An Immigrant Story, the Story of America

The Immigrant issue is one of the hottest topics on the American political scene.

From Donald Trump’s pledge to “Build a Wall,’ to the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty, the immigrant story is America’s story:

statue-liberty-57839476-3“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The United States of America is still the one country in the world people want to escape to and not from.

This story is eloquently shared by a cousin of an Avon Lake family, now a longtime proud American. He came to the United States with all the hopes and dreams that many carry into the new world, refusing to be deterred until the promise of freedom is realized.

Vjeko at 17, the year he escaped from Yugoslavia

Vjeko at 17, the year he escaped from Yugoslavia

Vjeko’s Story

Some day when you feel life has been unbearably harsh on you, read this, and you may find new hope and possibly count some of your blessings.

I was born in Yugoslavia approximately 2 years before the start of World War II. I was the 7th child of a family of what would eventually equal 9 children. As a child growing up, I couldn’t remember a time when we had enough food. We were very poor. In addition, with the outbreak of war, we had soldiers constantly marching through our property, making it impossible to even grow a garden. However, we had no seeds. One year our uncle in the United States sent us seeds. Even though we were starving, we had no resources for planting. We finally ate the seeds.

All the people in our village were in the same predicament. I remember coming to my mother and telling her that I was very hungry and needed food. She gave me the keys to the entire house and told me I could keep whatever I found. I already knew there was nothing, so I sat down on the outside stoop of our home and started to cry. Then she sat down beside me, buried her face in her hands and wept. She must have felt a terrible desperation to see her children hungry with nothing she could do to change the situation. If by chance we had food, it was eaten from wooden dishes with wooden spoons and forks. We had no knives or place settings. No need to worry about breaking dishes or tarnished silverware.

Although food was our prime concern, we owned barely more than the clothes on our backs. They were well worn and threadbare. Few of us had shoes. The stores carried a few supplies, but with no money, there was little we could have bought. Fortunately, we lived in a fairly warm climate on the Adriatic Sea. We, children, enjoyed swimming and playing on the beach, but with the war going on, it became too dangerous. We couldn’t even catch fish anymore.

With little or no availability of medical doctors or medicine, we lost my baby brother to meningitis. My parents were not able to obtain a doctor or any medication. The saddest day of my young life was the day that we buried him. I can still vividly remember that afternoon.

There was also no employment for my father. Years before the war, my father had helped run a family business. He worked aboard a ship which transported wine and Croatian products to Trieste, Italy. Our area was very well suited for growing grapes and was well known for their exceptional quality of wine. Most families in our town cultivated their own vineyards and made their own wine. Many of them brought their finished products to our headquarters where it was prepared to transport by ship to Trieste. The business also supplied Italy with all essentials needed in their bars. Unfortunately, with the breaking out of war and the change in economic conditions, the business was discontinued.

While the war was endlessly waging on, we had soldiers of different factions passing through our property. I remember a large brigade of Italian soldiers climbing the steep mountains behind us. It was a treacherous task pulling cannons, ammunition and all kinds of fighting equipment up those mountains. They were on their way to defend Greece from the English who were trying to invade the country via the sea. For this reason they were avoiding the Adriatic Sea and decided to reach Greece by crossing the mountains and traveling toward Albania.

When my mother first saw the Italian soldiers, she told me to sit on the wall by the side of the trail and beg for bread. I could see they had very little food, if any, for themselves, but many of them dug into their packs and shared their food with me. They appeared to be good people. I often wondered how many of them survived and was actually able to return home.

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Another group I remember passing through our land was the Yugoslavian Partisans. They, for the most part, were not of a good nature. They ruthlessly entered our homes and ransacked them. Young women and children had to be hidden for fear of having harm come to them. These soldiers could see that we owned very little, but they took what meager supply of bread, oil or whatever else we had. They even confiscated my father’s mule. He dearly loved this animal. She in turned worked hard for him and always obeyed his commands. He was heartbroken when they took her and worried that they might treat her badly.

