Gathering for church, earning success through hard work, speaking freely without fear of retribution—for most of us, it’s hard to imagine life without these rights. But many immigrants who now call America home remember struggling for their cultural identity and religious beliefs in the midst of oppression, and they are thankful to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. This month, we celebrate their hard work and victories, knowing their contributions make all of us stronger as a nation.
Nicola lives in Georgetown with her family. She is the owner of Celtic Viking Studio and founder of a wonderful and creative non-profit called We Are Not Broken. Born in England, she met a handsome American while working in Seoul, Korea, and returned to England to get married. In 1991, the newlyweds flew to New York City to begin married life.
Her business is thriving because, Nick says, “America is a great country where you can be anything you want. Your dreams have no limits other than the ones you put on yourself.” She also loves the character of the nation; “The vastness of the country is amazing, and you could spend the rest of your life just visiting the beauty of this land, which is just as beautiful as any exotic, or European location.”
But her new home was not without surprises. “We got [the TV show] Dallas in England, so my impression was that everyone here wore cowboy hats. I worried about all the guns—not even the police have guns in my country—and I thought everyone in high school lived like the kids from 90210.”
She says love of family in England held her back for a while in her decision to become a citizen, “I did not decide to get naturalized until 2012. Not because I didn’t love everything about this country, but all my family are still in England. It was more about the need to get home quickly for a family emergency. Eventually, I gave up that fear and it was an amazing experience to raise my hand and be sworn in as a U.S. citizen with my husband to the side with such pride in his eyes. It was a very emotional experience. My thought at that moment was I can now stand up in the military theaters and honestly put my hand over my heart and sing that national anthem. Having been a military spouse for over 20 years at that point, it was something I always thought I was faking prior to becoming a citizen.”
After enduring a lack of employment and growing insecurity in Puente de Ixtla in the Mexican state of Morelos, Juan and Lupe Andrade treasure their stable life in America. “We know that there will always be a roof above our heads and available work so we can care for our family,” the Georgetown couple says. “There’s also a large amount of good people of many different nationalities that we have had the pleasure to meet.”
In the hopes of giving their kids a better life with a stellar education, Juan and Lupe set off on an exciting adventure that led to their new home. “Even though we felt some fear taking along our children when they were still so young, we still had high hopes that everything would work out for the best.” And it did—the couple now own Juan & Lupe’s Kitchen in Georgetown, a restaurant that celebrates traditional central/Southern Mexican cuisine.
Their journey started in Illinois, and their desire for a warmer climate drove them to Texas in 2014. Juan worked as a cook in Round Rock and when the restaurant opened a second location on the Square in Georgetown, the Andrades moved with the new location, Lupe serving as cook and Juan as manager. With the help of their two sons, Adrian and Carlos, and daughter Lupe, the Andrades opened Juan & Lupe’s Kitchen and are still living their restaurant dream, as well as their American dream.
LAND OF OPPORTUNITY
Daniel Bethapudi is a testament to the saying that if you work hard in America, success will follow. That was his dream when he left his small Indian town, Machilipatnam, for America almost 20 years ago to earn a master’s degree in agricultural economics thanks to a full scholarship to Texas A&M. That dream has come true for Daniel, who now works as the City’s electric utility manager.
He had to adjust to some cultural differences along the way. Having learned British English, Daniel soon found some words had very different meanings in American English. He was also shocked at the way people treated their elders. “Coming from Indian culture, we respect teachers and elders. They are very important in the culture, while in some of the classes in America, some of the ways students interacted with professors were very laid back, bordering on being disrespectful,” he says. “It’s the same thing between people older than you—you don’t disrespect people older than you. You use Mr. and Mrs. Even now, to call someone much older than me by their first name is very odd.”
Two decades after making America his home, Daniel still marvels at the opportunities and freedom of religion and speech many take for granted. “I love the fact that the U.S. is a society governed by meritocracy. I also love the freedoms and comforts we have,” he says. “Many freedoms that we take for granted are hard to find in other countries. Other countries are doing well economically, but if you say the wrong thing or question the people in power, the consequences are particularly bad. In the U.S., anyone is free to practice their religion. That’s not a given in the rest of the world. I love this country because of what it has given to me. Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” rings true to my story as an immigrant once and a U.S. citizen now.”
AT HOME IN THE U.S.A.
Born and raised in a small town in Siberia, Russia, Alexander Polansky endured poverty, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and his wife’s death before embarking on his journey to the United States. Marrying an Austinite led to his new home in Texas that came with all kinds of changes. “After moving to America, everything we knew had changed,” he says. “Even something like a drive-through, which we had never seen before, was new and exciting. Having been able to go into a grocery store that had unlimited choices of food felt like such a privilege from where we came from.”
Coming from a place where a frown was more common than a smile, Alexander was also surprised by how nice everyone was. “Our neighbors were so friendly and welcoming that it made us feel right at home,” he says.
Now a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analyst for the City of Georgetown, Alexander is one of the folks behind the maps that tell you which City Council district you live in, where to find parks and trails, what new developments are coming to Georgetown, even where to spot Georgetown’s signature red poppies. His amazing job along with opportunities, freedoms, and people’s generosity made him fall in love with America. He also takes pride in his hard-working children, as his daughter became an advanced nurse practitioner and his son works as a skin cancer surgeon. “I am proud that my family is contributing and improving the lives of everyday Americans,” Alexander says. “I have been lucky to make many friends who have helped me out when I am in need without expecting anything in return. It is always the people that make me happiest, and I am always excited to return the favor.”