As proud partners with the We The People web series, we have been collecting stories from both employees and interpreters about their immigration experiences so that we can share them with the world. We will be working with We The People for the next year, so these stories will be trickling out over the next 12 months or so. These stories are so important — the good, the bad, and the ugly! Please feel free to message Jen Keyes, CLI’s Director of Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to share yours.
Without further ado, I would like to share the story of our very own Helen Sweeney! A huge thanks to Helen for sharing with all of us!
My name is Helen. I was born in a country that no longer exists on the world map — the USSR.
I remember when the Soviet Union fell, and the new countries were figuring out what “independence” looked like and what the words “freedom” and “democracy” and “national idea” really meant. Many were looking with great hope to the Western world and everything it represented. I invite you to join me there. Stand in my shoes for a minute. See your country through the eyes of a girl whose family took turns standing in line for six hours at the grocery store to buy some sour cream for a New Year’s cake.
I never really wanted to permanently move to the United States. I ended up coming to NYC as an intern for a huge non-profit organization for four months. I had my entire life planned out in Belarus after my scheduled return; however, life would have it otherwise. Through a series of circumstances, I made the decision to sign a three-year contract for the company I interned with, and 16 years later, I am still here. I lived here, but never bought into the red, white, and blue patriotic spirit. I got my green card, and I built my life here in the U.S., but my experience with this country was more of a non-committal long-term relationship … until recently.
This change happened while looking back at where I came from and seeing all the changes that had happened in my life since. I have a family and four children now. I am beginning to grow roots here. And today I can say without hesitation that I have fallen in love with this country and what it represents.
This country has given me what many desire so greatly: HOPE. Hope that, with hard work, things can get better. Hope that my children will have a safe and stable environment to grow up in.
This country has given me CONFIDENCE. Confidence that I have something beautiful to offer to this world. Confidence in my basic human rights.
This country has given me FREEDOM. Freedom from fear of persecution. Freedom to choose education for my children. Freedom to live wherever I choose.
So many people here take these things for granted. I don’t. You may not believe this, but there are still places in this world where you’re guilty until proven innocent. Where a child with special needs has no hope of an education (sometimes even life). Where the very act of opening a religious book is considered an unsanctioned religious gathering. Where people are afraid to speak their minds out of sheer fear.
The U.S. as a nation was built on diversity, on people coming here from other countries, fleeing harsh political, religious, financial difficulties. And for better or for worse, I am one of those people. I love my native country of Belarus, the lessons it taught me, and the person it shaped me into. And I love the U.S., the home I built here, the peace it has given me, and the cultural diversity it’s bursting with.
Today I say, “your people will be my people.” Today I stand here in the “centre of equal daughters, equal sons,” wholeheartedly behind the “Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness,” because today these words are my story, the preamble to my new beginning.