Years later, after the war, my father was finally able to get work in a factory which was built by the Italians. Oddly enough the land had at one time been owned by my grandmother. Evidently, years before, she had sold it to the current Italian owner. It was a plant located a little closer to our home. Although happy to have employment, my father was so tired when he came home after a day’s work and the long walk home that he used to fall asleep at the table while having his supper. He did not earn very much money, making it still a problem to feed our large family.

My mother raised chickens and also a pig which was slaughtered before Christmas every year. The pig was a great asset, as it could be butchered, and a good portion of it smoked and preserved for use later in the year. We had no refrigeration or freezers. The family was greatly dependent on this animal for food. Unfortunately, for three years in a row, our pig became ill and died. This devastated the family, especially my father. Occasionally, we were able to catch fish for dinner. During the war, this area was not safe. Now many families were taking advantage of this opportunity to fish, but how much could this small area supply? Due to one circumstance or another, we seemed to always be fighting hunger.

When the war ended, the Communist Party eventually took over the country. Under this rule we had many restrictions, including travel. Before going to Split, the closest city for us to go to shop, we needed to obtain a ticket stamped by a local resident who belonged to the Communist Party and was designated with this authority. It appeared that we were not a great deal better off after the war.

The only good thing we had was a warm climate and the Adriatic Sea. We children enjoyed swimming and playing on the beach. Occasionally, we also caught fish for dinner. The children were happy to again have what you could call their playground.

Escape from Yugoslavia

My family and I lived in the country of Yugoslavia in the small town of Krilo on the Adriatic Sea. Since Yugoslavia was a sea-faring nation, the men in our town earned their living mostly from the sea. They were excellent sailors, ship engineers, officers and captains. Unfortunately, jobs were few and far between. To add to the dilemma, it was almost impossible to get a job, or even to be considered for one, unless you belonged to the Communist Party. Our family did not favor or belong to the Communist Party. In fact, my oldest brother had spent some time in jail for not joining the Communist Party in order to keep his job as Chief Engineer on an ocean liner. He was finally able to stall them by promising to join, but never got around to it.

Vjeko’s 20 x 50 garden is emblematic of America’s bounty.

Vjeko’s 20 x 50 garden is emblematic of America’s bounty.

Consequently, during these 1950’s, under the Yugoslavian socialist-communist regime, the economy was in a disastrous state. I was a sailor by trade and a young many of 17 years with little education and no job or stable future in sight. I was also not looking forward to serving in the army, as I would soon be of age to do my duty. I was seriously considering trying to leave the country. Unfortunately, since ordinary citizens were not allowed visas or permission to leave by legal means, this was nearly impossible.

In the spring of 1956, I met Ante Rakuljic, a neighbor about my age and in similar circumstances. I mentioned to him that I would like to find a way to leave the country. Ante was very interested and was willing to go with me.

With only the clothes we were wearing, very little money in our pockets and no particular plain in mind, we decided to take a ship from the nearby seaport of Split to the industrial port of Rijeka. This trip was accomplished with no unforeseen problems. On August 15, 1956 we left Rijeka and took the bus to Piran, a popular resort and tourist town situated 10 miles from the Italian Border. After spending 2 days in Piran, we unexpectedly met two friends, Ante Naranca, a sailor (not relation), and Miroslav, a cook. Their ship was docked near the lagoon close to a resort area where tourists could dance and receive refreshments. We told them we were trying to find a way to leave Yugoslavia. They seemed interested in joining us.

We decided we would need a rowboat to start our escape. Since their ship, according to regulations, carried a dinghy, we decided to set a plan in action. The two Antes waited in the park until dark. While I waited on the pier, Miroslav stayed aboard the ship and waited until the captain was asleep. The rowboat was a little closer to the pier, so I was finally able to pull it closer to me. After I climbed in the rowboat, Miroslav came down from the ship and helped me cut the craft loose. We then paddled toward the middle of the lagoon and we went to pick up the two Antes. They jumped in the boat and lied down. I asked them why they were so frightened. They told me that while they were walking down to the end of the pier to meet us, they met two guards patrolling their pier with riffles.

