First Experience: Discrimination
Like most European immigrants, the Romanians, too, had their first glimpse of a black man only after they arrived in America. Like the others, the Romanians, too, arrived here without preconceived notions about the “blacks.” They did not know anything about “discrimination” or anything connected with the blacks.
My personal experience, I hope, will illustrate this point.
Speaking no English at all when I arrived in the United States, I could not get any job except the most menial kind. In the lowest category of menial jobs was that of an orderly in a hospital. I gladly accepted such a job. Ten dollars for six and a half days’ work of 12 hours each and room and board was my pay.
In the double room in the attic where my future home was to be, I found two beds, one for me and the other for a roommate who, I was told, was also an orderly.
The other man in my sleeping room turned out to be a black. When we met, we shook hands and told each other our names. To be sure we would remember the names, we wrote them down.
Since I spoke little English, I could not say much to my roommate. He also kept silent most of the time and when he did utter a few words, I realized they were not English.
While I had my own troubles with my inadequate English, my roommate had even more difficulties; he did not speak English. For a black man in America not to speak English was inconceivable and my new friend had great difficulties in convincing people that he spoke no English.
When my roommate told someone: “Please, I speak no English,” people just looked at him confused and unbelieving.
When both of us learned some rudiments of English, I learned his story; my black friend was a native of Lybia, at that time a colony of Italy. The fact that he spoke Italian but no English added to the confusion.
It was in his company that I learned for the first time something about discrimination against the blacks.
On Thursday afternoons, our free half day, the two of us used to visit a neighborhood ice cream place where we indulged in eating that famous American luxury, a banana split. The whole works — ice cream, sliced bananas, salted peanuts and whipped cream. Neither of us ever saw anything like this before coming to fabulous America.
After three or four visits to our favorite ice cream parlor, the proprietor of the shop called me aside and in a low voice told me not to bring my black friend to the store any more.
I could hardly believe my ears. Perhaps my English was not good enough to understand what I heard, I thought. After recovering from my surprise, I managed to ask the shop owner:
“Why should I not bring my black friend with me?”
The store owner replied: “It is not good for my business to have people see a Negro in my place.”
The incident puzzled me, and for a long time I could not understand the store owner. To avoid any embarassment, I suggested to my black roommate to change ice cream places and try new shops in quest for our favorite banana split.
In the same hospital I learned for the first time that if you spoke with a foreign accent, most people imagined you to be ignorant.
During a lull in the night (I worked nights) I wrote long letters to my family and friends in Romania. Writing letters helped me to heal the deep nostalgia I suffered for my homeland.
While writing a long letter, a nurse came near the writing desk. It happened that my handwriting was always good. The nurse, looking over my shoulder, noticed my handwriting and was astonished by my ability to write at all.
When my English improved but my accent remained foreign, I noticed that salesmen in stores always spoke louder to me than they did to other people. This became an old story. I knew they spoke to me loudly because they thought that foreigners understand English better if you shout at them.
The Ethnics Arrive
In the last few years the word “ethnic” has become a household word and an integral part of the vocabulary used by politicians and educators alike.
Even the English language publications have followed the trend. Reports of nationality events are printed regularly in Cleveland English language dailies and neighborhood weeklies. Pictures of ethnic debutantes are often featured on the society pages of the two English language dailies. The “ethnics” have arrived. It is hard to believe today that as late as 50 years ago stories about nationality groups were printed in the English language press usually in connection with some crime or misdemeanor. Colleges and universities gave little or no attention to ethnic studies.
This situation changed radically in Cleveland when in 1927 Louis B. Seltzer, editor of The Cleveland Press had the foresight and imagination to consider the nationality groups worthy of regular reporting in his paper.
The late Louis Adamic, famous author on Americanization and immigration describes this change in his book My America, published by Harper and Brothers in 1938. In a chapter titled “Foreigners Are News in Cleveland” Adamic wrote:
“I have mentioned that in Cleveland the immigrants and the second generation receive a good deal of space in the three large local newspapers: the Press, the Plain Dealer, and the News. And therein lies a story.
