sunday, March 6th, we went to the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland on Shaker Blvd. in Shaker Heights to watch Ms. Margaret W. Wong take part in a panel titled "European Union and Immigration: High Stakes-What's the Future?" where the other two panelists were Professor Steven Hook, Political Science, at KSU and Professor David Goldberg, Labor and Immigration History, at CSU.

Dr. Goldberg talked about the "uneven history" of the United States about accepting new immigrants but noted that we still think of ourselves as an "immigrant nation." He then shifted to Europe and explained that the European Union is very vulnerable now due to the economic crisis in Greece and the threat of Great Britain to secede which makes the accepting of refugees all the more difficult and he believed that only Ms. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany is showing any leadership on this issue.

At the root of all this is that European countries don't have the "flexible sense of nationalism" that we IMG_8638have in the United States via the melting pot. Contrast this to European where an Ethiopian family could be living there for several generations and still be considered to be outsiders especially in Italy and France.

What's more the European Union was founded by elites who have operated not-too-close to the average person and the European Union has never been successful in establishing a "European identity" even though it has accomplished some wonderful things like easier travel between countries which is now being threatened.

(We can add to all this to the fact that the post World War I agreements that created the Middle East as we know it seem to be starting to unravel.)

Dr. Hook took this farther by talking about the "nationalism and anxiety" that is clearly evident in the United States and Europe at this time. This feeling has been recently heightened in the United States by the San Bernardino shooting incident (in which the perpetrator was a foreign-born person) and the political rhetoric by such people as Mr. Donald Trump which is detrimental to our image abroad.

IMG_8641Ms. Wong started off by saying that she believes that, despite its problems, the United States is still the best country in the world. As for its somewhat negative image at this time, she noted that while people like to put us down they still would like to immigrate here. She went on to talk about how much the immigration process has changed since she first came here herself from Hong Kong in 1969. As for "nationalism and anxiety" she credited the media with helping create a negative perception of immigrants of certain ethnic groups. Thankfully, she also reassured us that we don't have to worry about Syrian refugees, despite the hype, because of the extensive screening process. She employed the example of the amount of money that young international students often spend when they come to the United States to study to show what a benefit immigrants can be to our economy.

Dr. Goldberg added that one of the big problems facing the European countries is that their social services are now being pressed to the maximum to provide adequate services for everyone due to the IMG_8642now abundance of refugees. He didn't see how they could afford to help so many people unless a two-tier system of benefits was established.

Dr. Hook believed that through that was a silver lining to the very dark cloud facing Europe which was that the refugees and migrants who have traveled to Europe from the Middle East now will ultimately have the opportunity to live in a democratic society instead of a dictatorship. He went on to say that he believed that most of them will ultimately prove to be "incredible workers" and very productive citizens.

Next we went to the Parma-Snow Library on Snow Road to hear our friend Ms. Laurel Tombazzi address the Cleveland Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society.

Ms. Tombazzi is the President of the Eastern European Congress of Ohio (EECOH) and on this day she used a slide show to explain her organization to us.

IMG_8661All told, the EECOH "culturally unites the people of Ohio whose ancestry and heritage are from Eastern Europe. It fosters discussions and events through bipartisanship to advance Ohio's Eastern European awareness, economic development and education."

Ms. Tombazzi talked about how disappointed she was when, after the Ukraine crisis had been going on for months, she visited a school where a teacher didn't know exactly where Ukraine was. It is this lack of knowledge and cultural insensitivity that the EECOH seeks to address.

Ms. Tombazzi talked about how she used 2010 census data to determine that people who are at least partially of Eastern European descent compose approximately 10% of the Ohio populace. Therefore, the EECOH seeks to have "meaningful dialogue with government leaders to discuss our agenda as other groups in Ohio" because it believes that "by unifying Eastern Europeans the EECOH can retain its population base, attract people to live in Ohio and expand its valuable resources within each Ohioan."

