Land Park resident Judie Fertig Panneton was born the child of immigrants. Her mother was from Poland and her father was from Holland. Both her parents were also Holocaust survivors.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, all Panneton wanted was to be like all the other American kids and fit in.
“When I was a kid I didn’t want to be a child of immigrants; I didn’t want to have parents that were Holocaust survivors,” she says. “It was very painful to watch my father have a number on his arm and to know there was horror behind it.”
Now years later, Panneton has realized she is proud of the fact she is a child of immigrants, thanks in part to the research she conducted while writing her new book, “Proud Americans: Growing Up as Children of Immigrants.”
Panneton decided to write “Proud Americans” as she had always felt different and wondered if there were other children of immigrants who felt the same way. Through her journalism background and curiosity, she decided to start interviewing other children of immigrants to see if they had the same feelings.
Over seven years, Panneton interviewed about 50 people for her book, many of which are from Sacramento. For example, she interviewed Board of Supervisors District 2 Representative Jimmie Yee, who in his story talks about how poor his family was growing up. And Tony Xiong, one of 10 children of Laotian immigrants, grew up in a poor Sacramento neighborhood, battled hunger, violence and the lure of gangs who is now training to be a police officer.
“You interview these people and they just become part of you sometimes,” Panneton says about her experience. “I was very touched by a lot of the stories. And I learned from all of them – that was a great part of it too … Not only do I hear these special stories and memories, but I get to learn about history and people’s lives and how they made a go of it.”
Panneton said although many of her book’s subjects come from Sacramento, it wasn’t done on purpose – it just happens that Sacramento is that diverse. In fact, she makes reference to the fact that Sacramento was named the most diverse city in the United States by Time magazine in 2002, and for that reason she asked Mayor Kevin Johnson to write an introduction for her book.
Spreading the Word
Through her project, Panneton said she has learned that some of the most proud Americans are children of immigrants, and their families really appreciate what America brings to their family.
“I also take away that being a child of immigrants is actually an honor. You just don’t realize it sometimes,” she adds. “There are some people who certainly have embraced it from the moment they were born in the family they’ve been in, but there are others that don’t realize how great it is until they’re older.”
Panneton hopes to spread this message across to others. For instance, she has done talks at California State University, Sacramento and colleges on the East Coast about her book, and has made the book available to some CSUS and high school educators to use in their curriculum.
She may develop “Proud Americans” into a play. As she sees many of these stories as looking through the window of someone’s home, she believes her book would format itself well to theater. “I’m not moving on from this book because it lives in my heart and my soul and I’d still like to build upon it,” she said.
In July, Panneton was part of a presentation of citizenship certificates to 14 new children of immigrants at the Old Schoolhouse in Old Sacramento. “My message to them was you go to school and you’re going to want to fit in with your friends and that’s all good, but remember your parents sacrificed a lot to come to this country, so be proud of them, too,” she says.
To continue spreading the word on what she’s learned, Panneton will be conducting three presentations through the Sacramento Public Library in October – Pocket Greenhaven Library on Oct. 10 from 6:30-8 p.m.; South Natomas Library on Oct. 17 from 7-7:30 p.m.; and Arden Dimick Library on Oct. 20 from 2-3:30 p.m.
For the library events, Panneton plans to have read four to five stories from “Proud Americans” and open up a discussion with attendees. She also hopes to have some of the people from her book attend the library events so attendees can meet them.
“I hope people come to the events at the library because it’s always a great opportunity to form a little community in a room and have really special time spent together sharing ideas and memories,” she says. “I would love to see everybody come out and join together as a community and talk about this great country of ours.”