Sunday, June 25, 2006

June 7, 2006

“Give us your tired, your weak
And we will make them strong
Bring us your far off song
And we will sing along
Leave us your broken dreams
We’ll give them time to mend
There’s still a lot of love
Living in the Promiseland

(…)

So they came with such a sad eye
Nameless woman, faceless child
Like a bad dream
Till there was no room at all
No place no place to run
And no place to fall

Give us your daily bread
We have no shoes to wear
No place to call our home
Only this cross to bear
We are the multitudes
Lend us a helping hand
Is there no love anymore
Living in the Promiseland

(…)
There is a winding road
Across the shifting sand
And room for everyone
Living in the Promiseland”

What do you say when you manage to see your life long dream with your own eyes?! Do you cry? Scream? Yell? Party? Are matter of fact, because you’ve kind of expected it?! Or you’re humble and so amazed (and paranoid) that you don’t want your luck to turn and be miserable from now on?! It’s definitely breathless and speechless is how you feel. You’d like to say thank you and kiss someone’s hand, and you’re not sure who that person is? People that you’ve come across along the way? Your parents for having you? God? The American Government? Your own government? And these questions are still unanswered…

On June 7th, I was sworn in as an American citizen. I was told that “I have met all the conditions to have every right that an American born citizen has… but ONE…”. I would not be able to ever be the President of this country…And thus my dream of 31 years, and my family’s life-long dream was to become reality…

While waiting for the oath, a million things crossed my mind, some of which I wanted to make a record of … So, here they are …

Long winters in Romania, with icy windows, ice so thick you could not see through the windows into the streets; cold sheets at night, so cold you felt a layer of your skin peeled right off when you slept into the bed… Maia warming the sheets up with the blow dryer… Secret police knocking on your door at 2 AM, taking your dad away… He returns later the next day with two black eyes, and mom tells you some people in the street attacked him… Dad hiding dead chickens from work in the spare wheel compartment in the trunk of the family car, so he can feed us … other children at school telling you their families can only afford meat for Christmas… The feeling of guilt … The shame when you were fortunate enough to know the taste of oranges one day a year, and others didn’t know what that fruit felt like … Indoctrination class, memorizing the Congress’s laws, which were unchanged, always; the fear of death if you missed one… a 25 W bulb in every room…Secret police confiscating the occasional 40 W bulb… “Stealing from the people”… No hot water in the winter… No running water during the day in the summer …”stealing from the people”…

Summer breaks in the mountains…untouched by communism…wild, and free…But hungry and dirty. No running water at all… Trips to the stream to bring buckets of water…
Shhtt…Don’t tell anyone you celebrate Christmas, or Easter! Oh, Easter is the worst! You tell people you never go to church. Ever. Although the communion tastes soo good! Shhht…Whisper… Even the walls can turn you in… Can they hear your heart beat? Is that a sin against the people, too?!

Mom telling you the “teachers are right”… Dad telling you “America is the answer”… Bicu telling you, when you’re 10: “Run, A! Run away… Learn to swim, cross the Danube and go to America. This country doesn’t deserve you. Do WHATEVER comes your way… Steal, lie, kill if you have to… but LEAVE. Be an American one day! You’re too good for this country “…Confusion… But what about mom and dad? What about Andy and Maia?!

Learning to live with no feelings, and cold… Mindful of what you say, to whom you’re saying it…Living in your head … 2 Hrs of TV a day… 4 on Sundays and Saturdays…Half of an hour movies once a week on TV… 6 day working week… Driving your cars only two weekends a month… No more coupons for gas, none for flour, or oil…We’ll wait till next month…One pair of new pants a year… One pair of shoes … Feeling guilty of outgrowing the clothes…No money…
You learn about Scarlet O’Hara and you hear yourself saying: “If I have to steal, lie, cheat, kill…I swear… I’ll do anything, but I will never be hungry again”… - paraphrase…

The Revolution…More confusion…but freedom too…Too old to let go of the dream…Too young to make any decisions on your own… Still keeping the dream … when the cold winter strikes and the heat fails to come; and the hot water … When you have to bribe for bread and water, again… No more communism…Just the side effects…More lying, and cheating, and hurtful people…
Corruption…No more stealing from the people; just from one another …