“One day early in 1927 a young Romanian immigrant, Theodore Andrica, who had had some education in the old country, appeared in the editorial department of the Cleveland Press. He said, in his broken English, that he had an idea he desired to discuss with the editor. The editor saw the young immigrant, who proceeded to say, in effect, that Cleveland newspapers were missing a bet when they paid so little — almost no — attention to the foreign-born and their American-born children in the city.
“After all, he went on, about sixty percent of Cleveland’s population consisted of immigrants of approximately forty different nationalities, and their children, who although American citizens regardless of whether their parents were naturalized or not, were still often referred to as ‘foreigners.’ Their existence was almost never recognized by the press, except, of course when some Slovak, Pole, Czech, or Slovene got in trouble with the law. This, maintained Andrica, was an all-around mistake, with the result that the big English-language papers were not read as widely in the foreign quarters as they wauld be if they gave the various national groups some representation in their columns. A paper like the Press, he hinted, was losing money by neglecting the foreign sections. Also, this neglect was good neither for the city nor the foreigners. There was too much unhealthy segregation by nationalities and, in consequence, assimilation or Americanization, or whatever one wished to call it, was slow. Foreigners had the feeling that no one of any importance in Cleveland was really interested in them; that most persons in the socially and economically dominant group — the so-called old-time Americans — inclined to look down upon them. The foreigners’ general tendency, as well as that of their American-born children, was to hang back from things, not to take part in the affairs of Cleveland, although, said Andrica, they — both as individuals and as groups, or some of them, anyhow — had a good deal in them which might be useful in the long run. One way to help bring out that good was to recognize their existence, to write of them as though the paper considered them part of the City, and thus make them feel good about themselves and the fact that they lived in Cleveland.
“Andrica pulled out of his pocket a batch of scribblings about recent affairs in the Bohemian, Finnish, German, Jewish, Hungarian, Italian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, South Slavic, Slovak, Scandinavian, Ukrainian and one or two other foreign groups, and said that he thought these affairs were news of some importance to Cleveland. He believed that not a few of the old-time American readers of the Press would be interested to know about them, while the others, perhaps should be made interested.
“But what the young Romanian stressed, of course, was that, if the paper opened its columns to ‘foreign’ news, its circulation would go up — perhaps immediately; if not immediately, in a few months surely. Seeing that the editor was interested, he offered himself for the job of reporting immigrants’ doings and affairs and their numerous communities-within-the-city in general, hastening to add that he wrote English a little better than he spoke it and believed he would improve. He said, too, that he already had connections in several foreign groups and thought he would have no difficulty in establishing them in others.
“The editor promptly hired Andrica with the understanding that it was to be considered an experiment, but the experiment was almost an immediate success.
“Andrica became acquainted with the leaders of the thirty largest nationality groups in the city and brought daily to the office bits of news about the coming meeting of the Slovak Women’s Society of Cleveland, the play in rehearsal by a Slovenian dramatic club, the colorful marriage of a Polish couple, the lecture before a Swedish or Jewish group, the death of a worker who had settled in Cleveland in 1901 and in consequence had been the oldest Lithuanian in town, and so on.
“These meetings, dramatics, marriages, lectures, deaths, etc. received as much space in the Press as similar events in the life of the old-time American citizens of Cleveland and were written up as respectfully. And the circulation of the paper in the foreign quarters went up at once and continued to increase.
“Andrica then suggested that the Press sponsor a great public festival which would bring together national groups having a background of more than a quarter of a century of life and activity in Cleveland and give them an opportunity to demonstrate before each other and the city at large some phase of their artistic and cultural potentialities. At first there was considerable skepticism in the Press office as to the results of such a festival, for many of the groups nursed century-old grudges against one another. However, it was decided to organize an affair called the Dance of the Nations, as dancing was something in which all groups were interested and there was no danger of conflict.
