John Thiesen’s article is based on a presentation he gave at a Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum program at Kauffman Museum on August 12, 2012. His program complemented a traveling exhibition Americans by Choice: Immigration and Naturalization in Kansas that illustrates the paths to citizenship taken by Kansas settlers from around the world over the past 150 years.
The U.S. District Court, District of Kansas commissioned Americans by Choice to celebrate the court’s 150th anniversary. The traveling version is based on a permanent exhibition of the same title at the Robert J. Dole Courthouse in Kansas City, Kansas, where naturalization ceremonies are considered as one of the highlights of the court’s responsibilities.
Jean Svadlenak, an independent museum consultant, contacted Thiesen when researching stories of Kansas immigrants for the exhibition. Thiesen assists persons learning about immigration and naturalization records in his position as archivist at Mennonite Library and Archives at Bethel College. Svadlenak was seeking stories that would represent Mennonites as one of several well-known immigrant ethnic groups to the state. Thiesen drew from his own family history to provide Svadlenak with photographs and records of his father’s family who emigrated from Russia in 1874 and his mother’s family who came to the United States in the 1920s. Both accounts appear in the traveling and permanent exhibitions.
In this article, Thiesen tells the stories behind the Mennonite images that appear in the exhibition and reflects on issues of becoming “Americans by Choice” from a second-generation immigrant point of view.
For more information about the exhibition Americans by Choice, visit: