I, Foreign-Born from Belarus

We arrived at the Kielbasa Cookout on Fleet Avenue in Slavic Village where we met Ms. Lily Zbarashewski, who immigrated to the United States from Belarus in 2001, and was well-acquainted with all kinds of kielbasa and shared this knowledge with us. We remembered our visit as being delightful so we decided to request an interview for “I, Foreign-Born” which she graciously granted. We thus spent the early part of Halloween, 2019 with Lily at Starbucks on Som Center Road in Mayfield Heights where we listened to her story.

Lily was born in the late 1960’s in the city of Stolin in the Brest Region of Belarus which is an Eastern European country bordered (i.e. actually landlocked) by Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. She was the youngest of three children born to her parents who were, by trade, a builder (her father) and an accountant (her mother). Lily enjoyed a very comfortable childhood and went on to attend college where she obtained her first degree in clothes design in 1986. From there she studied world history and psychology at the University of Minsk and earned her Masters in 1997. Meanwhile, she taught art to young students a couple of local schools, married, and had two sons named Eugene and Sten.

She also made friends with business instructors from the United States who were teaching at the university. They encouraged Lily to consider immigrating to the United States but her life was going well, her children were quite small, and she just didn’t want to undergo the staggering process at that time. But the situation changed a couple of years later after her marriage ended in divorce. Lily recalls visiting with friends who showed her a newspaper ad regarding the visa lottery and told her to fill it out and submit it because one never knew what would become of it. What became of it was that she won in 2000 and thus was enabled to immigrate to United States with her Eugene and Sten, now aged ten and thirteen, and obtain a green card. Lily recalls that they were initially scheduled to travel to the United States on September 20, 2001, but, due to the turmoil still going on over 9/11, the date was changed to October 11th.

In terms of settling in the United States, she was given the options of Cleveland, Buffalo, New York City or San Diego. For her, New York City was just too big, there was no job available in San Diego, and Buffalo didn’t feel right to her for some reason. Plus, a friend advised her that Cleveland was the place to be in terms of a good locale for her boys and job options. Upon arrival in Cleveland, Lily found a job with Behavioral Community Health Center In Beachwood whose duties included helping older people who immigrated to the United States from Europe which was perfectly suited for her because she spoke multiple languages. As for English, she learned enough to make herself understood after only being here for four months and was soon able to add it to other languages she was eligible to translate including Belarusian, Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish. To better herself in terms of career advancement, she took classes in social work and medical terminology at Tri-C and CSU and was able to obtain a Master’s in social work in 2008. Indeed, 2008 was a wonderful year in Lily’s life because, in August, she became a United States citizen.

When we asked Lily what she liked about the United States, she told us that most importantly were the freedoms that our U.S. Constitution ensures us which are everlasting and sustainable; she believes that the people who wrote it were strongly principled and intellectually brilliant and had great foresight and vision. What’s more, she really likes the inclusivity and diversity that is so prominent here and remembers how kind people were to her and her sons when they first arrived in Cleveland.

She has revisited her homeland perhaps four times over the years and has maintained ties with her brother and sister who succeeded very well in their careers as respectively, a police official and a family physician and are now retired. As an immigrant, Lily’s beliefs and attitudes are still grounded in what she learned in her home country of Belarus whereas her sons Eugene and Sten think very much along the lines of most people born in the United States. Both of her sons are doing quite well now, by the way. Eugene is an engineering student at CSU and her Sten is so astute that he was able to, at one time, work in a science laboratory at CWRU.  Sten lived in California for a while but moved back to Cleveland in order that he could help Lily, his mom, who unfortunately is unable to work at this time due to injuries obtained in a car accident in 2011 which were further exacerbated by another accident that she had in 2014.

At this time, Lily is undergoing physical therapy and fills her days by doing what she can to help the elderly and physically stricken people (often from Europe) that she has made friends with over the years. On the aforementioned matter of medical care, Lily is quite candid about not liking the turmoil of our current health care system and believes, as do most of us do who have had to deal with it lately, that a lot of serious reforms are very much needed.  Nevertheless, she is very optimistic about her future and that of the United States in spite of the incendiary controversies that are taking place under the Trump administration which she prefers not to discuss because she has found that political discussions tend to drive people apart.

She did say, however, that she very much relates to and admires Mr. Arnold Swartznegger, the actor/champion bodybuilder who immigrated to the United States from Austria and served as Governor of California from 2003 to 2011 because she believes that he really cares about people and wants to give back to his adopted country just as she, herself, tries to do every day whenever possible. When we asked Lily what she really likes to do for enjoyment, she replied that she enjoys gardening (i.e. she loves flowers), cooking, reading, swimming (i.e. great physical therapy), and such TV show as “Dancing with the Stars” and, of course, “American Idol.”

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