“‘We began to publish many articles about the characteristics of each nationality’s folk dances, and also many pictures,’ Andrica told me in 1934. ‘It was the first time that a metropolitan paper of our size had given column after column to the details of folk dances and other features characteristic of these nationalities, and I believe we accomplished a two-fold purpose. We made the nationalities feel that they have something worthwhile to give, and gave opportunity to non-foreign-born readers to know something about the qualities and accomplishments of the foreign-born.’
“On the night of November 12, 1927, over eight hundred Swedish, Slovak, Greek, Czech, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Serbian, Italian, Polish, Irish, Jewish, Hungarian, Slovenian, American Negro, Croatian, ‘old-fashioned’ American, Scotch, Tyrolian, and Romanian dancers, male and female, performed in the vast Public Hall. All but three of the groups had orchestras of their own to play for them. ‘I expected a crowd,’ Andrica told me, ‘but even I was surprised when we packed in 14,000 people and turned away 2,000 others for lack of room. The performers, all amateur, did their best and succeeded in showing to the large audience that each country’s dances were beautiful and interesting and worthy of being perpetuated in America. Purely on the financial plane, the affair paid for itself.’
“Encouraged by the success of this venture, the Press, in co-operation with the City Recreation Commission, repeated the Dance upon a still larger scale on Labor Day the following year. More than a thousand dancers, again in their picturesque costumes, performed before a crowd estimated at 100,000 in the natural amphitheatre in Brookside Park.
“In 1929 the All Nations Council was formed with Recreation Commissioner John H. Gourley as chairman and Andrica as secretary for the purpose of staging an All Nations Exposition in 1930. The Council consisted of three representatives from each participating group and each group was given complete freedom to work out its individual plans. Commissioner Gourley and Andrica were there merely to co-ordinate things, give information and advice. The exhibition occurred in mid-March in the Public Hall, lasted a week, and consisted of twenty-nine full-size reproductions of old-country homes. Nothing was left undone to make the picture as realistic as possible. Most nationalities chose replicas of garden-enclosed peasant houses in their native countries as models for the exhibition, and into these buildings were placed over 50,000 hand-made articles — tapestries, rugs, pottery, goblets, embroideries, lace, scarfs, wood carvings, paintings, etc.; some imported from Europe for this purpose, but most of them loaned by nationals living in Cleveland. In the huge hall were over twenty kitchens in which one could buy typical foreign foods prepared on the spot according to ancient recipes brought over from the old countries by the housewives of the various language groups. Evenings there were folk-dancing and singing programs. During the week more than 100,000 persons visited the exhibition, paying a small admission fee. The fee was charged to cover the expenses of $24,000, advanced by the Press, but at the end there was a surplus of $7,300, which was distributed among the participating groups. Several afternoons, schools were closed to enable teachers and children to see the exposition.
“The exposition was not marred by a single incident of old-country animosity, and it proved to the Press (which not only got back its investment in the affair, but saw its circulation figure go higher and higher) and to the city as a whole that the so-called foreign groups in Cleveland really had more things to contribute to the general culture of the community than even the enthusiastic Andrica had imagined.
“The whole idea of giving the immigrant a break was so successful that the Plain Dealer and the News took it up. The Plain Dealer sponsored the so-called Theater of the Nations project, which included twenty-two clubs. The performances were of the same type regularly given in neighborhood and lodge halls in the foreign sections, and the purpose was to show the Anglo-Saxon element that immigrants and their children had much to contribute to the city’s life.
“Ever since, all three newspapers have continued to give space to the affairs of the foreign-born. When I was in Cleveland in February 1935, one of the papers had in a single issue stories with pictures under the following heads: ‘Slovaks Stage Mock Wedding — 900 Crowd Hall to Witness Reproduction of Old Country Rites’; ‘Scandinavian Triad Plans Dinner-Dance in Cleveland Club’; and ‘Association of Polish Women Grows to Membership of 9,000 Here in 22 Years.’
