Zuzana Lanc (born Zuzana Grelová), 1970
Zuzana Lanc was was born in Liptovský Mikuláš in central Slovakia and grew up in the nearby village of Liptovské Sliače. She and her twin sister, Brona, lived with their mother, Anna Vesela, and their grandparents. Zuzana speaks fondly of her childhood in Slovakia and says that she was ‘so happy,’ especially compared to children growing up in the United States today. She enjoyed Russian and Slovak classes in school and excelled at recitation and speaking competitions. In 1987, Brona’s mother moved to the United States and married Zdenek Vesely, an American citizen. Although the plan was for the girls to follow shortly after, it took well over one year for Brona and Zuzana to be allowed to leave the country. They arrived in the United States in October 1988 and settled in with their mother and stepfather, who now had their younger sister, Margret, in Aurora, Illinois.
Zuzana and Brona received English lessons from a tutor who also helped them enroll in the local high school. In January 1989, they started as juniors in the ESL program, and the following year took regular classes as seniors and graduated. While in school, Zuzana worked at the deli at Kmart, a job which she says helped improve her English. Upon graduating, Zuzana worked a number of customer service jobs. She then moved into the IT field, working at Motorola and HP. She received a two-year degree from the College of DuPage.
Today Zuzana lives in Downers Grove, Illinois, with her daughter, Emilka. She speaks Slovak to her daughter and the two of them return each year to Slovakia to visit family. Zuzana, along with her extended family, keeps Slovak holiday traditions and loves to cook Slovak food. While she says that she is ‘so glad’ to have grown up in Slovakia, today she calls the United States home and is thankful for her mother to have made the decision to give her daughters a better life.
Zuzana talks about her childhood
“Compared to the kids here – my daughter – I think we were so happy. We didn’t have any computers, no TV, no games. We were just happy to go outside and play soccer and badminton and make bunker and just be outdoors. And we were safe; our parents didn’t worry about us. So I think it was a lot easier than kids have right now these days here.”
Do you think it was better to grow up without internet and computers?
“Oh yeah, totally. Big time. I’m so anti-computer, anti-TV. No, no, no. I mean, we had so many adventures. We made up games and we didn’t kill our brain cells with watching TV and passive time. We had wooden blocks and games that we’d play without TV. They just come home from school, sit down, watch TV, [use] the internet. I don’t think they use their brain as much. I’m so glad that I grew up in Slovakia and I had that childhood. I would wish for my daughter to have the same experience, because it was a lot more fun, I think.”
Zuzana’s uncle immigrated to the United States in 1968. His visits were her introduction to the West
“I remember we were seven years old and my uncle came and it was at Christmas. At that time, it was my uncle, my mom and her sister… So there was like 12 of us and we had 105 Christmas presents. I remember that because we were counting them, and during communism that was like ‘Wow.’ You would have like 30 presents. I remember that after we came from midnight mass, my mom and my uncle and we stayed up and he was telling us about America, how great it is and this and that. As a kid you are like, ‘Oh my gosh, you have bananas every day? You can have oranges? You can have this?’ It was euphoria.”
Zuzana explains how her family emigrated
“My uncle immigrated in 1968 and my mom came to visit him when we were ten, stayed for a year and a half, and she really liked it and she came back home and told us ‘This is the place where I want to raise you up and it’s going to be a better life for you.’ And she was making plans how she was going to come back here again, so then when we were 16 she finally succeeded and she came here. She got married to a Czech with American citizenship, and that was the way she brought us here.”
Zuzana’s Polish-language skills came in handy when she first immigrated to the Chicago area
“I remember when I came and when the other immigrants came it was like a monopoly. If you want to work here – do construction, be a cleaning lady – you always have to go through Polish people. And Polish people, except two that I know, they are firm on speaking only Polish. They would not every learn Slovak or Czech. So we had no other choice but to speak their language.”
Category: Chicago, Oral History