Bilingual International Assistant Services is proud to announce Social Services Director Dianne Mogilevsky Carty’s election as the Missouri Delegate to the Refugee Congress, a national advocacy organization built and led by former refugees, asylum-seekers, and other vulnerable migrants to promote the well-being, integration, and dignity of all vulnerable migrants. Dianne has been involved with the RC for over a year, after picking up duties for Victoria Barmak when she had to step back. This is the third successive agency delegate to this growing organization, and we look forward to Dianne’s work growing the Missouri refugee delegation.
Dianne has been with the agency since she came on in 2012 as a Russian interpreter, and now oversees a Social Service Department that provides essential multilingual access to health and welfare benefits for eligible immigrants and refugees. Dianne was asked to reflect on her personal refugee journey, and she supplied these thoughts:
We were emigres. That’s all I knew, and for a long time, wanted to know about our family’s move to the U.S. from Uzbekistan, in the former Soviet Union. For the first twenty years I was busy living, learning English, and adjusting to life in the US after my family left in a mad, clandestine rush to get out while we still could. It wasn’t until I became a parent myself that I wanted to learn about what caused my own parents to uproot our family and begin our new lives as emigres.
What I knew about our “process” is that my parents, as Jews in the Soviet Union unable to freely practice their faith, came very close to leaving in the early 1980s, only to be pulled back by family. Then, the borders closed, they re-applied as soon as they could, and waited. In 1989, the borders opened again, and people began leaving in droves. My family finally received confirmation that they were next. When asked where we were going, clueless, but in his studied English, my father announced: “Springfield, Illinois!”
Leaving was hard. It was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, sell-sell-sell, box-and-ship, we-don’t-have-suitcases-big-enough, leave-it-at-grandmas, and do-you-really-need-this situations. My father sewed leather bags by hand. We left my mothers’ extensive dictionary and reference library, my father’s stamp collection, at grandma’s. My mother had food packed so we wouldn’t need to eat at airports. The flight out of Moscow was frantic. I remember Russian officials laughing at us at the airport, while checking in all of our bags and leering over our papers, and my father saying proudly, “Don’t worry! We’re not coming back!” It was the little things that stayed with me. I was 13, pushing my 8-month-old sister in her stroller and overwhelmed by all the new sights, sounds, smells, etc. We landed in NYC in the evening on April 6, 1991.
Refugees come in all shapes and sizes, from a wide variety of backgrounds, and from all over the globe. I fully recognize that my “white card” refugee experience is not necessarily typical of some of my colleagues or the refugee communities that I work with in my capacity as a Director of Social Services for an immigrant/refugee charity. We were never in a camp. We weren’t forced to flee our country at gunpoint. What we do share, though, is the experience of being refugees in the US. The confusion of the resettlement process, having to scrape and hustle to make ends meet, the changes of roles within the family, and the experience of walking into a completely different world when we returned home at the end of the school day.
My parents were highly educated, driven, disciplined, and battled through tremendous adversity to achieve a middle class life in America, as they left family, belongings, friends, and careers behind. Their experiences informed our family identity and significantly affected my experiences, always inspiring me to push myself as hard as I can to live up to a certain work ethic.
I am a mother, a wife, a refugee, and an American, and my priority in my role at Bilingual International and now with the Refugee Congress is to help fellow refugees build a foundation and thrive here. ~ Dianne Mogilevsky Carty