And then, the LIGHT! The chance you’re given. Passion for the English language, and the one thing you hold dear to your heart: you know this passion WILL set you free! The end is near… Then you get a letter from quite a stranger at that time … You know nothing of him, but he holds a hand out; you grab hold to it, with all your might. You fall in love with the man who rescues you from this all… He abuses you. You still love him! Nothing is worse, nothing can ever be worse that what’s behind you… Lost childhood; and teenage-hood… Maybe you have a better chance as a 20-some year old! Maybe … Hoping …Loving…Giving … Giving up… But the bridge was crossed, so now, you wait, and pray. Pray that this strange land that has been so welcoming and fortunate for so many millions of people, over so many hundreds of years will accept yet ONE more person. JUST one. YOU! And you hope…Every prayer every night, every candle you light up in church; you pray! And the smoke goes up to Heaven, you hope, with your prayer …
You visit Ellis Island in New York, and you’re numb! You hear the steps of confused millions like you, opening their hungry but oh, so hopeful eyes, onto the New World. You can smell their dirt, their sweat; you can hear their hearts speeding up…it’s your heart too. You know…you KNOW how THAT felt! Visitors around you have no clue…And you’re so emotion stricken you can’t speak to tell them… You cry when you see the Statue of Liberty and you have no clue what to tell your husband why you’re crying …

You eat your first Thanksgiving meal, and you hope one day you’ll eat it as “one of them”; “one of the true Americans”, that is …Turkey tastes different in America. For immigrants like me, it will always taste like freedom!

And above it all, you see your dad! Scared and panicked: panicked that he might not feed you tomorrow, if the cops find the chicken in the trunk, and put him away; scared he might not come back from the 2AM rendezvous’s , one day… Your mom is silent. “Better believe the teachers”… And you see your parents, again, at the airport, 8 years ago, bidding good bye to their first born, and they know it’s for good! She didn’t have to learn how to swim. This generous man has sent a letter, and another generous man gave her a visa, and she’s legally flying towards freedom… And they know they raised her to do whatever it takes to fight for her dream…and she will not disappoint… They will age and they will cry every day, but she will have a better life…No more lies…. Bribes… no more cold winters… no more no running water days for their child… or their grandchildren… They bid her good bye, and they cry…Their eyes empty…Their love gone … All their work of a lifetime, gone, on a KLM flight to Amsterdam, en route to Atlanta, Georgia, the United Stated of America; Atlanta-home of Scarlet O’Hara… And I ran with that hope! And that dream, and the love for my parents, and for freedom got me to the INS office in Charlotte on June 7, 2006 … And I said my oath with determination and fear…and awe … and trembling … It felt good like a sin… Should freedom be a sin?!

Like many millions out there, throughout the centuries, I grew up to think that America is the end of all pain and suffering; the end of a poor and unjust life. And I tell you, this dream might have been real for the people of the 17th and 18th and 19th centuries, and it is still alive today! America has done the job it’s been doing for centuries, of sheltering the lost wanderers of the world that are running from their countries like from a burning building! It can’t get any worse than that! So, you jump!

And you leave your loved ones behind, and you hope for the best! For them and for you… And when they don’t follow, you still hope for the best for them…And you cry … and you hope they jump too…one day…A part of your heart stays behind… But what’s left of you has escaped, and will be looking for a new life … Incomplete and scarred, you try to start over; and America gives you the balm, to mend your wounds… And you smile through tears again…

I have a picture I took on Ellis Island, that I will want to be buried with, I hope. It reads: “Island of hope/ Island of Tears”…This year, on July 4th, my first Independence Day as an official citizen of the free world, I will think of this picture and of what America has been for me… A true island of hope and tears …

“I have a dream, a fantasy
To help me through reality
And my destination makes it worth the while
Pushing through the darkness still another mile”

6 comments:

Gayle Miller said...

God bless you A.W. and welcome to OUR country. I am so PROUD to share citizenship with you!

A.W. said...

Thanks so much for the nice words. It is very comforting to know that one is welcome here. Thank you.

A.W. said...

Thanks so much for the nice words. It is very comforting to know that one is welcome here. Thank you.

lunacy said...

Welcome! I'm glad you could make it.

Kehaar said...

I've always felt you were American at heart anyway! What the hell is an American these days except for someone who loves America? In the end, we're all from somewhere else.

Stav said...

Great story. Welcome to my country. You know I'm from Houston.