Ms. Tombazzi was very proud when in April of 2015; due to painstaking research, hard work, and lobbying; legislation was passed and signed into law in Ohio designating April of each year to be "Eastern European History Month" and the citizenry was called upon "to observe this month with appropriate educational opportunities, ceremonies and activities."

Ohio is the first state to have an European History Month and, as Ohioans, we should all be happy to be a part of this. Therefore, on April 5th a celebration will be held at the Polish Cultural Center on Lansing Avenue in Cleveland featuring, as guest speaker, the Hon. Jurcek Zmauc, the former Slovenian Consul General/Cleveland, Ohio. To be sure, Margaret W. Wong and Associates will be represented there.

The importance of all of this was best reflected by a slide that Ms. Tombazzi showed as part of her presentation. It read that:

"As the world continues to globalize, there is an immense benefit for Ohioans to become more knowledgeable about Eastern Europeans. Without understanding the long rooted ancestry of these people's developmental growth, cultural awareness, and education has limited growth. With Ohioans coming from diverse families, one cannot assume that all would appreciate the rich culture and values that stems from Eastern Europeans. Cultural education is key to expanding growth, while obtaining a full grasp of Eastern European history and people. As Ohioan's proper knowledge of the Eastern European cultures becomes an enormous benefit, which helps in establish cultural connections. At any point in time, when you offer people respect of someone's heritage it enriches their dignity and you re-energize them."

Our last event for Sunday was a fundraiser for our very good friend, Ohio State Rep. Nickie Antonio who IMG_8723is now the Assistant Minority Whip. Appropriately appearing with Rep. Antonio were other Ohio State Reps Fred Strahorn and Nick Celebrezze, who are also minority leaders in the Ohio House.

Speaking of a "house" this fundraiser was held at the lovely Lakewood home of Ms. Nadine Hopwood Feighan which overlooked Lake Erie.

Among the other prominent people who turned out to support Rep. Antonio were Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and his wife, Ms. Amy Budish; former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland; former Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and his wife, Ms. Peggy Zone Fisher; formerIMG_8724 U.S. Congressman Ed Feighan; Cuyahoga County Councilman DaleMiller; Ohio State Senators Kenny Yuko and Mike Skindell; former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagen; former Ohio State Rep. Mike Foley; Lakewood City Councilpersons Cindy Marx and Dan O'Malley; and Ms. Sandra Kurt, Clerk of Courts for Summit County.

And, of course, there was the guest speaker who was former U.S. Congressperson Barney Frank who represented Massachusetts' 4th Congressional District from 1981 to 2013 during which time he established a reputation as being a champion for workers and the disadvantaged and a very effective one at that because, among his accomplishments was the co-authorship of the Dodd-Frank Act which was a IMG_8719sweeping overhaul of the financial industry.

Ohio State Rep. Antonio told us about how she had met Congressperson Frank when she first ran for Lakewood City Council back in 2005. One of the terms that she used to describe him was "lionhearted"and she said that he was one of her role models.

Congressman Frank gave a short talk about the hazards of economic inequality and predicted a big win for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in November particularly if Mr. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee although he believed that she could also easily beat U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.

We asked him about immigration reform and he told us that he had always voted for it. He went on to say that he in order for it to be approved and signed into law, the United States would have to elect a democratic President in 2016 as well as take back the U.S. Senate plus make some gains in the U.S. House of Representatives.

We told him that we believed the former Secretary of State should directly challenge Mr. Trump on some of his ideas like building a fence along the U.S./Mexican border and not allowing Muslim refugees into the United States at this time. Congressperson Frank agreed with us and predicted that Ms. Clinton will successfully do so.

Before we left, we had a conversation with Mr. Bob Sweeney, an old friend of Ms. Margaret W. Wong. He told us that he often tells Ms. Wong's story when he is confronted with the question, "how can I make it in law?"

    Written by: Michael Patterson  Community Liaison, Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC.