by Freya Pruitt Part Three of Six
TTW proudly presents part three of The American Countess. This is the true life story of a little girl who escaped from Russia to become a great opera singer in America. This is the story of the American Dream from the eyes of one who lived it. Follow this great woman as she takes her maiden voyage to America at only eight years of age. Discover how the young Countess entered Ellis Island and paid the price to become an American citizen. Look into the Countess’ heart and see how she feels about the immigration laws of today. Search your soul as you watch how this great country has changed immigration and citizenship laws to accommodate the easy way out. You decide what’s right and what is wrong. This is a story about your countryyour hopes- your dreams. This is the true life story of my mother: Countess Luba Tcheresky. Ladies and gentlemen, with great pride, TTW presents: The American Countess. My mother’s arrival in America was met with a sea of
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confusion and excitement. Her tiny heart was beating so fast she could hardly catch her breath. Why were all the people running to one side of the ship? Why were they crying and hugging each other? As the crowd dispersed and ran anxiously towards the dock in New York Harbor, a small little girl was left alone staring at Lady Liberty. As the sun streamed through the misty sky the little girl felt a hand reach down and take her quivering hand. The Captain quietly led her to the Processing Center at Ellis Island. She was met by a total stranger-her mother: Countess Kathereine Lebedev. As the little girl turned and let the giant gates close behind her, a piece of her beating heart pulled out of the harbor on a boat headed out to open sea. It took with it the only life she had ever known; her life in Russia. Her pounding heart quickly subsided and turned into numbness. The warmth in her heart had forever sailed into a cold and lonely sea. She wondered if she would ever be warm again- she wondered if she would ever feel again. Luba doesn’t remember much about Ellis Island; other than it was cold and damp and she was scared. She was only 8 years old and had traveled on a ship from Russia to America completely by herself. She was terrified at the rigorous inspection administered by Ellis Island officials. She quietly submitted as she went through the legal process. Luba: “People poked and prodded at me. I went through a thorough physical examination to make sure I was healthy before I came into the country. After passing inspection, my mother signed the official documents and I was allowed to enter the land of opportunity: America. As we drove off from the enormous dock, I looked back at the Statue of Liberty. She seemed like a huge doll standing in the sunlight. I was just a little girl; I longed to touch her, to know her, to understand who she was. Somehow I felt I had entered another world. But it was foreign to my senses. Even though I was with my mother, who was a complete stranger
to me, I felt alone and scared. I wanted my beloved grandmother and grandfather. I longed for my grandfather’s farm in Russia. I longed to see my duckies again, to walk them home at sunset and sit down at the dinner table with my grandparents and cousins. Grandmother would sing to me and grandfather would rock me to sleep. I was so happy and content until the day I was taken to a convent at five years of age to ‘prepare’ to come to America.” Those were the rules back then - even for a five year old little girl. Immigrants had to prepare to come to America. They needed a proper education and some knowledge of the language. My mother had no idea why she was snatched away in the middle of the night and taken to a convent filled with strangers. Her beloved grandparents were only doing what they were told to do. My Grand- mother had settled in America and was finally preparing to send for her daughter Luba. But there was a price to pay to come to America-and my mother would soon come to find out the price was hard to pay. My mother remembers the long and lonely drive to Detroit Michigan. As the wind from the Hudson River coldly swept over her tiny shoulders, she knew there would be no turning back - no return to Russia. This was her home now-it was time to become an American. But how would she do it-what was to become of her-where was she going and what would she do when she reached her destination. These were some overwhelming questions for a little girl to handle- it was now time for survival-and she would have to learn to survive on her own. Upon arriving in Detroit, Luba would immediately be put into a school – the George Washington School – with the express goal of learning English along with other immigrants from all parts of the world. Back then there was a code of honor in becoming an American citizen. My family was proud to be in America. There was no question they would follow the rules. Luba remembers her first day at school: “I sat behind a young boy from the Caribbean. Having never seen a black person before I tapped him on the shoulder, curious. He turned and gave me the most beautiful smile. We immediately became best friends. He was my protector during recess time outdoors against the bullies from the other classes who attempted to pull my pigtails or would try to poke at me or would make fun of me because I had not yet learned to speak English. I have my friend’s picture still in my old photograph album from that time. I often wonder what became of him.” My Grand-mother believed in a great education. The
