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Ilona Yeliseyeva: From Rags to Riches

Ilona Yeliseyeva 's story posted by Erich Makarov on December 10, 2012 at 7:01 pm. Ilona emigrated from Riga, Latvia to New York, United States in 1993

My Story: Ilona Yeliseyeva

Every immigrant family has its own story: a story of hardships, love, and eventual success. My story begins with my arrival in New York. I was visiting my friend and truly had no intentions of staying in this country. I always knew that America was a wonderful, prosperous land, but I came with practically no money and not even the slightest plan for realization in this alien country. But something happened. Some reaction occurred within me, and I fell in love. After spending a week in New York I realized that my future lay in this city. I could care less about my financial status, because I realized that here, and only here, like no place else, could I be myself. Only here could I obtain happiness and the life I always wanted to live. And at the same time, I met Arthur, the love of my life. He has quite a story himself. In Russia he was a sailor who sailed on intercontinental lines, and when his ship docked in Canada, he decided to leave his duties and settle in the New World. He and his friend left their only jobs, their former lives, and all they ever had to come to America. They felt, just as strongly as I did, that regardless of the risk they were taking, America would bring them great success. The two companions were penniless and had little idea about where to head. They felt only a desperate want to enter the country they yearned to live in so fervently. Gathering all their supplies and strength, they began a long journey through the Canadian wilderness to New York. They had to walk many miles in unsuitable conditions and with barely enough to eat. On the way, Arthur’s companion caught fever, and Arthur had to carry him over his shoulder. It was almost as though the two were in a war movie. However, this horrid journey ended when they reached New York. Their eyes burned with pride in themselves for finally reaching the city of their dreams, but for Arthur this was just the first mountain in a long series of hardships that he had to scale. He was given political asylum by the government and began his search for work and opportunity.

When Arthur and I met we were both flat broke and were on the constant lookout for any job available. We finally found employment in a yeshiva as cooks. The work was grueling. We both worked restlessly hours upon hours, wearing ourselves out. We were paid meager sums which were barely enough to feed us through. However the owner of the yeshiva was very kind, and once we married provided us with our own room. It was a small room, but nevertheless it was our own. In addition to this, I gave birth to our first child. With our miniscule pay and our tiny room we lived for over six years. But here is the irony: we lived in poverty, but unlike anywhere else we had faith, we believed that it would all change. We had nothing but hope, and that was enough. It was because of our faith and our hope for a better future that things began to change. The Hasidic organization in charge of the yeshiva decided to repay us for the painstaking work we performed daily. They provided me and Arthur with proper documentation allowing us to expand our working capabilities. Coincidentally Arthur met his old sailor friend very soon, who told him about a trucking company which needed new employees. Arthur immediately took the opportunity and was hired to work as a truck driver. Once again the work proved to be very time and energy consuming. He worked day and night in hopes of securing his families wellbeing. But our luck had not expired yet. As he gained more and more money and experience from the trucking company, he acquired many new business skills and eventually bought his own truck. At first he simply transported products to different stores and made a humble profit, but as time progressed, the business grew and so did our earnings. Eventually, he bought a new truck and began transporting cars all over America. I stopped working at the yeshiva and began helping Arthur with his business. Slowly but surely, we were moving towards our American Dream. We soon decided that we wanted a large family and in the next three years I gave birth to two more children. Meanwhile, our eldest, Katherine, was an exceptional student at Brooklyn Technical High School. It seemed as though everything was finally fitting into its right place. We achieved economic success; the trucking business was doing better than ever, we had a large and very happy family, and a new and comfortable house. The years of painful work and constant worry had finally paid off!

As I look back at my own story, I realize now how right and lucky Arthur and I were. We felt a strong unstoppable feeling in our gut. We felt that America was our only path to success, and we were completely right. We toiled for years on the same ground with seemingly no way of succeeding, yet we believed in the power of America, and America paid us back. Now Katherine studies at NYU and our young ones are both in gifted and talented programs. We have prosperity, pride in ourselves, and most importantly happiness. All we ever wanted was true happiness and love, and we achieved so much more.