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Immigration exhibit set to open at Forsyth

Special to The Hays Daily News

Most Kansans can trace their heritage to another part of the world. Some came in search of a better life for themselves or their children. Many came to join families or friends.

Between 1865 and 1880, Kansas attracted immigrants at a faster pace than anywhere else in the United States. The state's population grew from 107,205 in 1860 to 1,428,108 in 1890, thanks to the irresistible promise of a better life through land and jobs. In 1870, 13 percent of Kansas' total population was foreign-born. Employment opportunities, a lower cost of living and the ease of integrating into communities in a meaningful way continue to attract many new immigrants to the state. Today, 6 percent of all Kansans are foreign-born. And, each year, the U.S. District Court conducts more than 20 naturalization ceremonies in which individuals who have completed the requirements for citizenship take the Oath of Allegiance and become U.S. citizens.

This is the unique story told in "Americans by Choice: The Story of Immigration & Citizenship in Kansas," a new exhibit touring the state. It will open to the public Jan. 3 at Forsyth Library on the Fort Hays State University campus.

Admission is free.

Beginning Jan. 3, the exhibit will be open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. It will be closed Jan. 21. Beginning Jan. 22, the exhibit will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and from 1 to 10 p.m. Sundays. The exhibit closes Feb. 20.

The exhibit illustrates the paths to citizenship taken by Kansas settlers from around the world during the past 150 years and personalizes the story of immigration and citizenship -- who came, where they came from, why they came to Kansas and why they chose to become U.S. citizens. It features photographs, documents, quotes and interactive books describing major laws affecting immigration and naturalization during the past 150 years, the consequences of those laws and how they directly affected the life of a Kansan.

The exhibit was commissioned by the U.S. District Court, District of Kansas, to highlight the court's role in the naturalization process. A permanent exhibit of the same title is installed at the Robert J. Dole Courthouse in Kansas City, Kan.

"I speak for every one of the judges on this court when I say that participating in naturalization ceremonies is one of the highlights of our professional life," said Chief Judge Kathryn H. Vratil. "It helps us reaffirm and refocus ourselves on the values that we hold very dear to our hearts as American citizens."

From 1931 to 2010, more than 75,000 new citizens were naturalized in Kansas, an average of 2,400 annually.

The exhibit was developed by Jean Svadlenak, a museum consultant based in Kansas City, Mo., with more than 35 years of experience in the history field.

"I have been captivated and inspired by the people I've met through this project," Svadlenak said. "Their personal stories give meaning to immigration and citizenship facts and figures. Working on this project has given me a deeper appreciation for my own American citizenship."

For more information, email pnichola@fhsu.edu or call (785) 628-5901.