November 29, 2016

The Impact of Immigration

In this climate of nationalism and concern about immigrant populations, it is important to remember the richness that immigrants bring to this nation. Tomoko and her husband exemplify the impact of immigrants to the United States – and the impact that people in the United States made in helping them succeed.

Tomoko recounts her career journey. “I wanted to get out of Japan. Europe was the cultural center, but the US was very welcoming to musicians such as Paderewski. I got an exchange student status, but I had to have a job to pay tuition. Tomoko came to the country with little money: “I didn’t want to be tempted to go back home.” Her musical skill opened doors for her. “Fortunately, UCLA had a special opera workshop, and a Japanese composer was there, so I was an accompanist for the program.” The Japanese community also welcomed her as a piano teacher for their children.

Tomoko also notes her professional opportunities in the US. “I was the first Asian teacher at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The first non-white was a black woman who did jazz.” Tomoko mentions the diversity of the conservatory. “There are lots of Eurasian students now. It is good for them to connect with different cultures.” Tomoko asserts: “Without music you don’t see as much of the world, and you don’t see the challenge.”

Because of her musical contributions Tomoko was able to become a US citizen five years after she got her green card (being single, it took her longer than if she were married at the time). She had to be interviewed, and was worried because of the spelling test. But the interviewer said, “I am a member of the Marin Symphony,” so it was an easy process.

One of her witnesses at the interview was her future husband Desy. He too is an immigrant: a refugee from the Hungarian Revolution. He was a medical professor at the University in Budapest, but had to redo his residency when he arrived in the United States. He had only one suitcase and $30 when he was dropped at St. Mary’s Hospital, and sometimes had to sleep in the park because he could not pay for lodging. Nevertheless, he once again became a successful and very regarded doctor.

The United States is richer because of Tomoko and her husband – and their talented daughter.

When asked what she liked about America, Tomoko responds: “I love the freedom. It is very comfortable, like a flowing painting. There is not tension and stress that I felt in Japan. It’s “high tech high touch.”

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