by Lou Mancinelli
After coming to the U.S. in 2003 from her native Romania, Liliana Predoaica, now a waitress at Paris Bistro, next to the Chestnut Hill Hotel, sometimes worked two jobs. They were usually at night, in addition to daytime classes towards her bachelor’s degree in fashion at the Art Institute of Philadelphia (AI) in Center City.
From 2005 to 2009, she finished 120 of the required 180 credits, but her image of America several years after immigrating to Philadelphia in 2003 became quite different from the vision of America she had while growing up in communist Romania.
As it was when millions of Irish, German, Russian and Italian immigrants poured through the Golden Door of Ellis Island from 1880 to 1920, the story of the immigrant is still the story of adapting to and overcoming hardship. It’s a story of adapting when the reality is different from what was expected, but it is a story that always begins with a dream.
“I didn’t like it at first,” Predoaica said during a recent interview.
Her image of America was one more manufactured and sold in Hollywood than nine-to-five. “You don’t grasp the reality. You think everything is cool, and a lot of doors will open for you.”
The former nurse came to America in November, 2003, at the age of 30 and first lived with a family in Bensalem. She had won a visa through the annual Diversity Visa Green Card Lottery Program, a legal immigration program that’s not just for work visas.
A work visa program had enabled Predoaica to work the previous year as a nurse in Germany. Before that she’d also worked as a nurse in Bucharest and elsewhere in her home country, where she had attended nursing school. Her motive for immigrating to the U.S. was half-opportunity, half-curiosity, all rooted in the dream of self-improvement.
But it can be a long and arduous process to transfer nursing or other medical credentials from another country to the U.S., as is also true of other professions. It took Predoaica three-and-a-half years before her credentials finally transferred.
In the meantime she applied for work at Giant and Pathmark supermarkets, “but nobody wanted me because I didn’t have any experience.” So in 2004 she became a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and started working around the Philadelphia area.
She got a job at a nursing home, but it paid very little money, so she got a second job. In the meantime, she was taking a few classes each semester at the AI. But work in the nursing home was unpleasant and for what she earned, hardly worth it.
And she had already become disillusioned with the world of nursing in Romania and Germany. “I wanted something more,” she said.
In the U.S. she fell in love, married and had a son, Edward Stephen. She lived in Baltimore in parts of 2005 and 2006. Today she is a single mother raising her son, who will be 4 in July, at their residence in Plymouth Meeting.
Predoaica is one of three children. Her older brother lives in Italy, and her younger sister lives in Bucharest. When Predoaica came to the U.S., she thought her family would later want to follow, but they don’t. So Predoaica, 40, wonders if she should stay. It’s hard adjusting as you get older, she explained.
For her, the new Paris Bistro, which also has a jazz club in the basement, provides a new opportunity. “At the same time I’m torn between my son growing up without family,” she said. (Ed. Note: Our party of four recently had dinner at Paris Bistro, and we were fortunate enough to be waited on by Liliana, a great server who definitely enhanced our experience. She was delightful, charming and professional in every way.)
The American Dream still flickers for Liliana, who believes that her son will have the opportunity here for a better education and a better job. For her, growing up under the Romanian communist regime was extremely difficult. Each day for many hours both at home and at school, the regime turned off the heat and electricity, Predoaica recalls. The authorities claimed it was to save money.
Moreover, all media were censored, and people waited in long lines for extremely limited food and other consumer goods. Books and music from the outside world were outlawed. “Nobody was happy about what was going on,” she said, “but nobody had the courage to do anything about it until 1989.”
Predoaica was 16 when the Romanian communist regime fell in December of 1989. Protests and riots swept across the country for a week and forced President Nicolae Ceauşescu to abandon power and flee Bucharest with his wife, Elena. It ended when the president and his wife were executed.
“We had no idea … it happened so suddenly,” said Predoaica.
“It was exciting in a way, but we didn’t know what was going to happen. It was intense.” Soon international broadcasts were seen on television and heard on the radio. International businesses started to appear, and Romanians began to travel to other countries. But when Predoiaca began working as a nurse at age 19, nurses earned only about 250 euros a month, which amounts to less than $6,000 for an entire year. Thus, many young Romanians wanted to emigrate.
“I was earning almost that much when I left the country,” Liliana said, “and that’s because I was working at one of the best hospitals in the country. When I started working as a nurse at age 19, I was making way less. It must have been less than $100 a month … I think I have adjusted pretty well here, and I’m really hoping to be able to go back to school.”
For more information about Paris Bistro, call 215-242-6200 or visit www.parisbistro.net.