As an Immigrant in this Wonderland, also I am Different, also I am Foreign and Unfamiliar
It is warm October Sunday and I am entering Balboa Park from the Laurel Bridge, passing under the magnificent European-like stone gate presenting a sculptural relief- allegory of the Atlantic ocean (the handsome He) touching with his outstretched finger the Pacific Ocean (the handsome She). Right above their heads in the middle I read 1915, the year of a fascinating chapter of this charming unique park and its Panama-California Exposition celebrating the completion of the Panama Canal. The canal is considered one of the finest achievements of our human skills, shrewdness and persistence. It was a collective international effort as on any given day about 40,000 people from 50 nations worked on the task that was started with the French and completed by the Americans. This incredible achievement was celebrated in 1915 around the world and San Diego contributed with its Panama-California grand expo displaying various achievements of humanity.
The exhibit was a great success and it was repeated in 1935 thanks to a visionary Frank Drugar who inspired the 1935 Panama California International Exhibition. Among other things he proposed to build an international village with 13 Spanish styles cottages each representing and showcasing one nation. He named it the House of Pacific Relation, the word Pacific meaning peaceful.
I love, admire and cherish what he did. It stands for a living memorial to a peaceful co-existence, a celebration of the charm of the world, a celebration of an effort to overcome suspicion as something different, something foreign, something unfamiliar. As an immigrant in this wonderland, also I am different, also I am foreign and unfamiliar. And as happily I learn of the unknown the others offer, also I happily share my story with whomever is interested. And so I am heading in my Czech traditional costume with a homemade cake in my hand to the Drugan’s Hall of Nation to share my heritage as every Sunday of the year one nation has a showcase of its culture.
Here is my folk dance, here is my song, here is my thickly accented appreciation of the fun attentive big crowd crowding the Hall, here is a snippet from my nation history, here is my smile, here are the songs sung by our children groups, performing in their parents language, attempting with ease its intricate grammar, mastering musical instruments, songs, poems, dance. The final part of the program belongs to the Czech and Slovak women who break into eastern Slovakian songs, clad in many different handmade traditional costumes. The performance concludes with a Czech-Slovak band that seems to bring a wonderful energy to the room where the happy ambiance is contagious. Every face in the room wears a smile! It is a genuine gathering of nations in the Hall of Nation and I am glad my family was a part of it.
I stroll back through our beautiful park, hand in hand with my friends and family, and I am happy to be here in the Park, here in San Diego, here in this Wonderland that has always made me feel welcome. It is a precious feeling and its uniqueness never lost its luster.