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Immigration Experience of a Young Child

Zinaida Natanelova's story posted on August 31, 2012 at 4:05 pm. Zinaida emigrated from Tashkent, Uzbekistan to New York, United States in 1993

I will never forget the day my parents told my sister and me that we were moving to America. It was a warm sunny morning in August of 1993 and the scent of freshly baked sweets filled our apartment. I had just awakened from a peaceful night’s sleep and stepped onto my balcony for some fresh summer air. I was three years old and my sister was seven. My sister and I sat down for breakfast with our parents and they began to tell us we were moving. The atmosphere, before the news of the move, had been calm. Now everything seemed to become very tense. My parents continued by saying that we could not come back to Uzbekistan. I became overwhelmed with fear because of the strangeness and suddenness of it all. We barely had time to process the thought of moving. Almost immediately, my family began to pack as few belongings as they could and sold the rest. We used most of our money to hire body guards to escort us safely to the airport. My parents heard of kidnappings going on and they did not want to take a chance of losing their children. When we arrived at the airport after several hours, we were booked to first class with the help of HIAS. On the airplane, I vividly remember having a flight attendant give me a Mickey Mouse hat. At that moment, I was so happy because of the hat that my fear and anxiety dissipated. Finally, I felt that everything would be all right. When we arrived at the airport in New York City we were greeted by our relatives. Each person made sure to embrace me and give me a huge kiss on the cheek. It was an exciting moment for all of us. Afterwards, we went to my aunt’s place where we had dinner and she tried to make us feel at home. She allowed my family to stay with her for a few months, until we settled in our own apartment. While living with her, we shared one bathroom and one bedroom with eight people. It was difficult but we were lucky to have a roof over our heads.  I remember sleeping on a rusted squeaky mattress and waking up every night hoping that things would get better.  Weeks later, my family found jobs that were below their education level. My mother was an incredible tailor and my father had a mathematics bachelor’s degree in Uzbekistan. However, the only work he could find in America was to become a driver and my mother took a position as a housekeeper. I would hardly see them until night and by that time they were exhausted and hardly had energy for their kids. I felt sad and deprived at times but my older sister took care of me and taught me that this was all for the best.  There were days where I wore the same clothes to school day after day because we could not afford to buy new things. Later on someone donated clothes and food to our family every month which made life a little easier. I also remember that we were about to get evicted from our apartment because my family could not afford to pay the rent. Those days were filled with hardships.  Despite the fact that I was living in poverty my childhood was filled with exciting memories.I remember playing outside in the public yard with other kids. We use to play tag and different games involving physical activity. I also used to run around with my neighbor’s dog and it was a child’s dream come true. I remember my neighbor teaching me how to roller skate and I was so grateful to her. I used to fall a lot but I learned that in life we fall so that we may learn to get back up.As I grew older, I realized that my parents sacrificed a lot for their children to have the opportunity that they knew we couldn’t get in Uzbekistan. My parents’ experience was a challenge, but despite how difficult it was they never gave up. They taught me that education is important and they taught me the meaning of hard work. Not only have I been blessed to have such wonderful parents but also to have an amazing role model like my sister. I had great educators as well who helped me become independent in my studies throughout elementary and high school. After high school, I volunteered in a hospital and different facilities where I gained experience. These experiences taught me that life is a constant challenge which only makes us stronger.  I am so fortunate to have been given the opportunity by HIAS to come to America and to make a better life for my family. Currently, I am in Queens College working hard as I strive to fulfill my dreams. I hope to one day become a productive member in society and make a difference in the lives of others.


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