“In 1923 Andrica hit on another idea in this connection. He knew many immigrants idolized their native villages in Europe, but that few had been able to visit them for many years. Why not ‘go home’ for them collectively, photograph what was new in their villages, talk with their relatives and former neighbors, and write about it in the Press? ‘The idea was a sure-fire one,’ Andrica told me. ‘In the summer I was sent to Europe, east and south of Vienna, because that is where most of our Cleveland immigrants came from. I went to the villages and made the stories personal. I met John S—, whose uncle lives at 5598 East 5th Street in Cleveland, and he said… etc. I took pictures of the main street, the church, the new priest and mayor, and the stories were a success in Cleveland. In the summer of 1933 and 1934 we repeated it. Now I’m known as “the man from the Press who goes to our village.” Hundreds of persons come to the office or stop me on the street and say, “Say, next time you go to Poland (or Hungary or Yugoslavia), go to my home town, will you?”‘
“In 1935 and 1936 Andrica, with an assistant, went again to the old country for about one-fourth of Cleveland, and on these two trips took colored motion pictures of the colorful life in the villages, towns, and cities of Bohemia, Slovakia, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, and two or three other countries. Returning from abroad, he showed his films all over Cleveland. During the fall and winter of those two years he was one of the busiest men in Ohio, also one of the most popular. He presented his films and told of his trip as often as three or four times a day, and this not only before numerous ‘foreign’ groups, to which the scenes shown were intimately interesting, but before endless American clubs and in public and high schools — advertising the Press and getting Cleveland acquainted with itself.
“In 1937 the ‘foreign’ department of the Press, with Andrica in charge, collected enormous masses of historical material about the various immigrant groups in Cleveland, publishing some of it and filing all of it away for the eventual use of future historians of the city….
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(The following is an excerpt from “What One Person Can Do” by Alan Tillier. It is reprinted here with the permission of the Saturday Review and appeared in World Saturday Review’s May 22, 1973 issue.)
While in the years before World War II, his mission was to corroborate information about relatives that flowed back to Cleveland in letters. The war and its aftermath changed his “beat” entirely: Now, at his readers’ urgings, he checked on who had died and who had survived. His Jeep, loaded with food parcels, letters, and gifts of clothing, became a familiar sight between Berlin and Sofia. He overcame restrictions within occupation zones, fought for and obtained visas even after the Iron Curtain slammed down, and somehow, perhaps by always addressing them in their own language, won over even the Soviets. He loves to tell the story of how he sought traveling papers from a Soviet political officer in Hungary, and how the man leaned over the desk and whispered: “I have relatives in Cleveland.” He got the papers immediately.
The load on Ted during the Fifties grew and grew; the demand for his services always expanded in times of crisis — times such as the bitter Trieste dispute of 1951 and the ugly Budapest weeks of 1956. In some Eastern European cities, his hotel room looked like a doctor’s waiting room, as people literally queued up to see him for news, parcels, and medicines.
During the 1956 Hungarian uprising, he chartered a jet airliner to fly tons of clothing from Cleveland to refugee camps in Austria. Hundreds of telegrams arrived asking him to do something, anything, to help relatives of people back home. He helped some families leave Hungary, watched over them in the Austrian camps, then guided them through the formalities that enabled many to reach the United States.
Ted was always full of these tales because it helped him remember names and addresses, although he never divulged them. They were not nostalgic yarns spun by an old newsman, for Ted rendered the same services after the Soviet invasion of Prague. He was always on the move. You had to be up early to catch him, and if you went along, you would find him veering from the foreign ministry and the Western embassies toward the market and the back streets. I personally witnessed the warm welcome he got in Budapest, where the families he had helped had quickly gathered to meet him; in Bucharest, where the scene was identical; in the Slovak capital of Bratislava; and in various tiny Hungarian villages.
Ted had a tremendous constitution. It enabled him to survive the four or five meals thrust on him daily, a few hundred kilometers of daily driving, long conversations with peasants in the field, and encounters with priests, customs officials, and youngsters. Always he had great patience, good humor, and a story or a joke to top anything. In the Press’s city room, they always called him, jokingly, the “broken-English editor.” Andrica’s accent was thick, but his mind was as sharp as his memory. He remembered thousands of faces and names, and he always obtained, privately and at first-hand, information few other journalists ever came by.
