The most famous Slovenian in the country, aspiring first lady Melania Trump, arrived in Cleveland to warmth reminiscent of home.
Slovenians are an active immigrant community in Cavalier Country. Proud of their roots, they celebrate their Central European culture and speak their native language, Slovene. Curiously, no one is asking them to erase the past or de-hyphenate their Slovenian-American personality. No one is calling for their deportation or questioning how work or tourist visas turned into permanent residency. In fact, city banners during the annual Kurentovanje festival proclaim: “Cleveland celebrates its Slovenian community.”
Cleveland is home to the largest concentration of Slovenians outside of Europe, between 80,000 and 100,000. Make that plus-two this week, given the presence of Melania and Barron, her 10-year-old son, who speaks fluent Slovene with his maternal grandparents.
In a nation of immigrants, the would-be first lady’s status would be cause for applause — except that Melania Trump supports closing the door of privilege opened wide for her.
Never miss a local story.
She’s standing by a man catapulted to the GOP nomination by a rabid anti-immigrant agenda.
Donald Trump opened his campaign with a rant against Mexican immigrants, casting them as rapists and drug dealers. He rode on the coattails of tea party hate speech that hijacked the Republican Party all the way to the nomination. Among the 16 other candidates he beat is Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has a kinder view of immigrants as nation-builders and is boycotting the Republican National Convention in his city.
As it is in Trump’s campaign, a convention theme Monday was to link immigrants to crime and violence. For such a disgusting purpose, the GOP used as speakers people who’ve had the misfortune of suffering a loss at the hands of someone who entered the country illegally.
Then came Melania’s speech about her model-citizen husband, who in her view, oozes “respect” for others.
It was her moment to shine dressed in designer purity white, but Trump — it’s always about him — upstaged her by making a grand entrance, silhouetted by dramatic lighting, like a rock star opening a concert. Delegates went wild, as if he were the one singing Queen’s “We are the Champions.” On the other hand, the discomfort of some delegates with Melania’s thick foreign accent was evident when cameras panned the crowd.
Melania noted in her speech that Slovenia had been a Communist stronghold, as if this were the political system she fled. But politics had nothing to do with her leaving her native land. In fact, her father was a member of the Communist Party, and although not rich, the family was well-off and enjoyed a better standard of living than most Slovenians.
Melania left her homeland — as did so many of the undocumented in the United States her husband wants to deport and wall off — to pursue dreams of a better life. In her case, being a jewelry and watch-designer and a model in a country of 2 million people wasn’t good enough.
The only difference between Melania and Mexicans and other Latin Americans is that the latter are often poor and fleeing for their lives, trying to get away from civil wars, gangs, and drug-trafficking (supported by U.S. consumption, I should add). And unlike the humble Latin Americans who seek refuge any way they can, Melania country-shopped plenty around Europe, even Germanizing her name from Knavs to Knauss.
According to a GQ profile, after Melania modeled in Milan and Paris, Paolo Zampolli, an Italian businessman who operates in New York, brought Melania to the U.S. with a contract and a work visa. Melania, then 28, met Trump, 52, at one of the parties Zampolli threw to promote his models during Fashion Week of 1998.
By 2005, she was Trump’s wife, and a year later, a U.S. citizen. Her parents also now have emigrated and live by her in Trump Tower.
And here she is, vying to be First Lady to complete her circle of privileged immigration.
That his third wife’s convention speech was a riff off Michelle Obama’s in 2008 is only another deceptive element of the Trump presidential candidacy. She’s a smokescreen for a GOP dead set on forgetting that, even in the heartland of Ohio, immigrant communities vote.