As luck would have it, there happened to be a full moon. For this reason Miroslav and I continued to quietly paddle the rowboat toward Trieste. The other two were too frightened to be of much help. They continued to crouch down and Ante R. persisted to pray. I told him, “Now is not the time to pray. Now is the time to row.” Miroslav and I paddled fast for a long time. We were getting very tired and thirsty. To go toward Italy, we had to always have the beacon on the pier directly in our sight and on the path behind us.

Around 2:00 a.m. we were caught in a huge thunderstorm with fierce winds pushing us toward the open sea. The water was being blown so hard that the boat was starting to fill with water. We were in fear of sinking and had no life jackets or life preservers, or any means for bailing the water out. We decided to remove our shoes and use them and our hand to start bailing the water out.

After the storm, we hit waves about 4 and 5 feet in height. Shortly after that we heard the engine of a patrol boat behind us. The front of the patrol boat was equipped with a large beacon which was continuously scanning the open sea. To our surprise, it was only about a mile away from us.

The sea was extremely rough. The only reason we were probably not able to be seen by the patrol was because the rowboat was very close to the water which made it very difficult to be seen. Also, as the patrol boat went down with the waves, we went up and vice versa. Consequently, they never caught sight of us.

Suddenly the patrol boat shut its engine off and was again quietly scanning the area with its beacon. To our surprise the patrol eventually started its motor up and took off in the opposite direction toward Yugoslavia. When we no longer heard the sound of a running engine, we started rowing again.

The next problem was the thick fog which had set in after the storm. Unfortunately, we could no longer see the beacon light from the Yugoslavian side and knew not in which direction we were traveling. We did, however, hear the fog horn of a large ocean liner heading toward Trieste. Therefore, we kept following in the same direction. It was a miracle we were not rammed by any ocean liner.

Toward morning we got very hungry and thirsty and were forced to drink ocean water which made things even worse. Due to rowing so hard all night, all four us had sores on our hands and butts from the salt water.

Around 11:00 a.m. the next morning, from a distance we caught sight of a fishing boat coming toward us. As soon as I saw the boat, I started waving my red shirt. It turned out to be an Italian fishing boat which approached close to us and threw us a line so we could climb aboard. My 3 partners were to tired that after having had something to eat, they went downstairs to sleep in the quarters of the fisherman. I couldn’t sleep so I went up to the captain watch and explained our situation. The captain asked if I could steer the ship for him while he went downstairs and attend to business. I gladly obliged him as I came from a seafaring family and was happy to accommodate him.

We stayed on the ship for a few hours until we came to the town of Grado which is a sea resort between Venice and Trieste. The police were alerted to come for the 4 of us. The police took up to a jail in Grado where we remained for 3 day. After the third day, the police came for us in a pick-up truck. We had no idea where we were being taken but feared we were being returned to Yugoslavia. Instead, we arrived in Goricia, a small town on the border of Italy and the then Yugoslavia. After being kept there for 2 days, we were put in a truck again. Since we were so close to Yugoslavia, we thought we would be returning to our homeland. I told my friends, if our trip ended within 5 to 10 minutes, we would be in Yugoslavia. If our trip took longer than that, we would be safe.

Displaced Persons Camp

We arrived in Udine, Italy about 8 p.m. that night. We were taken to a displaced person’s camp and interviewed. Since there was no more room in the camp, we were given instructions to an area where we would spend the night. We were placed into a private home. It was customary for people with space in their homes to house the overflow from the camp. The camp was situated on 2 acres and serviced some 3,000 displaced persons. It gave homeowners a chance to earn a little money.

We were told to be back at the camp by 8:00 a.m. the next morning, so we could obtain breakfast. Little did we know that it took until almost noon to serve all the people in the camp. There was only one small room (shelter) with 3 people serving the large assembly line of people waiting for breakfast.

