1st Thanksgiving for the new Americans Sworn-in Monday: The 3,201 people sworn in as citizens Monday in Landover are celebrating their first Thanksgiving

November 23, 1995|By Norris P. West and Joe Mathews | Norris P. West and Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

From Hungary, British Guyana, France and Venezuela, they came as immigrants to this country in search of refuge, education, romance, economic security and their children's future.

Whatever they left in their native countries, they found something here that made them want to call it home.

Today is their first Thanksgiving as American citizens.

Ilona Lantos, Jung-Shik Son, Yonette Thompson, Pascale Fleischer and Hector Guaita Manzano were among the 3,201 Marylanders who were naturalized during a ceremony at the USAir Arena on Monday.

Thanksgiving, a quintessentially American tradition that traces its roots to the story of Pilgrims surviving in a new land, has become increasingly important to them during their years here as they moved closer and closer to becoming citizens.

Now that they are Americans, they say, they're thankful.

Ilona Lantos spent the first 76 years of her life in Hungary, with few thoughts of leaving. Today, she will eat dinner with her husband of four years at his daughter's home in Potomac.

Mrs. Lantos was from a wealthy family, but life in the city of Szeged was not easy, particularly for Jews. Nazis abducted her first husband from their apartment; his body was found a short time later.

Many of her friends, including her bridge partner George Lantos, fled a country that seemed to grow increasingly violent during the 1950s. Her second husband struggled to make a living. He died five years ago, leaving her feeling alone.

Then came the call from Maryland. For years, she had exchanged letters with Dr. George Lantos, now a psychiatrist in Laurel. Would she like to visit him in his new apartment in Silver Spring?

Yes. After a week, Dr. Lan-tos asked her if she would be interested in a husband. It took some convincing, but on Oct. 6, 1991, the two life-long friends were married.

"I was not so easy but he told me, 'A doctor can't be single; he must be married,' " Mrs. Lantos says through her husband, who acts as her interpreter. "He was my good friend, and after the marriage, nothing changed."

Even though her English is weak, Mrs. Lantos, 81, looks more comfortable with her adopted country than does her husband. She has plunged headlong into life in her retirement community, swimming laps every morning for a half-hour and taking Dr. Lantos to movies and local opera performances. It seems not to frustrate her that he has to translate most of the words.

In contrast to his free-spirited wife, Dr. Lantos, a citizen since 1959, wears the doctor's stiff, gray suits. At age 81, he still sees patients.

They don't talk about it with each other much, but they say their friendship and marriage is strong because of experiences they shared during World War II. Dr. Lantos, too, lost members of his Jewish family to the Germans. He himself was in a concentration camp but was spared, he says, because the Nazis needed doctors.

The three-bedroom apartment the couple now shares has many things to recommend it: thick carpets, a spotless kitchen, a cozy master bedroom. But on this Thanksgiving, Dr. and Mrs. Lantos think back to Hungary and agree: the best thing about their apartment is the peace and quiet.

From Seoul, South Korea

Thanksgiving came a day early for Jong-Shik Son and his wife, Dal-Sun Son, of White Marsh. They were part of a 10-person dinner party that feasted on turkey, ham and cranberry sauce at the Carney home of his daughter, Innam Jin.

They ate a day early because their son-in-law has to work today. But they weren't trying to turn tradition on its head.

Mr. Son said he embraces Thanksgiving as he did a similar holiday in South Korea that celebrates the blessings of the year.

"I thank God for everything," he said in Korean as his second-oldest daughter, Eugena Son, translates.

Neither he nor his wife speak English, but all their children are bilingual. English is the first language of the grandchildren, who have no trace of a Korean accent.

As the half-carved turkey and ham sat on the table and other family members went into the basement or washed dishes, Mr. Son recalled the uncertainty in Seoul that prompted him to leave the country at age 53.

Two daughters were already here, and he wanted his son and his other three daughters to have opportunities he feared did not exist for them in South Korea.

He smiled approvingly as he reflected on his decision to sell his delivery business in Seoul, pack up his family and board a flight to New York.

To family members the date is like the Fourth of July. It was actually Nov. 21, 1975.

"Considering the difficulties of the '70s, girls didn't have an opportunity to go to college," Mr. Son said. "They would have had a married life much earlier."

He worked as a steel press operator and his wife was a seamstress. Two daughters attended the former Eastern High School and a son went to Barclay Elementary School. Four of their six children are college graduates; all are citizens.

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