arts were mandatory and her daughter had to learn the piano and to sing at a very young age. Luba also participated in Russian dances, puppet theater, and indeed, at the age of 15 was making arrangements for and conducting the four-part Russian choir. During this time, Luba was attending Cass Technical High School where she was given the opportunity to major in music along with taking all the other required academic subjects. The music curriculum consisted of piano, a string instrument and a wind instrument, plus theory of music, sight-singing, orchestration, a harp and vocal group as well as acting! The music department, after testing all its voices, formed a girls’ trio and Luba was chosen as the lead soprano. This trio was
afforded the chance to sing at many events. Luba also sang solos in concerts throughout Detroit, and sang an aria at her graduation ceremony from Cass High school. From an early age, Luba was taken to all the Russian affairs – Detroit had a huge Russian colony. My Grand-mother sang in the Russian Orthodox Church, at concerts with the Balalaika Orchestra and also acted in Russian plays. My Grandmother had a magnificent voice with absolutely no training. She loved singing
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beyond all else. No doubt Luba’s voice was a gift from her. Luba used to love to see her Ma-Ma dress up in her Boyar costume and sing. Never did Luba dream her family was Russian Nobility - a secret my Grand- mother held until shortly before she died. Although my Grand-mother was a Countess, she was also a strict disciplinarian. Luba, of course, had inherited her strong will and Russian temperament, so she spent many nights on her knees on a bed of rice as a punishment for disobeying her mother’s orders until she apologized. Alas, this went on for years, as Luba’s stubbornness created a propensity for late night rice! If I could use one word to describe my Grand- mother it would be honor. She was truly honored to become an American citizen. The day she stood up and took the oath of citizenship was the greatest day of her life. Every day she used to say to her children: “You have to go to school you have to learn - you have to do the right things to become good American citizens!” My Grand-mother worked in a factory during the day, took in ironing, cleaned houses and fulfilled whatever task it took to support her daughters and pay for their music lessons. At night, she went to school to learn English and earned her eighth grade diploma. She was so proud of it that she framed it and had it hanging on her living-room wall until the day she died. Looking back, it would have been much easier for my Grand-mother if she had used her Russian nobility status. Putting the word “Countess” in front of her name surely would have been a help! But she didn’t want to take any shortcuts. She had come to this country to work her way up to American citizenship and had left her former life behind. She endowed Luba with a work ethic and a sense of integrity that came from hard work, determination and faith. Life was challenging but it was honorable a word one doesn’t hear much today. Luba: “I live in NYC and rarely hear English spoken. Yes, we are a nation of immigrants and hopefully always will be. But where have all the steps that were previously required to become an American citizen gone to? My entire family gladly, and with honor, paid the price: we went to school, learned the language and followed the rules to the letter! Why have the laws been changed to accommodate breaking the law? Today, people can inflate a raft, swim across a river, run through the desert, dig their way through tunnels, and jump over a fence just to come to America. What about me? What about the millions of immigrants that paid the price and did it the honest way? Haven’t we been devalued and dishonored? We are either a nation of laws or we are not. What is right for
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one has to be right for all; that is the very fiber our country was founded upon: equality.” Countess Luba Tcheresky is living proof of what is possible to accomplish in this great country- if you abide by the rules. With hard work and a great talent, she became a successful opera singer who performed around the world to stunned audiences. She sang like a diva and had the voice of a queen. She accomplished what others only dream of-and she did it all with an invisible crown resting on her radiant head. Now a well-known voice teacher in NYC, Luba is commonly referred to as “The Voice Doctor.” She is famous for being able to fix any voice problem that any type of singer might have. Many of her students regularly perform leading roles on Broadway and in the opera and would gladly give testament to Luba’s skills. Luba was a favorite protégée of acclaimed German soprano Lotte Lehman and one of the featured singers in the famous Maria Callas master classes at the Juilliard School of Music. Her recent CD “In This Life” was released in 2004 and was touted in Opera News as “sensational; one of the year’s best.” It also received rave reviews in musical magazines in England and Germany. Luba: “Apart from my natural talent for singing, I feel my professional success is directly attributed to my heritage and how I was raised. I was taught to be honest, taught to work hard, taught to get a good education, taught to respect America. Today, people are cheating the system, the legal citizens and our country by not following the law. My family became Americans because they loved this country. I still do. But I am infuriated when I look back and consider the price my family paid. What is integrity worth today? Can we get it back? I don’t know. But I was taught to stand on integrity and I pledged allegiance to the flag over 70 years ago. I believe ‘We are one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’. I believed it then, and I believe it now - 70 years later.” Luba Tcheresky, a proud American.
