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We Will Never See Each Other Again

Early on a Wednesday morning I took care of some medical matters endemic to old guys. My attending physician was named Patel. I mention this, because, well, you’ll understand shortly.

From there I drove over to the Sanctuary Events Center, where I was scheduled to address 131 New Americans taking the oath of citizenship administered by Magistrate Judge Alice Senechal. Thank you, Judge Senechal, for the invitation.

I was early arriving, but the parking lot was full as were the street spaces. So I drove into the nearby lot of the Sons of Norway and parked there. I mention this because, well, you understand by now.

Today I recount the first section of what I was privileged to say to the new citizens of the United States, all of them resident in North Dakota. Over the next two weeks I will share the rest of my remarks, which were received with attentive kindness by a packed house.

Of all the states in the federal union that is the United States, a nation created by immigrants, this state, North Dakota, is the most immigrant of them all. The United States census of 1900 revealed that 78 percent of the people of North Dakota were born outside the United States or had parents who were born outside the United States. They were Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Dutch, Finns, Germans, Austrians, English, Scots, Irish, Germans from Russian, Germans from Hungary, Russian Jews, Poles, Ukrainians.

Many people in that time a century ago said there were too many foreigners in the land, said that they would not or could not succeed in becoming Americans. Those critics were just wrong. The newcomers proved them wrong. The newcomers became new Americans. They did what you are doing, today.

This was not easy. Winter in North Dakota was, and is, hard. Making a living from the land in North Dakota was, and is, hard. Fitting in and getting along with the strange people all around us was, and is, hard. For all of us.

For the newcomers, there was another difficulty, one that lived in their own hearts--the personal sorrow, the essential tragedy of their situation as human beings uprooted from their homes and transported to a place that was not home. A place that, for the original immigrant generation, perhaps never would feel like home. I stand before you today in acknowledgment of that sorrow, then and now.

There is an old song that came here with the Germans from Russia, many of whom sailed from the port city of Riga, on the Baltic Sea. It begins this way.

Die Abreis von Riga
Die fält mir so schwer
Darum ade, du schönes Mädchen
Wir sehen uns nimmer mehr

The departure from Riga
Makes me so sad
Farewell, my love
We will never see one another again

~Tom Isern

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