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The next day when we went for lunch, we decided to get in line very early so as to be the first in line. To our surprise we were unaware that women and children had preference to be first in line. One of the guards yanked us out and put us in back of the line. After waiting in back of the line for about one-half hour, I recognized my sister, Maria, with her girlfriend, Ivca, walking down the hallway. I kept calling her by name, “Maria, Maria” but she paid no attention. She kept staring at me, but could not recognize me. Then I called again, “Maria, Maria, this is your brother, Vjeko.” She finally acknowledged me and started to cry. The two women had escaped two months before with their husbands and by chance were stationed in the same camp. My sister wanted to know how I managed to get there. I then explained to her our situation.

After a few days, I found that the food was not substantial for us because portions were so little and of poor quality. Then I decided I must improvise on how to get more food. As I went into the dining hall, I noticed that at each meal there was a person at the door punching the meal ticket as each person entered. I decided to scoop up some of the punched scraps of paper with the dates on them. I tried pasting the cut out pieces back on my car. I got away with this for a while, but then the worker caught on.

One day I was behind a very large Romanian man and noticed he was given double portions. I asked him how he was able to obtain the double ticket. He told me that I had to go and see the Director of the camp to see if he would approve a double ticket for me. The following day I went with Ante R. to the office of the director. The Director wasn’t in, only his secretary was at her desk. She told me that he would be in very shortly and to have a seat and wait for him.

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We took our seats ands started giggling and laughing and looking at this young girl. I said to her, “You look very nice. You remind me of Marilyn Monroe.” She looked at us with a smile on her face. Evidently she enjoyed the compliment. Soon after, the Director appeared. He asked the secretary why we were there. She told him that we would like a double ticket for food. He told us that food was scarce and double tickets were not being issued anymore, but he could give them out only if a person had one the month before. He asked his secretary if we had had a double ticket the month before, and she replied, “Yes,” even though it wasn’t true. I guess she felt sorry for us, and the compliment probably helped. So, she lied for us.

With the double tickets we now held, we had breakfast, stayed right in line for lunch and did not stay for supper. Since we had all this extra time on our hands, we decided to explore the area outside of the camp.

We walked into town in order to familiarize ourselves with the surroundings. We eventually arrived at a train station. When the next train pulled in, we decided we would go on board and see where it took us. We took our seats and were enjoying the scenery when we noticed the conductor walking up the aisle collecting tickets from the passengers. When he came to us, we handed him our meal tickets. He looked at them confused and finally told us we had to leave the train. We exited the train and waited until the last car was in sight. Then, we quickly slipped on board again. We followed this same procedure another time or two and finally after the third time, the conductor threw his hands up in frustration and left us alone.

When the train pulled into Maestre, the station needed to exit for Venice, which could only be reached by water bus, we saw a woman making up delicious looking sandwiches from her cart. We were quite hungry by that time, so we walked up to her, told her that we would love to have one of her rolls, but we had no money. She looked at us sympathetically for a while and finally made up 2 rolls with prosciutto and cheese and gave them to us. We thanked her profusely and went on our way.

We boarded the train again, and reached as far as the French border where we were refused entry when we could produce no papers.

Finding a Job

Since our traveling escapade the day before was unsuccessful, we decided to go out and look for jobs. I was lucky to get a job with a man who supplied liquor and wine to churches, bars and even brothels. I washed the bottles, refilled them, and Sunday morning we made the deliveries in a small pick-up truck. At the end of the day, he gave me a dollar and a bottle of wine. Then I went back to the camp and shared with my friends. As a result, everybody wanted to be my friend.