From the Editor’s Desk: If you look at my mother’s life you will see she is living proof that The American Dream is not really a dream, but a reality! If an eight year old little girl can travel to America on a ship by herself, go to school, learn the language and become an opera singer who performed all around the world, she has made the American dream available to anyone who cares to live it. The Russian Countess Luba Lebedev has now become Luba Tcheresky: The American Countess. And what an extraordinary life she has made for herself in America. Upon recounting my families’ history for this article, I decided to do a little digging on my own on the internet. My research on immigration laws in America was shocking- this is what I found. “In 1917 The Immigration Act required a literacy test for admission to The US. In 1948, The Displaced Persons Act admitted people fleeing persecution. The law provides for entry of over 20,000 refugees uprooted from the war in Europe-that went on for two years. In 1950, membership in The Communist Party is made grounds for exclusion or deportation. The law requires aliens to report their addresses annually. Congress amends the 1948 Displaced Persons Act to increase the number of visas from 202,000 to 341,000. They say there were only 20,000 but there were actually 202,000 who were coming from everywhere else and the number increased to 341,000. (The figure of 20,00 was obviously erroneous) It says, on page 5 in the “Chronology of Immigration and Naturalization Policy” that the American immigration laws have been amended by every Congress since 1990!” In 1990 Congress passed a law that revised the entire admissions system and created an “overall flexible cap” of 700,000 admissions that started in 1992; to be replaced by a cap of 675,000 in 1995. These are LEGAL immigrants only because the illegals don’t vote, work for cash, don’t fill out a census and disappear into the melting pot. When taking the Oath today, a person may request a “modified” oath. If you provide enough proof that your religious training and beliefs prevent you from
bearing arms for the US, you may take the oath without: “To bear arms on behalf of the United states by law.” If you provide enough evidence and USCIS finds you are against any type of service in the Armed Forces (because of your religious beliefs) you will not be required to say the words: “To perform noncombatant service in the Armed forces required by law.” If USCIS finds that you are unable to swear the Oath, using the words “on Oath,” you may replace these words with “solemnly affirm.” Finally if USCIS finds that you are unable to say the words “So help me God” because of your religious training or beliefs, you are not required to say these words. You are supposed to provide documentation of religious training and religious beliefs; and be in good standing. If you cannot communicate the understanding of the Oath because of mental or physical dysabilitities, the USCIS may excuse you from this requirement. Just before taking the Oath, you will be required to Pledge Allegiance to the flag and sing the National Anthem of the United States of America. You do not have to memorize any of these. You will be given a sheet of paper with these written on them. You must give up all heredity titles or positions of nobility.” Please God- bless America- because she surely needs it. I pray You bring sense and sensibility as well as honor and integrity back to America. What was good for one should be good for all. After all, isn’t the law supposed to be the law? I love this country but am appalled by its political correctness. In a world riddled with fear, greed and contempt, I pray that the heart of America emerges in each of us. I pray that we become proud again and willing to stand in courage and integrity for what is right-for what is truly America. My family proudly paid the price and went on to become a piece of American history. My Mother and Grand-Mother’s golden plaques still hang on the walls of Ellis Island. Their lives are part of the true greatness we call America. Do not have their integrity be in vain. May God bless America. May God bless us all. Freya Pruitt Editor in chief – TTW Please “Google” “Luba Tcheresky” for her current CD, reviews and life story.
Join us in our next issue of Today’s Texas Woman as we continue our six part feature series that tells the true life story of Countess Luba Tcheresky.
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