49 Voices: Ivan Simonek of Wrangell

Ivan Simonek of Wrangell (Photo by Aaron Bolton, KSTK – Wrangell)

This week we’re hearing from Ivan Simonek in Wrangell. Simonek emigrated from Czechoslovakia in the 60s.

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SIMONEK: Well the thing is that I’m probably somehow American, but born in the wrong place, ’cause I always look up to the United States as [a] land of unlimited opportunities where dreams can come true. So I wanted to become American, but in Communist system, there was no way to peacefully emigrate, so basically person would have to escape from there. [The government] made sure that you didn’t have any chances.

So in that chaos, we managed to sneak out on pretense that we were traveling on prepaid vacation to Yugoslavia. We didn’t know what was ahead of us or what America was all about but we figured it would be much better than what we experienced. So I took my chances and corresponded with a young couple living here in Wrangell and another guy living in Anchorage. He was our lawyer and he became our sponsor.

We entered United States in November 1968 in Seattle. We had to overnight in Juneau. So we were hungry and we didn’t know the groceries in this country. We couldn’t tell the packages. The only thing we recognized was Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. So that’s what we had for dinner: Coke and Frosted Flakes. (laughs)

The next day we got on a plane and landed in Wrangell on the 22nd of November and it was was an extraordinarily bad day. It was blowing, raining, snowing, overcast… and we said “Oh boy! What did we get into?” (laughs)