Grey Hound Station, NYC 1981
My lips were parched, headache splitting my head. I have been traveling for over 24 hrs without sleep. The sea of welcome signs held by the crowd at JFK – endless. Despite any logic, my eyes were searching for my name. No, there was nobody that even knew that I have arrived in U.S.A.
My original plan was to find a quick temp work in New York, in order to go west and climb Yosemite. But now, all was too overwhelming. Where to go? I had a Plan B. I asked Polish stewardess where to find a bus to Chicago. She looked at me concerned and said “It’s far away, don’t take a bus. There is a flight for only $99”. I thanked her and continued. How could I tell her that I had only $130 in my wallet? Spending most of it was out of the question.
I am not sure how I made it to the Grey Hound station in a middle of NYC night. People pointed me to the bus, then another. I stood in line and asked for the ticket. “$99, please.” No, no, no! “You don’t understand, I want the cheapest, slowest bus”. “Ma’am, there is only one bus to Chicago. It leaves in few hours. $99.80”. I bought the ticket.
I set on a bench devastated. I tried to collect my thoughts but the reality was too harsh. Simple math, I had $30 left. I was dehydrated, I did not know about water fountains. There was a soda machine in front of me, I got up and bought a can of soda. It cost $1. I had now $29 left and a backpack.
Let me give you some background. I was born in a country which had lost millions of people in WWII. Throughout my childhood lives, films, stories, revolved around horrors of war. Parents were struggling to overcome it, the grandfathers were dead.
Communism, resisted by most, still offered some stability, health care, education. Unfortunately, it also weakened the economy so much that there was no food. Walking into grocery stores, you would only see the rows and rows of white vinegar. It was the store keepers’ effort to make bleak shelves better, decorate them with one item that even hunger didn’t want – vinegar.
County by county, workplaces went on strike throughout the whole country. Our steel mill, our mines. Armed forces threatening each place. Fear in every heart. But the whole country unified in a protest till the government started negotiation. Fear did not win. The government gave in. Russian tanks stayed furious outside our border. Solidarity won.
A year later in 1981, I graduated from college and before starting a “real” responsible life, I decided to fulfill my dream of climbing Yosemite. I arrived in Chicago and got a job as live-in nanny & housekeeper, 24 hrs on call but I had food and shelter. Soon I had little money, half of which was sent home to my parents. My spirits were up, Yosemite were getting closer.
Foreign journalists were forced out, curfew on streets. Phones went dead, all mail stopped. I did not know if my family is OK and had no way of finding out. What do I DO? I have never planned on staying in U.S. for good. Go back to the country with sealed borders? What do I DO?
That’s the end of the PR part of my history. The following not many know. At the Immigration office, a huge guy behind the desk looked at me, examined my passport and tore out my U.S. visa stapled to the page and kept it. This was my only evidence that I entered the country legally. He said to expect a letter and 10 days later, it came – an Order of Deportation, due immediately.
Even now, I don’t understand what happened that day in INS. Maybe the guy didn’t read the memo about the amnesty. Maybe he did not like immigrants, after all. If I had a lawyer or better English, I could have argued. But I didn’t have that. I could not go back home, I could not stay. I did what many do – changed my address, stuck to the minor jobs. Eventually, I got married and became a legal American citizen. Now we own few businesses, we serve people, we employ people, we pay a lot of taxes. We have two brilliant boys – one in
Alina at Natural Clothing Company