Freedom.Â Itâ€™s a word youâ€™ll hear a lot of this year, bandied about so often itâ€™ll be surprising if no political entrepreneur goes out and gets it trademarked before the election cycle ends.Â To many of us, freedom is a given, a fact of life, even a slogan.Â But to Eva Vecsernyes â€“ native of Hungary, single mother of two, eleven-year resident of Astoria, and, as of last month, fully-naturalized citizen â€“ freedom is the operating principle of her life, the thing that informs everything she does.
â€œI am a very bullheaded person!â€ Eva smilingly exclaims.Â â€œI donâ€™t like being told what to do too much!â€Â Which is not, as you might imagine, the most comfortable attitude for a child growing up in Communist Hungary.Â â€œThere, I was told how to live my life.Â I like to live my life on my own terms â€“ I understand there are rules to be followed but this is my life, I only have one.Â I donâ€™t need my government telling me how I should live, where I should work, what I should read, what I should watch on television.Â I am entitled to choose my own life, as a human being.â€
And choose she did.Â Just after eighth-grade graduation, fourteen-year-old Eva hopped a plane to Alaska and immediately found emancipation â€“ not to mention extreme culture shock.Â â€œCulture shock?Â Youâ€™d better believe it!Â I come from a country that was technologically â€“ not necessarily behind but kept back.Â I mean, theyâ€™re just finally getting color television!Â Come on!Â So you come from that to a place that has washers and dryers â€¦ youâ€™re going, â€˜whatâ€™s a dryer?Â Whatâ€™s a microwave?Â Whatâ€™s an automatic door?â€™Â I didnâ€™t know what to make of it all!â€
If major appliances take some getting used to, imagine being confronted with a whole world of cultural referents undreamt of in a Hungarian teenâ€™s philosophy.Â â€œThe movie Alien was not allowed in Hungary, for example â€“ the government considered it â€˜too violentâ€™ so it was banned.Â I remember my aunt protesting to have it shown and getting into a lot of trouble for it.Â Certain movies were kept out of the country, there were certain books you could not read, and all pornography was completely illegalâ€¦ so when I came here and saw how freely available it was, I was in complete shock!Â To suddenly have all that in my face as a fourteen-year-old girl â€“ to go from it being illegal to being everywhere…â€
Cultural liberties are one thing, but Eva soon discovered that oppression is not just a product forged behind the Iron Curtain.Â â€œMy ex-husband is a native Alaskan.Â I remember going to a potluck in his village, and the first thing they said when we got there is â€˜no white women allowedâ€™ and I had to leave.Â Have I come across people who tell me â€˜go back to your own country?â€™Â Sure, but thatâ€™s just the bigots.Â Who cares?Â But to come across such a united front like that â€“ that was very shocking.Â Itâ€™s such a drastic life in Alaska in many ways.â€Â Freedom called again; she divorced and, with children Victoria (now nineteen) and Jonathan (seventeen) in tow, â€œbummed aroundâ€ the lower 48 for a while.Â â€œI was in Arizona for a little bit, then Texas, and eleven years ago, I came here for two days and havenâ€™t left yet!
â€œAstoria got to me,â€ she says.Â â€œThereâ€™s a lot of neo-classical architecture here, everythingâ€™s a little bit older, and thereâ€™s a real sense of history, which is one of the things I miss about Hungary.Â And the weather is almost the same!Â People are very open-minded around here; Iâ€™ve been made to feel very welcome, the local families treat my children like one of their own.Â We were assimilated into the community very quickly.Â I do get some people telling me â€˜learn to speak English,â€™ because my accent gets heavy when I get a little upsetâ€¦ well, live with it!Â Itâ€™s beautiful here â€“ I really donâ€™t want to leave!â€
And now, sheâ€™ll never have to â€“ just three weeks before we spoke, Eva made it official: she is now a full-blown citizen of the USA.Â â€œAnybody whoâ€™s afraid of it, donâ€™t be!Â Itâ€™s the easiest test I ever took!Â They give you a study guide for a hundred questions, and they say theyâ€™ll ask you up to ten.Â I got asked four â€“ who is the President, who is the Speaker of the House, if Iâ€™m willing to bear arms for the United States, andâ€¦ there was one more question that honestly Iâ€™ve already forgotten!Â Then they asked me to read one sentence, write one sentence and that was it.Â It was really simple â€“ I went into study mode like a crazy woman for two months for nothing!â€Â And whatâ€™s different now that sheâ€™s officially American?Â â€œI can bitch in public now!â€
But if you think that means sheâ€™s settled, think again.Â â€œMy sonâ€™s going off to college in the fall so after that, Iâ€™m a free bird!Â I would like to go back to school and get my Masterâ€™s in literature, but at the same time I just want to pack up and go somewhere â€“ Iâ€™ve never seen Africa, never seen Asia.Â Nothingâ€™s really holding me back, so why not?Â Iâ€™ve been a daughter, Iâ€™ve been a wife, Iâ€™ve been a mother, itâ€™s time to be me.Â But Astoria feels like home, it does.Â I canâ€™t say I wonâ€™t flutter, but Iâ€™ll always fly back.â€