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Immigration and naturalization exhibit opening at Kauffman Museum

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – A new exhibit now touring the state will make a stop on the Bethel College campus.

“Americans by Choice: The Story of Immigration and Citizenship in Kansas” opens Saturday, July 14, at Kauffman Museum and will remain through Sept. 2.

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, lower cost of living and 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. Each year, the U.S. District Court, District of Kansas, hosts 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 story told in “Americans by Choice: The Story of Immigration and Citizenship in Kansas.” The exhibit illustrates the paths to citizenship that Kansas settlers from around the world have taken over 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.

The exhibit features photographs, documents, quotes and interactive books describing major laws affecting immigration and naturalization over the past 150 years, the consequences of those laws and how they directly affected the life of a Kansan.

The U.S. District Court, District of Kansas, commissioned the exhibit 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.

The Honorable Kathryn H. Vratil, chief judge, stated, “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. 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.

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

“I have been captivated and inspired by the people I’ve met through this project,” she 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.”

Regular Kauffman Museum hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission to the museum, which also includes admission to the special exhibit “Americans by Choice,” as well as the permanent exhibits “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture,” is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-16, and free to Kauffman Museum members and children under 6. For more information, call the museum at 316-283-1612 or visit its website, www.bethelks.edu/kauffman/.

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