A boy was born in Istanbul, brought into a world that wasn’t welcoming to his existence. An Armenian boy in 1915 Turkey. Two years into beginning to learn his native languages of Turkish and Armenian, he and his family were forced to run. As refugees, they were taken in by Romania, and that’s where they restarted their lives. This boy, was my grandfather. A Middle-Eastern, Armenian boy, fleeing the Armenian genocide in Turkey. He fled oppression of a country that has yet to admit to the disgusting acts they committed in the early 20th Century.
My grandfather met my grandmother in Bucharest, Romania. They had three children. One, my uncle, was born in a peaceful Romania. One, whose name no one will ever know, was lost to Communism and Romania’s secret police. And the last one, my father, was born as a miracle baby in Communist Romania.
I have spoken in the past about how my father doesn’t believe in white privilege. This is partially because he is ignorant about it, but a large part of it is that he is an immigrant. My dad’s family has as complicated a family history as my mother’s; however, my father is on the side of the oppressed, not that of the oppressors. The Sirinians and Nicas fled from an extremely oppressive system under Communism in Romania. What Nicolae Ceausescu did – as the iron-fist Communist leader – to Romanians and their country, still effects the country’s people detrimentally.
Under Ceausescu’s rule, food was limited. Common meals consisted of bread, cheese, and sometimes meat. While eggs were limited and everything was rationed, Ceausescu and his circle were living spectacular lives in luxury mansions surrounded. Abortions and contraceptives were illegal. Any woman found receiving one or using contraceptives would be jailed. Most workplaces had surprise visits by Gynecologists who would screen women for pregnancy and watch them to make sure they followed through with a pregnancy. For the women who had to keep their babies, they often gave up their children for adoption, leaving thousands of children to grow up in orphanages with limited materials.
The presence of secret police everywhere meant that no one was safe. Homes, schools, and businesses were bugged, and if anyone spoke out against Ceausescu they would go missing or be “accidentally” run over by cars.
My father didn’t really get the chance to experience Romania without Communism, and he made the personal goal that if he was able to get out of the country through his musical skills, he would never go back. When he made this clear to his parents, they decided to do everything in their power to get to the U.S. legally. My father started playing violin when he entered elementary school and was constantly in competition with Ceausescu’s niece. Although my father was more musically gifted, Ceausescu’s niece always got the solos. My father stayed determined throughout his childhood, making sure he past all necessary tests and auditions so that he wouldn’t end up stuck in the Romanian army. Those who failed out of school or failed their desired major’s exam had no choice but to join the Romanian army and secret police.
To escape the suffering his country was facing he practiced. He practiced and practiced and then practiced some more. Sometimes multiple times per day, for many hours. He practiced because he knew that it would be the thing that got him out, and he was right. When it came time for him to go to college, he made a leap of faith and applied to Julliard. He was allowed to leave the country for less than a month to audition, and he was accepted on the condition that he would work harder and learn English.
He now almost had access to a new life, but getting asylum from Romania to any non-communist country would be an issue. My father and his parents made the plan to take a “vacation” in Rome, where they would hopefully start the process. They packed up their most prized possessions, made sure to alter the most expensive items – as Ceausescu didn’t allow valuable things to leave the country. In order for my dad to leave with the instrument that gave him the ability to leave, he changed the label of the maker of the violin to make it seem less valuable. When he and his parents finally made it to Italy, their journey was far from over. They had to begin their application process for citizenship in the U.S. After 6 months in Rome, they were set to fly over the Atlantic to New York City.
My dad came to NY to fulfill the American dream. To this day, he still thinks it didn’t quite happen for him, but maybe that’s because he had unrealistic goals for his life in the U.S. To me it seems as though he’s made it for himself: coming from nothing to having something. The communist regime took away his family’s home, it robbed him of basic freedoms, and killed people he knew. To this day, there are “disappeared” people that no one in my family has heard from. They were most likely killed and buried in places where their bodies could never be found. The U.S. gave my father and his family a new start: a way to forget about the atrocities that they had heard about and experienced in Romania. They were given new opportunities, but they still had to start completely over. My dad was lucky in that he would attend college and receive the prestige of receiving a Master’s from Julliard. But my grandparents, aunt and uncle, who had worked years on degrees in school and had their own careers in Romania, had to essentially start from scratch.
Being an immigrant in the U.S. isn’t an easy thing, no matter what race you are. Eventually, it most likely gets easier for white immigrants as they are given more opportunities to assimilate. However, this doesn’t mean that they didn’t struggle or that they didn’t run from their own oppressive systems. I am proud to be the daughter of a person from an oppressed group of people, because my family fought for their rights. I am a part of a group of people who have struggled and feel as though they have been wronged by governments in the past, but they did what they needed to do to survive and live better lives.
I’m proud to be the daughter of the oppressed because we fought for freedom. We made it to freedom, and then we were able to start living more comfortably. I’m proud to be the daughter of the oppressed because we made our life, and didn’t solely depend on a system of privilege to get where we are.