Beaton column: Meet Walther Ramos, American
As we celebrated the birthday of our nation last month, I thought about a Brazilian friend named Walther Ramos.
Walther grew up in an ordinary middle class family in Brazil. As a teenager he became a terrific swimmer.
Walther has always been headstrong, and didn’t get along with Brazilian swimming establishment. But a Jewish swim team in Brazil noticed his talent and invited him to join. He thrived, and later came to America on a college swimming scholarship.
Walther stayed in contact with his Jewish friends back home, and they introduced him to Israel. He got to know the Israelis and their admirable culture, religion and cause.
It culminated with his conversion to Judaism. His official position is that he converted only to qualify for a spot on the Brazilian swim team competing in the Maccabiah Games (which are something like Jewish Olympics) and that he isn’t religious.
I don’t believe him.
After injuries and open heart surgery ended his competitive swimming career, Walther went on to become a prominent investment banker here in America. He has always had a green card, and was completely legal.
Now at age 58, my Jewish Brazilian brother still swims about as much as I walk, pushing each pulse of blood through the artificial heart valve installed by American surgeons. Something about this gives him an unfair advantage, I tease him.
In summertime he hikes up the 3,200 vertical feet of Aspen Mountain. He once ascended four times in one day. Even then he didn’t run out of ascents; he ran out of day.
In the winter he skis, but mainly uphill. “Skiing downhill is not exercise,” he explains.
He became a member and served on the board of Aspen Mountain Rescue. His aerobic capacity was near the top of that elite group, and if there were an ocean around here he would have been their go-to guy.
He is married to a beautiful American woman, and they have two successful adult sons. They split their time between Aspen and their old home near Philadelphia.
Years ago I asked Walther why he had never become an American citizen, since America has been his home for decades. He said he simply saw no need for that.
I badgered him a bit. I told him that America needs him. I told him that he needs America.
I told him I don’t have anything against Brazilians — some of my best girlfriends are Brazilians — but I’d be proud to call him my countryman.
I told him lots of things but none of it took. It just irritated him. You wouldn’t like Walther when he’s irritated.
He finally asked in his adorable Brazilian accent, “Glane, why are you paystering me about dees? Why do you care?”
“Walther, Walther, Walther,” I replied. (As instructed, I took care each time to pronounce the “W” as a “V” and to pronounce the “th” as well.) “I’m playing matchmaker. I think you and America could have a wonderful long-term relationship.”
It still just irritated him.
Over the years, however, Walther has become less irritable. Especially after I taught him to drink. But even so, don’t get him going on liberals or immigrants here illegally.
Then something amazing happened this summer. Walther became an American citizen, even though — or perhaps because — I’d stopped badgering him about it.
He underwent the usual background check and then studied for an exam on American history. If you ask him, and even if you don’t, he’ll tell you he aced it.
He knows why there are 13 stripes on the flag. He knows the position that Benjamin Franklin held in the infant United States of America. And he’ll proudly recite the Pledge of Allegiance — with his hand over that American artificial heart valve.
At the conclusion of his swearing-in ceremony this month, he did exactly that. He later admitted there was a drop of moisture under one eye but was vague as to its source.
And so Walther has been reborn twice, once in his religion and once in his nationality. That means he’s bested me again. But this time by only one.
By the way, I have two other good friends who weren’t born in America. The one from Oceania became a successful commodities broker before retiring to Aspen.
The other was born in Morocco as the granddaughter of a Russian Jew. (What an honor for both foreign-born Jews and native-born Americans that their oppressed religion is drawn to our free nation.) She is now a prominent tax attorney.
Both these friends came here legally and are now proud citizens. Like Walther, and like you and me, they have pledged their allegiance to this extraordinary land that they love, this place in history that is “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
In other words, here in America we all swim together.
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