Liliana Predoaica was a nurse in her native Romania. Her first job paid only about $100 a month. Today she is a popular server at Paris Bistro next to the Chestnut Hill Hotel. (Photo by Len Lear)

Liliana Predoaica was a nurse in her native Romania. Her first job paid only about $100 a month. Today she is a popular server at Paris Bistro next to the Chestnut Hill Hotel. (Photo by Len Lear)

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.

  • B

    It’s true that most people have this glamorous image about
    America, in part because of the Hollywood propaganda, but also due to Romanians
    who go back home on vacation and lie about their situation in the states.

    I personally had a bit of a different experience in terms of
    career, but I’ve worked my tail off like there was no tomorrow, in addition to
    being realistic and going for a more achievable career. As a fashionista myself
    I’ve once had a dream of pursuing a career in this area, but that went to the
    side quickly when I’ve seen the fees I would’ve had to pay. So instead, I
    decided to finish the degree I started in Romania, and all the classes were
    transferred here without any glitches. It took quite a few years to be able to
    go back to school, as I did not want to be a slave of the school loans.

    The fashion industry is one of the hardest to penetrate, so Liliana’s
    choice to pursue, not one but two degrees in this area, is quite unfortunate. Has
    she pursued a degree in nursing (RN, then MS in Nursing) she would’ve been a
    lot more successful.

    Now on the whole communism thing, as it always amazes me how
    people say what others want to hear. This is the same as the Hollywood effect.

    People like to use labels to promote their agenda, but in
    reality “communism” never existed and never will, anywhere in the world. That “communism”
    as well as the “revolution from 1989” was a bag of goods sold by individuals
    outside the country that had a specific agenda for Romania. I was naive to
    believe that story back then and I was in the streets protesting against the
    regime. Little that I knew….

    Was there a shortage of food in the stores? Yes, but also
    nobody went hungry because everybody had a way of getting what they needed. We
    had a very close-knit society and people helped each other. Sugar, oil, flour were
    indeed rationed but everyone received a good amount of it every month (1 kg
    sugar, 1kg flour, 1 liter of oil per person). The rationed was done so Romania
    could pay the IMF loan that was imposed. This is similar to what is currently
    going on with other European countries that are against these loans, yet they
    are obligated to take them, then implementing extreme austerity packages. These
    loans are unconscionable – they have almost impossible interest rates so you
    can never get out of it.

    As for the lack of heat in the schools, that is simply not
    true.

    Romania is in fact much, much worst now then it was before
    1989. The country with all its natural resources has been sold to foreign
    interest for very little money. I’ve seen factories with top of the line equipment
    sold for as little as 1 euro.

    Half of the jobs have been destroyed and majority of people
    earn salaries that are 15% of what they used to be. People had decent pensions,
    and now they barely survive. Now quite a few elderly are homeless in Romania, a
    scene that breaks my heart. The education which used to be top notch and free,
    now is completely destroyed. We used to have free healthcare which included dental; when I tell
    people here that we used to have 24/7 dental clinics they look at me as I am
    from another planet.