Romanians picked up themselves in WA

Marie Damman
Marie Damman

The European Union has his poorest country as it has his richest. The poorest can sometime beat the richest. Romania was a broken nation for years. The country was released of it communism in 1989. Many citizens took the opportunity to leave abroad. Overseas, Romanians look for their lost identity.

Today, many children live without their parents in Romania. Adults would rather try to find a better job overseas to send money back to their home country, leaving their children behind. Romanians still try to find their way to a better life, as they dreamed for decades ago.

Otilia Vieru-Baraboi, lecturer in French and Italian at University of Washington in Seattle emigrated from Romania in 2000. She is also the president of the ARCS, the American Romanian Cultural Society, created months ago to gather the American-Romanians community.

“I will never forget the scarcity of basic things, like food, toothpaste, deodorant, medicine, clothes and information,” she said. “But then, there were good things about it, too, like real friendships and fascinating stories about a better world waiting for us beyond the Iron Curtain.  I miss believing such a world exists, that’s all I miss from those years”

From a hard time…

Vieru-Baraboi described how life looked like under the communism in Romania. Beside the lack of supplies, they had a lot of brainwashing and propaganda. Some Romanians, as herself, could make the difference between reality and lies.

“The institutionalized lies on TV about how great our country and president were and about the “rotten” Western world that envied us….” she said. “It was a like a bad dream altogether and all of us had to pretend to believe in it in public while at home and among friends we made fun, laughed and cried about the absurd life we had”

This is isn’t all. Woman had also a hard time when it comes to have children. They were forced to be productive. Nicolae Ceausescu, leader of the Romanian Communist Party from 1967 to 1989, active since 1944, legislated the famous law in 1966 “The foetus is the property of the entire society”.

Women couldn’t abort and had no contraceptive methods either. Romanian students would not have any sexual education but in the medicine field as medical textbooks. Informers denounced those women who didn’t produce. Some Romanians started traffics such as pills traffic, illegal jobs such as fake doctor or even sometimes ended up with manslaughter.

James Augerot, Professor Emeritus of Slavic Languages and Literatures at University of Washington spent two years in Romania, from 1964 and 1966. He went as a teacher and saw Ceausescu take power.

“Many of them don’t have happy memories about their home country,” he said.

…To something new and better

Augerot is also an ARCS member, as the director. With Vieru-Baraboi, they are part of the eight members of the assocation. Another one of them is Ileana Marin, secretary of the ARCS and lecturer in comparative literature at university of Washington.

She had the opportunity to come to America with a teaching scholarship. She officially immigrated in 2005, but keeps going back and forth to her home country to teach. Marin uses her teaching skills to help Romanians to integrate.

She noticed that here in Washington, Romanians gather mostly in Churches. They like to have some kind of celebrations together. With her association, the members want to do something different.

“They want to be at church, it is part of their identity. But our culture is not only related to orthodoxy, it is more than that,” she said, “we want to address that kind of diversity.”

Where Romanians position themselves north of Seattle

North of Seattle, in SnohomishCounty, there is RomanianChurch called GoodNewsRomanianBaptistChurch. It is located in Everett. Worshipping are mostly from the area between Seattle and Everett, in King County.

Vieru-Baraboi, Marin’s colleague also part of the ARCS emigrated when her husband was hired at Microsoft. With her husband and young son, they live in Seattle. She said she comes several time to SnohomishCounty with her family. Vieru-Baraboy notably likes to take the ferry to Whidbey Island from Mulkiteo and drop her dog to a farm near Monroe when she goes on vacation.

“I sometimes ate at the Whole Foods in Lynnwood, when I come back from my son’s swiming lessons on Saturdays (that take place in Mountlake Terrace actually)” she said.

In Lynnwoord, Dubravka Bilic, from Bosnia runs her own business, the Balkan market. She has a lot of Romanians customers as she said. For the holiday season, she sees even more of them. They like to shop in her store because they can find their home products.

Sometimes, she sees her Romanians customer all dress up.

“It doesn’t matter if you have money or not, you have to wear nice” Bilic said.

According to Bilic, Romanians like to buy their home cheese Nasal, similar to the American cheddar, from cow with a sweet taste, and a lot of home cookie, small cookies with a piece of plum in it. At the European food store in Lynnwood, Mira Smith, Russians, heard about the cookie monsters.

Julie Moore, community outreach specialist of Lynnwood seems happy about Romanians settling in her town.

“Lynnwood has diverse communities, and ethnics groups,” she said

The city doesn’t offer any facilities for Romanians as Moore said. Therefore, it is the only place in SnohomishCounty where there is a Hungary restaurant, a Balkan market, a Whole Food and a European food store.

The different concerns about family

Augerot has a point of view different from the Romanian about the family issue. He noticed Romanians hangout altogether. He thinks they are over concerned about their children, taken extremely care of them.

Marin and Vieru-Baraboi don’t look at it that way. It’s normal for them.

“Those are the people you trust first before the institution,” Vieru-Baraboi saod, “this is our network, how we survive.”

Romanians would do any sacrifice for their family as Marin said. She is astonished by the American way of life about family.

“No sacrifices were too high when it comes to family and friends,” said Marin.  “I talk twice a week with my parents”

While for Augerot, family splits up all around the world.

“I went to visit my grandparents on my father side, I think, once in my life, and my grandparents, in my mother side, maybe 10 or 12 twice,” he said.

Nevertheless, Augerot found a good reason for that. Americans came from Europe. They moved away from their first family. Then, once in America, they kept moving in different states, which made more difficult to keep a family relationship.

“Many many Europeans grew up in rural areas and that type of family thing is characteristic of those populations,” said Augerot.

As a tight circle, the family’s member also learned how to take care of each other. In Rural area, many of them didn’t have the chance to study in a higher degree. When they moved away, they used this skill.

Marin explained.

“They did what they knew how to do, tacking care of their family. It was easy” she said.

Marin added that her mom retired to be able to take care of Marin’s son.

Some Romanians made a business of this. As in Washington, we can find senior assistant living home owned by Romanians.

Augerot sent his mom to one of them.

“My mother stayed with a Romanian family here in Seattle. I didn’t know at the beginning that these people were Romanians, “he said. “They were several people and they told me they were other Romanians family creating these small hospices to take care of the elder.”

Against the stereotypes

Romanians are stereotypes in the US, either in medical care or as making felony. Even though, Romanians feel more comfortable than they could be in Europe.

Vieru-Baraboi expressed herself.

“I want to see other Romanians but I also want to be integrated to the American culture which is so increasing and so open to other culrture. American do not exclude emigrants, not like Europe.”

For Vieru-Baraboi and Marin, it is hard to find the right place where they would belong. For this reason, they planned many activities with their ARCS.

The first one is planned on Jan 24th, the date when, in 1859, the independent principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia united to make the first country of Romania. It is going to be a musical event with a photo exhibit; it will be located in Seattle.

They also planned an annual film festival to show the new wave of Romanian films, some of which have won international prizes. It schedule for November 2014.

Vieru-Baraboi said, “cinema and music are the only languages that go beyond the borders. It is about communicating who we are to other people,”