Anna Vesela (born Anna Grelová), 1945
Anna Vesela was born in Lipnica Mała – in what is today Poland – in 1945. She spent most of her childhood in the Orava region of Slovakia. Her father had trained as a joiner in Zakopane but spent much of his career working as an X-ray technician in a military hospital. Anna’s mother worked as a server in a canteen. Anna had two brothers and a sister. She attended teacher training college and graduated in 1974, but was thrown out of her job as a teacher the following year – she says on grounds of her religious beliefs. From then on, Anna worked as a cleaner. As a hobby, Anna played bass for the Slovak folk ensemble SĽUK, with which she traveled to Yugoslavia and the United States.
Anna says her family on her father’s side had spent time in Pennsylvania and that she thought of traveling to America from an early age. Her brother emigrated to the United States and, in 1981, she came to visit him. She returned to Czechoslovakia after one year and a half. In Slovakia, Anna had two daughters, Brona and Zuzana, both of whom she raised as a single mother. In 1987, Anna returned to the United States and applied to have her two daughters join her. She says this process was complicated when U.S. Immigration Services lost her daughters’ documents. Brona and Zuzana joined their mother in the Chicagoland area in 1988. In the United States, Anna met her husband, Zdeněk Vesely, and the couple had a daughter, Margret. Anna worked in a number of restaurants and as a housekeeper for a family in Saint Charles. She became an American citizen in the mid-1990s. Anna returns to Slovakia at least once every two years and still refers to Slovakia as ‘home.’ Today, she lives in Darien, Illinois.
Anna remembers the first time she thought about going to America
“My neighbor was lent a dream book, and then his daughter gave me this dream book – I have it at home. In it was written that Pisces, which is my sign, not being close to the sea, will go to the other side of the world in search of the sea later on in life. And already then I thought: America! I don’t know why I didn’t think of Germany or… But the other side of the world meant a different continent…”
According to Anna, it was difficult to bring her daughters over to the United States in 1987
“Not from Czechoslovakia – they told me at the Embassy when I went in November that they would be here at the soonest in half a year, my daughters. But at the immigration office they lost their papers three times. And we went there, with my friend, and they said ‘We don’t have them. Next!’ As if we weren’t there… So then, I was so unhappy and going to English classes and a Polish woman came. She came to join her husband who had been her for seven years already. And so I told her about the problems I was having and she advised me ‘You know what? Go to Batavia, and there’s a congressman. You don’t need to speak to him, but he has a secretary, Zuzana – Sue, and she will help you.’… When I told her – and even now I don’t know English well, and then I was even worse – this one was little, I remember it was May when I began visiting her every week. I complained in May ‘What’s going on?’ They had gone to [the American] Embassy and were told there that they knew nothing about it.
“So she told me, ask once again for all of their documents, like birth certificates etc. So, once again, the family had to go and get all this, and I brought them to Sue. And she, from her own telephone, at three in the morning, called the Embassy in [Czechoslovakia]. She had to put in her own code and all of these numbers, told them I’m married here, that I have a Green Card, that my husband is an American citizen. And on the basis of this they got visas to come here. She did that for us, Sue.
“When the girls came here, we all put together a vase like the one over there on the stove and I don’t know what else – a fruit bowl – three things altogether. And we went to see her and thank her. It wasn’t a bribe, because she had already taken care of it. So we went to see Sue. But it was only her. I don’t know what would have happened if it weren’t for her. But you see – even in the worst cases, you can find a solution.”
Anna remembers interviewing for U.S. citizenship
“I came to the lady and first they ask ‘Why did you come here?’ And I started from Adam and Eve about how I finished school, how I was thrown out of teaching and I went on for 40 minutes. She brought me a coffee and tissues, we cried together when I told her about how I was thrown out of teaching and how I went to the Virgin Mary to ask her for help, and how I had a husband who had shot my eye out. In the end when I left, we gave each other a hug!”
Category: Chicago, Oral History