When I was watching president Barack Obama’s inauguration speech, in the back of my head another film was running – actually I was not watching a film but I was looking like a film editor at some footage that I had collected over the years of my life - at many little fragments of films in which the main characters were – me and America.
I remembered my first English lesson – sitting in a library room in a communist Poland and repeating the words “my name is …” Back then we didn’t have English in elementary schools, we had only Russian. When the parents wanted their child to study English they had to send the child to some English class that on occasion was organized by some city library.
I remembered December days from my childhood - every year a few weeks before Christmas we were starting to wait for a package with Christmas presents from my Aunt Maria living in America. Aunt Maria was my grandmother’s sister. She was a prisoner in Siberia like many other Poles. Her and 10 of her young friends decided that they would rather die on the way to freedom than in a camp in Siberia. So they run away and were walking across a frozen sea prepared to die. But an American icebreaker-ship crossed their way and saved them. First they were brought to Alaska, than to Chicago. My great aunt fell in love with a young doctor, got married, had kids and every year when her children grew out of their clothes, she packed the clothes into a big box, put some of her dresses and some of her husband’s shirts into that box and sent it along with chocolates, oranges and one five or ten dollar bill to Poland, where we were waiting - me and my sister especially for the oranges, we ate them only once a year, and my parents for the clothes and the dollar bill – on ten dollars one could live a year in the seventies in Poland.
We always looked better than the other kids in school – even though we were wearing not new things but dresses and skirts already used by our cousins in Chicago – they looked like new and they were colorful, unlike the clothes produced in Poland at that time.
And our house around Christmas smelled like oranges – this was to me the smell of America, the smell of freedom that my Aunt has found in Chicago. I somehow knew, that one day America would become my country also. When I was 10 years old my aunt offered my parents to take me to Chicago and raise me with her children. I remember my parents discussing the proposition. I heard them saying that this would be a great chance for me to go to an American school, my mother was ready to send me over but my father said no. If my parents would have gotten the permit for me to go to visit my aunt – they might have not seen me ever again – as grown-ups they would have never gotten a permit to travel out. Only children, old people and political enemies were allowed to travel out of the communist countries. So I grew up in Poland.
As a student I got a stipend to study German in Austria – it was already after the marshal law period in Poland. In Vienna I have met David – a musician from New York. I forgot about my childhood dreams, it seemed to me that I have found freedom and happiness in Austria and didn’t want to move anywhere else. I got married to David. David also loved Vienna. But after a while I found out that he loved the city he was born in more than Vienna. He was a real American patriot and in his heart – a New Yorker forever. So I ended up living in Los Angeles first and then in New York.
I heard from Americans who I have met in Europe that “America is a country of opportunities” but to me and my European friends it sounded like a sentence from an advertising spot, a friend of mine – a Viennese journalist wrote in an article that it seems to him that Americans are brainwashed, they are programmed to love their country and believe that their country is better than the rest of the world and it is annoying.
I remembered moving to America. I was prepared to dislike it. I was brainwashed by the Western European media, which were showing America as a bad imperialist taking over the world.
But after our move day after day I was discovering that Americans love their country because it is really more democratic than other countries, because on the streets of Los Angeles or New York people have many different skin colors, they are members of many different churches and still they don’t hate each other too much, they do try to coexist in a relative peace. There is no place on earth where so many different nations live together, really together and not only next to each other.
I found out that true is the sentence that America is a country of opportunities.
If one is willing to work hard and he knows what he wants he is able to achieve a lot in the US. My sister arrived in Florida 1989 not knowing English. She has learned it very fast, 20 years went by and she is a manager now in charge of world sales in a not so small old American company.
I finished a PhD program at NYU and got my degree from that University. I didn’t have to pay (a pretty high) tuition because I had very good grades.
An American icebreaker saved my grand aunt’s life and she has found a very happy life and freedom in Chicago.
Many of my family members were in the AK Army in Poland, they fought against the communism, were arrested, put to jail and had only 2 choices: either jail or emigration to America. They emigrated. They found their happiness in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, etc…
That is why I feel American. When I received my first American passport, I cried. I feel more American than Polish or Austrian.
Some of my European friends from Vienna, Berlin, Paris or Warsaw tell me that I got brainwashed in America but I tell them that they should go there not only for a short vacation but they should go there and live there for a while and then we will talk again about it.
Right now after a man whose father was born in a village in Kenya became the 44th president of America, I feel more American than ever.