First Generation American Project: Drinks & Dialogue with Amalia Bir
By: Ania Jablonowski
Imagine living in a place that is going through such hardships, that you pick up your bicycle and ride it to another country, then hop on the first flight out. You end up in Australia, thousands of miles away from home, to pave a better path for your family in a free land.
That is the start of Amalia Bir’s story as a first generation American.
When Amalia and I worked together at Pinocchio’s Pizza Pub in Glenview back in 2007, we had no idea that we would be reunited several years later to talk about her experience of growing up FGA. I always knew that she was Romanian, and assumed that she – like many first generation Americans – was born here. One day, she reached out to me on Facebook and asked to help spread the word about her new business, Make It Social Advertising Company. I gladly replied to her message and suggested that we interview her for this project, so we can hear her FGA story and share her business with the community. Little did I know, Amalia has quite the unique tale to tell.
Amalia’s parents were both born and raised in Romania. They got married and had their first child while the country was under Communist control. As Amalia describes it, it was a very difficult time and her parents had a dream to leave the country to come to the US, where people had freedom. Her father’s first attempt to escape Romania was unsuccessful, and he was sent back home with the group of people that were trying to run away with him. Thankfully, he was not imprisoned, but he was nonetheless determined to find a way to start a better life for his family.
Her father attempted escaping for a second time by grabbing his bicycle, and riding off into the night. With the fear of being caught, he did not stop until he reached Serbia. Mr. Bir headed to the airport and booked the first flight out. Though he wasn’t able to get a flight to the US, he boarded a plane heading to Australia. There, he was able to become a permanent resident and fly the rest of his family out to join him.
A few years later, Amalia was born and her family was ready to continue their journey to the US. She says, “They lived in Australia for about three years and then during that time, Communism fell in Romania. My mom’s parents, along with my uncle, moved to the US and my mom went to visit them with me and my brother. She loved it, loved Chicago, and so we ended up moving here. I was seven months old, that’s why I don’t know enough about the Australian culture and I don’t speak with an Australian accent.”
When arriving in Chicago, Amalia’s family was submerged in the Romanian culture. “Romanian was my first language, so I learned English second and oftentimes I will mispronounce odd words, and you will hear my Romanian accent coming through which is odd, since I wasn’t born there.” She continues, “It came to me as a surprise the first time someone said I had an accent. It was no big deal, but at the same time I thought, my goodness, I moved here when I was seven months old, and I didn’t learn English until I was four or five.” Her parents and grandparents only spoke Romanian in the household.
“A big reason why my parents decided to move here was because there were so many other Romanians that lived here. Australia, there wasn’t really a large Romanian community, but in Chicago we had family and we had friends from Romania who moved here and who went to church together,” says Amalia. Her family is part of the Romanian Seventh-Day Adventist Church. “Growing up, I was very involved in church. Our family friends were all Romanian, my best friends were Romanian. I grew up with essentially four main families including mine and so that’s where we went. In the summer we went to the beach together. We went on vacations together. Every Saturday night the families would get together.”
She interjects this part of the interview with her uncle’s story. “My uncle actually moved to the US when he was 17. He told me this story about how there was a train station near the village he grew up in and from when he was a small child till right before he left he said the amount of options of things to buy, food, drinks, everything along those lines dwindled. When he was a young child, he was able to go to the little store by the train station and buy all sorts of candy, juices, different coffees, everything along those lines. As the years progressed, the options just started narrowing down until there was one kind of candy, one bottle of water, and that was it. He was saying it just went from living a life where there was some oppression, but at the same time he still had options, to the point where you couldn’t buy anything that you wanted. And then he came to the land of plentiful, where everything you could possibly want is at Jewel.”
One great purpose of First Generation American Project is finding out who you are, by knowing where you come from and understanding your roots. There tends to be this glamourized notion that all immigrants come here to chase this beautiful, picturesque American Dream, yet I believe that the stories of how and why our families left their countries are still untold. Many of our parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles truly endured unimaginable oppression and had no choice but to leave everything behind to provide for their families, both in the US and back in the homeland.
Amalia plans to continue learning more about her Romanian culture and will one day plan a “Euro Trip” to explore Romania. She wants to visit the villages that her grandparents lived in and see the rose farms that helped sustain their livelihood many years ago.
Amalia Bir is the founder of Make It Social Advertising Company, a social media advertising company that specializes in advertising on Facebook. Make It Social creates and manages ads that appear on the homepages of Facebook users. To connect with Amalia and learn more about Make It Social Advertising Company, visit www.makeitsocialads.com