When, as a fellow reporter, I sometimes traveled with him, we would rise early and hurry from house to farm to marketplace, meeting “the relatives.” Ted often perspired in the sticky Balkan weather, grumbling in a good-natured way. But he kept going — talking, questioning, listening. Inherited Rumanian shrewdness always helped him stay one step ahead of the Communist regimes, and in his articles he would finesse points past censorship. “Chickens are plentiful in Budapest,” he once wrote, “which is marvelous for people who have not seen veal for twenty years.”
His personality was always his best tool in trade. “I am Balkan myself, and I understand how these people talk, how they view life, and I feel, along with them, their love of their soil.” He would add this basic truth about Eastern Europe: “People remain people despite the political system. I have seen them dig in their heels in the face of coercion, and today only five percent of the population are what you would call activists. You don’t meet many now who proclaim the virtues of the party, thump their chests, or call for a New Man. They have come to appreciate the enormous and enduring power of traditional values, including nationalism, and the ‘ultras’ are trying to harness these old forces.”
In recent years Ted undertook another service: checking into the ancestry of his readers and satisfying their new pride in their ethnic stock. There was less need than before to deliver clothes and food, because times, even in Eastern Europe, have improved. Most mail is opened, but it gets through. Ted would still travel to a remote village to light a church taper on behalf of an old-timer back in Cleveland, row out into the Adriatic to throw a wreath upon its waters for a lost sailor, or act as proxy best man or godfather at East European weddings and baptisms.
I always wondered how Ted found the energy at the end of a day to sit down at his battered typewriter. He would write about the situation on East European farms and often foretold cyclical disasters in Communist agricultural management. He wrote about prices, about relations between Communist fathers and their Western-oriented teen-age children, about incomes, about the standard of food in factory canteens, about jokes, about housing conditions, about what people thought of the Russians.
The first time I met Ted he said to me: “Forget the highfalutin stuff” (by which he meant the communiqués in gobbledegook party prose), “and come and meet my sort of people.” All his life he carried those lists of relatives with him, checking off the names one by one. Back in Vienna he would study more lists and work out his next itinerary. In all of Ted’s tales, the names would be omitted, for long experiences had taught him the need for discretion.
He was loved in Cleveland, where, he estimates, he had attended some 14,000 ethnic dinners and where he will now run a travel, advice, and research agency for his former readers. He was loved, too, in Eastern Europe. He would sit long into the night passing on information about the other half of the family, jotting down a note to take back to Cleveland. His years in the Rumanian Orthodox ministry date back to the Twenties, but in a sense the vocation remains alive. In another sense, he became a latter-day Ernie Pyle. His persistence enabled him to overcome considerable physical obstacles in the form of blocked mountain passes in Yugoslavia, terrible roads, little sleep. His warmth of character melted all but the hardest of Communist officialdom.
Once, when we were taking a quick breather on a cafe terrace in Budapest, Ted peered at me through his thick spectacles and said: “I’ve never been an intellectual. I’m as hardheaded as my readers” — which was not true. Former Mayor Carl Stokes in 1970 proclaimed “Theodore Andrica Day” to laud what he called “our ambassador of good will to international understanding.” Ted’s old editor, Louis Seltzer, added: “He has been good for this world — for America and for Europe.”
The annual Almanacs of “America,” Romanian daily and weekly; of the “Solia,” Romanian Orthodox publication; of the Romanian Catholics of Byzantine Rite.
“The New Pioneer” English language quarterly, published by the Cultural Association of Americans of Romanian Descent.
Personal talks with “old time” Romanian immigrants, including Nick Moga, Nick Boeriu, Nicolae Nestor, George Puffu, Nicolae Mihaltian, Andrew Ghetia, George Ghetia, John Ghidiu, George Cabas and with numerous members of the Romanian parishes and organizations provided much of the source material for this study.