After staying in the camp for a couple of months, we had to appear in front of the International Refugee Committee. They decided who had enough credentials to be granted political asylum. If you can for any other reason, you were returned to your country. My friend, my sister, her husband and I were all granted asylum. My sister, her husband and my friend, Ante R. migrated to Germany. I was not able to go because I did not pass the physical examination for German standards. I did not pass dues to the scars on my lungs caused by growing up without the proper nutrition in my early teenage years. Even though I was completely cured and had no disease or physical disabilities, I was rejected.

In the meantime there was a Catholic Priest who sat on the Political Asylum Committee who was allowed to travel to different countries and negotiate with them in accepting refugees for certain jobs, which could be held for a limited amount of time before being returned to the camp. Since I was a sailor, I asked him if he could find me a job in the Merchant Marine field. However, first I had to transfer to a different Refugee Camp in Southern Italy. I was transferred from Udine in the north to Brindisi in the south.

I stayed in Brindisi for a couple of months until I received word to go to the Port of Piraeus in Greece. There I could board a ship under the Panamanian Flag. I worked in the engine room, pumping bilges out, oiling and greasing the machines and other maintenance jobs.

From Piraeus, Greece, the ship went to Alexandria, Egypt. We stayed in Alexandria for a few days unloading cargo which had originated in Galveston, Texas. During our stay, I took advantage of shopping for leather goods, i.e., shoes and suitcases. While I was bargaining, the people in the store all disappeared. They retreated to a section of the store where there were rugs provided for them to kneel and pray with heads bowed toward Mecca.

From Egypt, we went to Spain to obtain provisions and prepare for our trip across the Atlantic to Boston.

The Americas

After 12 days at sea, we arrived in Boston. I was not allowed to go off ship because it was customary not to allow refugees off the ship upon their first entry into the United States. We picked up a load of coal in Boston to bring to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We stayed in Rio almost a month unloading this cargo. Next, we went to Orinoco in Venezuela. There we picked up bauxite. This cargo was taken to Rotterdam, Netherlands. We stayed there a couple of weeks unloading the cargo onto barges which were headed for the Rhine River, and ultimately to be delivered to the Krupp Company in Germany.

After we finished unloading, we headed back to Boston empty to pick up another load of coal to again be transported to Rio de Janeiro. This time, I was permitted to go off the ship. We repeated the same process. We left out load of coal in Rio de Janeiro, picked up another load of bauxite in Orinoco, and took it to Rotterdam. From Rotterdam, we went back to Boston empty to being the same process over again.

Now it was time to renew my Italian Passport, which was granted only for one year at a time. However, I could not get in touch with the priest from the Political Asylum Committee to obtain my passport renewed. That meant from Boston I would have to return to the Refugee Camp in Italy. Naturally, I was not looking forward to this. Unfortunately, the only alternative I had was to jump ship in Boston.

The rest of the crew went on a barge to get provisions for the next trip to Rio de Janeiro. I was the last person to leave the engine room. As the First Officer was leaving, he told me he would meet me at the barge after I washed up. The barge was located on the pier about a quarter of a mile down from where my ship was stationed. Instead, after washing up, I left the ship without being seen and took the elevated subway to the center of Boston. Then I flagged a taxi because I had no idea where the train station was. The taxi driver said to me, “Where to?” I said, “Grand Central Station.” The driver turned around and asked, “Which station? There is no Grand Central Station here.” I verified “train station” and the driver dropped me off at the closest station. I had heard of Grand Central Station and thought every city had one.

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After being dropped off at the station, my dilemma started. I did not know how to ask for the train to New York, and I was afraid to ask. I took the liberty of walking up and down the station meanwhile reading all the arrivals and departures.

After watching the flipping signs for a while, I noticed all the stations for Connecticut, and finally the last was for New York. I saw that most people got up and went to the ticket window, so I followed the gentleman who was sitting next to me. At the ticket window, he asked for a ticket to New York, and it cost $9.50. When I went up to the window, I handed the clerk a $10 bill and said, “New York” and was given 50 cents in change.

