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Immigrants Of The Week: Martina Navratilova, Zubin Mehta, Tom Lantos, Linus Torvalds

by Greg Siskind

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


OK, I'm a lousy tennis player, but I've always been a tennis fan and enjoy watching a good Grand Slam tournament. I've been lucky enough to attend a couple of Wimbledons and US Opens though it has been many years. So I'm in bed this weekend with a cold and my laptop and my new high def television watching the US Open matches. And I'm reminded of a US Open match I went to several years ago where I was lucky enough to be in the stands and watch the great Chris Evert play her final match ever against Zina Garrison, also a great American tennis player. Evert's famous rival for nearly two decades, Martina Navratilova, also was playing in that tournament and made it to the finals where she lost against the legendary Steffi Graf (who I'm sure I'll profile in a later post).

Martina is arguably the greatest tennis player of all time. She won an astounding 59 Grand Slam titles in Women's Singles (18), Women's Doubles (31) and Mixed Doubles (10).  Despite playing in an era with greats like Evert, Graf, Monica Seles and Billie Jean King, Navratilova set a record winning 74 matches in a row. Navratilova played an amazingly long career only retiring last year at Wimbledon just a month shy of her 50th birthday. Most of her opponents and even some of their parents were not even born when Navratilova was winning tournaments.

Navratilova's immigration story is not dissimilar to other athletes from Eastern Bloc countries. She was a citizen of Czechoslavakia and defected to the US in 1975 when she was just 18 years old. She became a naturalized US citizen in 1981.

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Most Americans cannot name a symphony conductor, but for those that can, one of the names they are very likely to know is Zubin Mehta, an Indian American. Maestro Mehta has been the conductor and the musical director of many of the world's great symphonies including the New York Philharmonic, the Israeli Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Zubin has has a long and interesting career that has included conducting concerts that not only were great musically, but important politically. In 1991, during the height of the first Gulf War, he became a hero in Israel when he chose to remain in the country with his orchestra and conduct a concert while scud missiles were reining down on the country. Audience members wore gas masks.  In 1994, he conducted a concert at the ruins of Sarajevo's National Library to raise money for the victims of the Bosnian conflict. In 1999, he conducted a joint concert of the Bavarian State Orchestra and the Israel Philharmonic near the site of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp in a concert meant to heal wounds.  In 2005, he conducted a concert in Madras that was a major fundraiser for victims of the 2004 tsunami. But you really know he's an icon when you've got a Muppet named for you.

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Congressman Tom Lantos' heavy Hungarian accent may make him seem out of place on the floor of the US House of Representatives, but he's been in Congress longer than most of his colleagues. He was sent by his San Francisco constituents to Congress in 1981 and is one of the more influential members of the Democratic Caucus.

Lantos is one of a small number of Congressmen who started as refugees in this country. He is a Holocaust survivor who fought in the anti-German resistance in Hungary and was placed in a safehouse established by the famous Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat credited with saving many lives in World War II.  After arriving in the US, he became a professor before moving to Congress. Over the years, he's become known for his passionate views on the environment. And despite his closing in on his 80th birthday, he's still an "out front" activist. He recently was arrested protesting on the Darfur crisis in front of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington.

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Some of you are saying, "Well, it's about time." Linus Torvalds, the Finnish immigrant who is only 37, has only been in the US since 2004, but he was already quite famous before arriving thanks to his role in founding Linux, the open source operating system that is now one of the big three (the others being Windows and Macintosh).

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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.

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