I called my dad and asked him if I could interview him about the history that brought him to the United States for a class paper, a subject I knew was a sensitive one for him. I heard him sigh and then fall into silence. I could picture him furrowing his dark brows above his green eyes, rubbing his temples with his calloused hands, trying to make up his mind. After what seemed like forever, he said that I could interview him. I asked if he was sure, and he said yes. A couple of days later I called him again and asked him if he was ready for the interview, he said he was. I could tell by his tone of voice that it was something that he wasn’t thrilled about. I began by asking him about his childhood growing up in Petrifeld, Romania, which is today known as Petresti. He began telling me about the little German community he grew up in and of different events during his childhood. I could tell he was trying to prepare himself to talk about the more serious things coming up. After talking for a little while he got quiet and I knew he was about to begin telling me about the events that led up to him coming to the United States.
It was a story that I had only heard once before in my life, by accident, when I was ten. I overheard my dad telling some family friends about how and why he came to America. As I was intently listening, he saw my shadow on the wall and caught me eavesdropping. He sent me off to bed and the next day asked if I had heard what he was talking about. When I told him I did, he sat me down and explained to me why he did what he did. He told me about Romania being a communist country at that time, what that meant, and how hard it was living there during that time. I never asked him about it again, but over the years as I’ve gotten older, he has talked more and more about his childhood growing up in Romania.
As my dad was talking, his voice changed from a happier tone from when he was telling me about his childhood and memories he had of his parents, brothers, and sister, to a more serious tone. I could again picture his face; his expression was serious, matching his tone of voice. He began by telling me how when he turned eighteen he was required to serve in the army. He went on for awhile telling me about the training he did in the army as if trying to avoid talking about what I knew would be coming up. He then told me that it was during his time spent in the army that he decided he wanted to get out of Romania. With anger in his voice he said, “The government controlled your life. They told you what you could and could not do and when. I got tired of it. I saw how hard your Oma and Opa had it; I didn’t want to live like that.” He decided that once he served his time in the army he was going to figure out a way to get out of Romania.
His voice then changed to an almost ominous, dark sounding tone, his accent seemed to get even stronger and more pronounced as he told me about how he escaped Romania. “I didn’t know what else to do. All I knew was that I couldn’t stay so I told my family goodbye and headed off around midnight.” I asked him how his parents felt about him leaving. “They were worried but they wanted me to have a better life then what they had there. We had relatives in Germany and that’s where they wanted me to go”, he said.
Once he got near the Romanian boarder, he stayed out in the woods near the Danube River until the next night. He then said, “After it got dark I ran to the river jumped in and began swimming until I reached the other side. I was terrified the whole time but all I could think about was freedom. I had friends that had been shot by the police swimming that same river, to try and escape Romania, to get to freedom.” I was shocked! This was a part of the story either I had not heard when I was younger or that he left out while talking to his friends that night. “You crossed knowing that other people got shot doing the same thing”, I asked? He said, “Yes. You always heard about people trying to cross the border and getting shot. One of my friends that had been shot crossing a few months before I did, died from the bullet wound. All that I could think about as I was swimming to get to the other side was him.” I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. My dad could have been shot and killed trying to swim that river to get out of Romania.
He then told me about how once he made it across the Danube River into Hungary, he was arrested for coming into the country illegally and spent a few weeks in jail. When he was released, he started to make his way across Hungary toward the Austrian border. He lived in a little village for a few months working as a carpenter and trying to save up some money for the rest of his journey. When he thought he had enough money, he continued making his way across Hungary and made it to the Austrian border where he again crossed illegally and spent more time in jail. After he was released from jail a second time, he spent a month in Austria working and hitch hiking here and there to make his way to the border to cross into Germany. Once he made it, he crossed the border into Germany and proved his German heritage, he was given a German passport. His voice sounded like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders as he began talking:
“I was so happy when I made it into Germany, I couldn’t believe that I had made it. I knew that I could possibly die during that journey, but I wanted to be free. I wanted to have a better future than I would have been able to in Romania. I wanted to be able to express my own thoughts and opinions without worrying about getting arrested or worse, being killed. I didn’t want to have to live with the government controlling my life no matter the cost.”
My father then started working here and there in Germany where he lived with relatives for a few years before deciding to come to America to pursue work. He landed in Dallas, Texas in August of 1984 barely speaking English. He made friends with a Hungarian couple that owned an auto shop and began working for them while doing construction on the side My father became well known in the Dallas and Fort Worth area’s for his beautiful handmade cabinets and other woodwork and eventually became a very successful general contractor with his own business that he still runs today. My dad ended with saying:
“I would have never gotten as far as I have today if I had stayed in Romania. I may have done it illegally, which I am not proud of, but that was the only way to get out then. The government would have told me where I was going to work and that would have been it, there would been no questioning it. You had no freedom living there. You couldn’t decide what was best for you; you had to do what the government told you to do. You couldn’t protest against them or horrible things would happen. You were trapped. It was hard growing up there, but it also shaped me and made me the hard worker that I am today.”
Hearing this story for a second time when I am old enough to actually understand what my dad went through made me feel kind of sad. It’s hard to think that someone would be so desperate to get out of a country that they would risk their life doing it, especially when it is one of your parents. I do feel as if he may have left some things out of his story, things that he didn’t want me to know. Maybe someday he will feel comfortable telling me some more details about growing up in Romania and his journey here. My dad is a very hard worker and has always pushed my brother and I to do our best in everything. Sometimes he seemed like such a hard person and my brother and I often did not see eye to eye with him, but I now know that the way he grew up and the things that he has done and seen have a lot to do with that. He has always wanted the best for us and more than what he had growing up. He went through a lot and worked really hard to get to where he is today and I respect and look up to him a lot for that. I feel as if by him telling me his story it has made our relationship with each other closer. His story makes me take a step back and realize how good I have had it growing up. It will always remind me to be thankful for what I have because there are always others who are worse off; it reminds me of just how blessed I truly am.
Wonhas, Stefan. Personal interview. 13 Oct. 2012.
Written for Cara Chang’s ENG 200: Composition II