After I received my ticket, I continued to follow the same gentleman because he was going to New York, and I didn’t want to get lost. Every time he made a move to go for a soda or the rest room, I continued to follow him, and he started to become uneasy. When he boarded the train, I again followed. I sat a few seats behind him on the train, so I could keep him in my sight. I was afraid of losing him and would then not know when to get off.

After about 5 hours, at approximately 11:00 a.m., we reached New York City. The gentleman quickly ran off, and I lost him. He probably became suspicious and wanted to lose me.

We arrived on the lower level of Grand Central Station. Not knowing what to do, I finally followed the crown up to the main terminal. The station was so vast, I thought I was outside. I wandered around for a while and noticed that people were going out and hailing taxis. I decided to do the same.

I found a taxi and told the driver to take me to 42nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues where my aunt lived. She was surprised and happy to see me. She had never met me before since she had left Yugoslavia (now Croatia) in 1929, long before I was born. I explained to her that I did not want to stay in New York because I was afraid the immigration authorities would find me. I wanted to go to Cleveland where my uncle, her brother, owned and ran a large beverage distribution center.

Vjeko today.

Vjeko today.

Cleveland

The next day my aunt took me to La Guardia Airport where I took a plane to Cleveland. When I arrived, I gave the taxi driver my uncle’s address. When I arrived at his home, it was Labor Day Weekend, and only his older daughter was at home. Everyone else had gone to their summer place on Avon Lake for the weekend.

She was happy to meet me and explained that she had just come home from Europe herself, and had spent some time with my parents. The following day, according to her previous plans, she drove to the family’s summer house, and asked me to accompany her.

My uncle was very happy to see me. After conversing awhile, I asked him if he would be able to give me a job in his plant. He told me that it would not be a good idea, as he was afraid it would arouse too much suspicion and make it easy for the Immigration authorities to find me and implicate him.

He helped me find a room in a private home which was run by a couple who had two other rooms rented to legal immigrants. My uncle took me to the home of a close friend of Polish decent, who I could understand. This friend was a foreman in a foundry. He asked if it were possible for him to find me a job in his plant.

It was extremely difficult to obtain a job with this company. However, a few days later, I was told to go for an interview. I waited outside in the enclosed yard of a large factory accompanied by what seem like 100 men aspiring to receive jobs. I felt I couldn’t possibly have a chance among all these men, and all of them most likely able to speak English, whereas I had a very minimal knowledge of the language.

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At 8:30 a.m. a person came out of the building and started calling names. He called one name and a person stepped forward. A second name was called but no one answered. The name was repeated and again there was no response. Since my name is difficult for an American to pronounce, I was wondering if it could possibly be mine. Finally, when no one else stepped forward, I decided I would try. Only one more name was called. Then the door closed. I felt badly and very embarrassed that I was one of the only three called when so many others were denied.

I worked at this Gabriel Manufacturing Company (foundry) for between 4 and 5 months. The company was involved in producing military parts for the government. One day the foreman came up to the third floor where I worked. He came on a machine accompanied by a black gentleman who told me that there were a couple of men who would like to speak to me. I replied that I would be down as soon as I washed my hands. I became very suspicious because no one knew I was working there and assumed these men were the immigration authorities looking for me. Normally, I would have taken the elevator down, but this time I decided as a precaution to take the stairs. On the ground floor, I climbed out a window and ran over the railroad tracks to try and catch the bus to my uncle’s house. When my uncle came home, I explained to him my situation, and I requested that he take me to the airport so I could travel to New York City.

That evening I took a plane to New York. I arrived at La Guardia Airport where I caught a taxi to my aunt’s house on 42nd Street. I explained to her my situation and asked if she would call a gentleman named George who could help me find a job. I had met George as a little boy when I used to visit my grandmother in her Yugoslavian hometown. My aunt called him and he said he would go to the agency for me. I gave George $10 which is the amount the agency charged, and he brought me back the name and address of a restaurant which was willing to hire me. I was referred to a fancy well-known restaurant in Scarsdale, New York which was run by a genteel Italian gentleman originally from Brooklyn. I worked long hours as a Bus Boy, and later in the evening I washed dishes as the owner found it difficult to get help that would stay for any length of time.

