Not All Immigrants Are Alike

As much as the subject of immigration has been debated lately, the truth is a majority of us are immigrants, with the exception of Native Americans.  Most of us came to the “Melting Pot” for reasons of freedoms. To me, the freedom of expression was particularly important. I wanted to be able to speak up my mind without the fear that tomorrow I’d be in jail. I also wanted to freely travel and be able to see the world, without the fear that the Communist Securitatea will never issue me a Passport. As an American citizen, I had  the privilege of these freedoms, but I also understood that nothing came without hard work and committment and  I was always ready to put in my share of dedication, no matter the reality of my life.

After the birth of Eva, it was for the first time in my life when my total dedication went to her.  Kevin and I discussed whether he could support us for about a year, given also the fact that my last bonus from the Investment Company was  fairly sizable, even if smaller than the bonus which helped us buy the house, and was going to last us for a few months.  The plan was for me to take care of Eva in the first year of life and then go to work for a local Investment Company which allowed me more flexibility and didn’t require me to travel. We had a good plan.

As I was starting this new life completely dedicated to motherhood and the household, our Minister, Randy, called and asked me if I would have the time to translate for another Presbyterian  Church which was sponsoring a family of Romanian immigrants: The parents and two children.  I was willing to translate by phone, as Eva was too little for me to drag her anywhere, and it was still cold outside. Soon after, I received a call from Mary, the other church’s  Minister’s wife.  She introduced herself and told me about the sponsored family. How the church put them in an apartment, how they provided all the necessities and how the church was assisting them in finding jobs and integrating.  Then, I spoke with the Romanian male parent, and on a first conversation he seemed distant and unhappy. Shortly after, I received a call from the person directly in charge of the new immigrant’s food. The person was worried because apparently, they were not used to the American foods and the church had to shop for them in a gourmet, Eastern European grocery shop.  I assured the person that, at that time, in Romania there was no food, so any food would have and should have been appreciated, especially when coming for free.  People in Romania were standing in long lines to get the necessities: bread, milk, sugar, butter. Food was rationalized in Romania, how could they not be used to the American food when they were coming from no food?

Soon after, I received another call, this time from the Romanian man, the father, the head of the household. As I was trying to settle Eva for the night and speak on the phone at the same time, he asked me, or rather demanded that I go with him to complain against the church.

“To complain that they did what?” I wanted to know.

“We’ve been here for almost three weeks now and they didn’t yet give us a car or a house!”

I couldn’t believe my ears.  I thought this family was lucky to start with, for being allowed out of Romania, all the four of them.  This was rather unusual for Romania in 1987 when the norm was that only one in a family was allowed by the Communist authorities to travel at a time.  I wondered if people who were less desirable perhaps were allowed, since there would have been no economic loss to the country, if someone uneducated and who was a trouble-maker left, there was no loss, after all. These were all suppositions, and I didn’t know the exact circumstances of this family,  or why they were allowed out, all the four of them, but for sure I knew this church was worried about shopping  gourmet groceries to meet their diet requirements, and this man wanted to complain against them! The proverb “bite the hand that feeds you,” applied perfectly… yes, I believe there is a proverb to that effect, isn’t it?

It was for the first time in my life that I had to explain to a fellow Romanian that the fact that he and his family were helped by the church was not an entitlement. They were not required to do this, they offered out of the goodness of their hearts.  Such goodness should have been appreciated, and I wanted to have no part in making any complaints against an entity which I knew was going beyond the call of duty to accommodate them. I asked him to never call me again.

He hung up without saying good-bye,which was understandable.  I don’t know if he ever complained or how the family adjusted to life in America. For me, this was a lesson and it clarified in my own mind that nothing comes handed on a plate. That with freedoms come responsibilities which are ours to take as well.

The story has a happy twist, as it gave us the opportunity to meet Jim and Mary, the Pastor of the sponsoring church and his wife.  Over the years, my children came to call Mary, Aunt, but we never asked  them for gourmet Eastern European food. The fresh breads Jim baked for Easter and Christmas were more than enough, and a new friendship was born, over a lesson about immigration, freedoms and responsibilities.


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