On July 4th, we met Mr. Peter Costin and his family when we all volunteered to march with Ohio State Senator Michael Skindell (Democrat from District 23) in the annual holiday parade in Lakewood. As it turned out, Peter helped us carry the Skindell banner while his wife, Delia, drove the Skindell car. Peter and Delia, along with their son Christopher, were there because they admired Senator Skindell and because their daughter, Andrea, is an Ohio Legislative Service Commission Fellow in Columbus. She has been assigned to work with Senator Skindell where she has different responsibilities including working on Ohio budgetary matters, attending meetings and much more.
While we were carrying the banner, we learned that Peter immigrated to the United States from Romania many years ago so we asked if we could interview him for iForeignBorn and he said yes and generously invited us over to his home in Avon where we sat down and talked to him while we nibbled on cherry turnovers provided by Delia.
We learned that Peter grew up in Gherla, a small Romanian town. Although his father passed when Peter was eleven, he has a sister and gained three more siblings (two step brothers and one step sister) when his mother, an elementary school teacher, remarried a radiologist. Due to this Union, despite the mediocrity of the overall medical system in Romania, Peter and his family had good health care and lived comfortably.
From our conversation with Peter we learned that while Romania was part of the Eastern Bloc, it operated very independently of Soviet Russia, though the ideology was similar. It was a dictatorship, no doubt about it, and patriotism came about through indoctrination instead of a natural love for one’s country and/or its government.
Peter told us that it wasn’t so much a question of direct censorship of reading materials exposing a different point of view; it was a matter of accessibility. For example, to obtain certain books, one might have to travel to a library in Bucharest (about as far from his home as Cleveland is to Washington, DC) and then have to make a trip to return them after a couple of weeks. The books were often in a different language but Peter was fortunate because his mother successfully challenged the school system so that Peter could be allowed to learn French and English instead of Russian.
Unfortunately, the biggest stumbling block was that people were given a great deal of latitude to read whatever they wanted but they couldn’t discuss what they read with others. Nevertheless, Peter listened to the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe quite frequently and loved seeing films from the United States including John Wayne westerns. It could, perhaps, be said that even though the Romanian government was very anti-United States, the Romanian people themselves looked very favorably upon us.
As for Peter and his family, they always “looked abroad” and explored opportunities to travel. This was very difficult indeed unless it was to an Eastern bloc country. For example, if you were sixty-five or older and decided to re-settle in the West, the government had an excuse to cancel your pensions. Eventually, Peter’s step siblings were allowed to immigrate to West Germany because they were able to prove that their ancestry (not Peter’s) was partially German.
Peter, himself, remained in Romania and graduated from the Polytechnic University of Cluj and became an engineer at age twenty-four. He then joined the staff of a five thousand person plant that made heavy machinery to be used in mines.
At this point, Delia joined in our conversation and shared her own background. She, too, was born in Romania but was allowed to leave with her family in 1965 when she was nine and a half years old. Her father was Jewish and the Jewish community at the time was active in putting pressure on the Eastern Bloc countries to allow their Jewish citizens to emigrate to Israel and raising funds to allow them to do so. After they had left Romania, however, Delia’s family decided what they really wanted was to go to the U.S. Fortunately, her family had relatives here who were willing to sponsor them; after six months of waiting in Italy for the necessary paperwork to be completed, Delia’s family was allowed to come to the United States. At first they lived in Pittsburgh for two years before settling in Elyria. Years later, Delia attended Kent State University, where she successfully trained to be a Home Economics teacher.
In the early 1980’s, Peter and Delia were encouraged by mutual friends to correspond with each other. After a while, Delia traveled back to Romania to meet Peter and their relationship became romantic. They soon realized that they wanted to marry but the Romanian government flatly denied them permission in 1982. “They can make your life hell,” Peter said disgustedly as he recalled what he and Delia had to go through.
Delia remembered appealing to the office of then U.S. Congressman Donald J. Pease (Democrat from Ohio’s 13th District) for assistance; he wrote a letter to the Romanian authorities that helped a great deal. Finally, they were allowed to marry and Peter was able to (at last) travel to the United States to join his bride in 1983. In contrast to what they went through in Romania, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service worked very quickly at that time and it only took six months for Peter to be approved to come here.
After Peter arrived, he and Delia stayed with her parents in Elyria for a while before they established a home of their own and, in contrast to other professions which require years of schooling in the U.S. before foreign born professionals can practice them here, Peter was able to be employed as an engineer “right off”. He worked for several local companies over the years such as Mantalene, Moen, and Bettcher, before he found his niche at Parker Hannifin, where he remained for more than sixteen years until he retired in 2015, as did Delia who worked for the Elyria City Schools for thirty years.
As we wrote before, Peter and Delia raised two children: Christopher, is a pediatrician now in the residency phase of his education, and Andrea, an OSU graduate who has both a BS and an MS in Public Health.
When we asked Peter, who became a U.S. citizen in 1993, what the best thing about the U.S. is, he said, without a second’s hesitation, “freedom,” and that he believed that only people who have come from an environment without the freedoms that we have here can appreciate the freedoms that the U.S. has to offer in terms of self-expression. For instance, after living in Romania where controversial issues were not allowed to be discussed, he loves being able to talk about important issues and share his views with everyone. He smiled and firmly said, “Here I don’t have to watch what I am saying!”
Moreover, Peter is very respectful of our two-party political system (Democrats and Republicans) and the way that they alternate being in power (due to the voters’ approval) and thus we have checks and balances. From his perspective, both democrats and republicans are genuinely patriotic and likes it that this comes naturally here-no one is forcing them to be the way it was in Romania.
Of course, we discussed our immigration system here in the U.S. for a moment or two and Peter was of the belief that people should leave their native lands and immigrate elsewhere because either they have relatives or strong relationships there or because they embrace the philosophy of the country that they seek to immigrate to no matter where that might be but they should not come solely because the other country has great employment/salary opportunities.
As for their lives now, Peter and Delia are very happy living in their lovely home in Avon with their small dog and couldn’t be prouder of their two children. He remains in touch with his step brothers and step sister in Germany and, even though he has never returned to Romania, his mother and sister have visited the U.S. several times over the years (people can now travel back and forth with very few problems now) and talks to them weekly, if not daily.