After Christmas and the Holiday Season was over, the owner told me that business was slow during the months of February and March, and he would have to let me go. However, he did tell me that he would hire me again in a couple of months when the restaurant got busier.

I could not afford to be without work, so I again asked me aunt to get in touch with George. He in turn returned to the agency and for $10 brought me another job recommendation by the name of Ravetto’s Restaurant, which at that time was a very popular and elite restaurant located about 50 miles outside of New York City.

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While working at the restaurant I usually went to New York City on my day off to visit my aunt and deposit some money in The Franklin National Bank on 42nd Street and 8th Avenue. One day, as I was walking to the bank, two gentlemen approached me and asked for my identification papers. I told them that I was going to the bank and requested that they accompany me. They agreed with one gentleman walking in front of me and the other behind me. When we got to the bank, the man in front of me entered through the revolving door. Once he was inside the bank, I pushed the revolving door hard and jumped outside while the man behind me landed inside the bank with his companion. Once outside, I ran across the street to the subway. As I ran down the stairs there was a train in the station ready to leave. As I reached the train, I was able to jump on just before the doors closed. I got off at the next station and took a train to the Bronx to visit my friend who was the chef at the restaurant (Ravetto’s) where I worked. I spent the night at his home. The next day he drove us to the restaurant.

Vjeko and his wife Marie on their 50th Wedding Anniversary.

Vjeko and his wife Marie on their 50th Wedding Anniversary.

Becoming a Citizen

I continued to work at Ravetto’s for a couple of years. One afternoon, I saw two gentlemen waiting in the parking lot. I thought they were waiting for the restaurant to open at 5:00 p.m. It appears that they were from the Immigration Service and randomly checked restaurants where illegal immigrants were likely to be employed.

They came in when the restaurant opened, identified themselves, and asked all the workers to show their identification papers. Of course, I had none, so they asked me to accompany them to the New York City Immigration Office. The following day I was taken before the judge for immigration.

On the way back from the courthouse, I was brought with 6 other detainees to the basement of the Immigration Building. As we were leaving one-by-one from the van, I turned around and ran toward the street. I could see the overhead exit door coming down, but it was completely down before I could sneak out. The policeman ran after me. I was taken immediately to jail (The Tombs).

Conditions in jail were not great, but I was given the job of painting cells. I got along well with the supervisors who were very happy with my work. However, my cell was on the 6th floor and since it was summer in New York City, the top floor was extremely hot.

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After spending three months there, I heard my name called on the loudspeaker. I didn’t recognize the call at first because no one knew me there, and I couldn’t imagine having a visitor.

It seems that while I was working at Ravetto’s, there was a gentleman who was a frequent dinner guest. He came to know me and especially liked my serving techniques. Unbeknownst to me he was a State Senator. When he heard of my plight, he recommended me to the New York City firm of Paige and Paige which specialized in immigration cases. As a result, my visitor introduced himself as a lawyer from this firm.

With his help we went to the immigration office where he explained my case. He later went to court for me, although it was not necessary for me to appear. He informed me that his services would cost $3,000. I had exactly that amount saved, so I agreed.

With his assistance, I was able to receive a green card and become a legal resident. It was understood that I was to report every February for 5 years until at which time I would be eligible to apply for citizenship.

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When I heard this and was later released from the detention house, I was so happy that I slid down the banister to the street. From there, I went to a cafeteria and ordered a cup of coffee and a Danish pastry. When the waitress served me, I told her I had just been released from jail. She dropped my order and ran in the back. She came back with her boss, and I explained that I was in the process of becoming a citizen and possessed a green card.

I later married a girl I had met while working at Ravetto’s Restaurant and obtained a permanent job with the Grand Union Company where I worked for 36 years before retiring. We had 2 boys and are still living in the original home as when we first married.

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