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Immigrants Of The Week: Christiane Amanpour, Gretel Bergmann, Michael J. Fox, I.M. Pei, And Charles Simic

by Greg Siskind

Editor's note: Here are some entries from Greg Siskind's blog.


Born in England and raised in Iran, Christiane Amanpour, the internationally renown journalist, has called the US home since her college days at the University of Rhode Island.

Ms. Amanpour is a correspondent for CNN as well as CBS' 60 Minutes. She's got one of the most recognizable voices in broadcasting and has landed many of the most important interviews of our generation. Most recently, she was made a Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth.

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I had never heard of Ms. Bergmann until I recently saw a fascinating documentary on her on HBO. Ms. Bergmann, who is now in her 90s, was a leading athlete in Germany set to take a medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. While the Germans were facing world criticism for their treatment of Jewish athletes, they chose Bergmann as the only Jewish member of the team (Helene Mayer, another team members whose deceased father was Jewish, was raised in her mother's Christian faith). And then she was kicked off the team at the last moment along with her fellow Jewish teammate.

The film interview Ms. Bergmann at length and one can tell those years of training have benefited her - she looked at 20 years younger than her years and her memory of that remarkable time in her life was impeccable.

Bergmann managed to emigrate to the US in 1937 and avoided the horrors that were to befall her people in the years to follow. Because the Olympics were canceled in 1940 and 1944 because of the war, Ms. Bergmann never had the opportunity to win her gold medal, though she has the satisfaction of at least knowing that the height of the high jump that was enough to win the gold medal in Berlin was the same as she achieved in competition just a month before the Games.

Bergmann did have a chance to compete in her adopted country. She was the 1937 American high jump and shot put champion and repeated the high jump championship in 1938. She became an American citizen in 1942.

In a nice epilogue to her story, she was honored by the the German people in 1999 with the naming of a stadium after her. The stadium was one that she was not allowed to keep in (or even enter) when she was living in Germany. She returned to the Germany for the first time since fleeing in the 30s to attend the dedication ceremony.

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Michael J. Fox, the Canadian actor famous for roles in films like Back to the Future and for television shows like Spin City and Family Ties, has become just as well known in recent years in the role of activist. Fox, who has Parkinson's Disease, has campaigned for research money for the disease and weighed in very public on the need for stem cell research. Fox's foundation has raised nearly $100,000,000 for research to treat and cure Parkinson's. When we read daily headlines about Hollywood actors' misbehaving, here's someone who has used his notoriety for the public good. Hopefully, we'll see a true cure for this terrible disease in the near future.

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I.M. Pei, was born in Canton, China in 1917, immigrated to the US at age 17 and became a naturalized US citizen since in 1954. He is, quite simply, one of the most highly regarded architects on the planet. His projects are considered works of art in and of themselves.

I've been an architecture buff for many years ever since I worked as an architectural surveyor for the Metropolitan Historical Commission in Nashville between my college and law school years. So I've been a long admirer of Mr. Pei. Some of my favorite works include the Bank of China Tower, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and, of course, the Louvre Pyramid.

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The Library of Congress has just named Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Charles Simic as the nation's new Poet Laureate. Simic, a Serbian native, is not the first immigrant to be slelected, but he did use the occasion of his selection to comment on his immigrant past:

I am especially touched and honored to be selected because I am an immigrant boy who didn't speak English until I was 15," he said.

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About The Author

Greg Siskind is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.