• The story of an immigrant—my father

    Nora tells the story of a chemist who worked on the Apollo Space Program.

    I arrived in this country in January 1969 with my mother, my brother, and a stack of my favorite books. The flight from Argentina was my first plane ride, and we had to travel light, my mother said. I could take my doll or my books, but not both. I'd always been a reader, and my ninth birthday was coming up.

    Nora


    Six months earlier, my parents had decided to apply for a visa to immigrate to the U.S. My father, a chemical engineer, qualified for a specialized knowledge professional visa. My mother started dragging my brother and me on long bus rides to the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires, where she'd wait entire afternoons for the necessary forms and paperwork to submit our application.

    The embassy lobby had a smooth stone floor, which we kids slid on until someone yelled for us to stop, and an electric fan, which was great fun. I'd stand in front of it and feel the cool breeze on my hair until the next kid over tapped my shoulder and told me to move to the end of the line.

    Once my father obtained a visa, he left for Los Angeles alone to find a job and an apartment for us all. My mother followed him a month later while my brother and I stayed with relatives, and my parents booked a motel with the little money we had until we were able to sublet an apartment of our own. My father found a job with Ampex Corporation. Ampex was one of the first players in the magnetic tape industry, which produced the first video tape recordings of famous events such as the Nixon-Khrushchev Kitchen Debate and the NASA U.S. space missions.

    On July 20, 1969, six months after my brother and I arrived in America, I came home from school and watched the Apollo 11 moon landing on a little black-and-white television set we'd bought secondhand from the previous tenants. The picture was grainy and the sound garbled, but I distinctly remember my excitement, and the words “One giant leap for mankind.”

    I had picked up enough English by then to understand some of the broadcast, though not all of it. Only later did I learn that my dad worked for the company that made that amazing visual something the entire world could share.

    Nora's parents

    At Ampex, and later at Electronic Memories, my father worked with magnetic core memories, which at the time were part of the computers used to direct and guide the Apollo spaceships. The way my dad explained it to us kids: He designed the ceramic “mud” to make tiny little magnetic rings called cores, which were then strung like beads through wires to form a square grid. By sending many signals of zeros and ones in sequence, the cores were able to tell the computer what to do. My father had to design cores that were able to withstand extreme temperatures in space, as well as be able to be manufactured consistently in different batches and pass rigorous NASA specifications.

    Both my parents were idealists who wanted a better future not only for themselves and their children, but for everyone. They were geeks long before it was hip to be so. They discovered "Star Trek" and unabashedly agreed with its humanistic and inclusive values. They watched "Doctor Who" decades before it became popular. I think that for them, their trek to the United States had been so revolutionary and eye-opening that they didn't see why interstellar travel, warp drives, and acceptance of all peoples couldn't also be achieved.

    Like many immigrants, my childhood and much of my life was colored by this experience. I fell in love with my husband, Ariel, sitting at the Santa Monica Pier on our first date as he told me about his engineering classes at the University of Southern California. Though his English was far from perfect, he couldn't contain his excitement over a concept he'd learned, and the fact that he could interact with professors at the university every day of the week. He was a young Israeli on a student visa, and he expressed the exact feeling I'd had when I arrived here: that anything was possible. We married in a civil ceremony just after final exams.

    After our son Oren was born, my parents took him as a toddler to the Santa Monica Airport observation deck to watch little propeller planes take off and land, to "Star Trek" movie screenings, and to the Getty Villa by the beach. It was as if they wanted to show him this amazing country they'd been so lucky to discover, and they didn't want to waste a second.

    Oren and Amit

    Our sons are young men now. Oren is an electrical engineer like his father, living and working at a start-up in Silicon Valley. My youngest son, Amit, is a talented mathematician pursuing his Ph.D. at Cambridge University in England, and is as avid a science fiction fan as his grandparents. My father passed away 12 years ago, and I am saddened by the many milestones he wasn't able to share with my children, but I know how proud he would have been of them.

    Stories like ours are what immigration is, and that's why the House needs to act on comprehensive immigration reform. Inaction could cost America its future innovators, like my father and my sons.

    At universities across the United States, thousands of foreign students who come here to study leave the country shortly after graduating. They start companies abroad instead of here, the country that gave them a world-class education. I know dozens of hard-working immigrants who only want a chance to work, raise their families, and contribute to the community.

    Nora's mother, seated, joins OFA volunteers at an immigration event.

    The future will be built by people with imagination, energy and resilience. I believe immigrants are a vital part of this equation, and the countries that embrace their unique perspective and welcome their input will be the winners. I love America and Americans for the way they accepted me and my family so many years ago, and I'll fight to make sure this generosity of spirit continues in future generations.

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