Milwaukee, WI, host family and shinny neon license plates

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Hi there all my awesome followers!

So, to continue from my previous post, I landed in O’Hara International Airport, Chicago in June, 1997 all ready and excited for Lion’s International Summer camp. First of- one thing that I wanted to make you aware of- Latvia has no racial diversity- there might have been about 10 international students that were of different race than white. While waiting for my host family to pick me up at the airport I was amazed and very excited to see people who were not white and looked like they had just jumped out from the hip hop videos on MTV. I must have stared at one of them too long, since he started talking to me, but I could only understand a couple of words- American English was quite different than British, which is what I had learned in school all these years.  Finally my host family arrived- I remember being shy, since I could hardly understand them. The family consisted of 3 sisters ages 14, 7 and 3 and mom and dad. When we got back to their South Milwaukee home I was pleasantly surprised that I have a roommate- a girl from India, who’s name was Anusha (she was also going to the camp with me. The next morning I went to walk the neighborhood with Anusha- we lived close to a store called 7 Eleven and to my surprise they served hot dogs there! I had only tried hot dogs with the bun, ketchup and mustard so perfectly squiggled on it about 5 times back in Latvia, since McDonald’s, Subway, the  hot dogs, Coca-Cola, Barbie Dolls, supermarkets had only recently arrived along with globalization. That night our host family took us to a restaurant called Sunset Grill, where for the first time I tasted steak. They also had free refills for french fries- my favorite!, so I had at least 3 helpings 🙂 Later on we went to watch movies outside in a field with a bunch of other cars, I think they called this place “a Drive-In”. It reminded me of some older movies that I had seen about America. During the day we started going to   the local community pool, where I got to interact with American boys, one that I started to like was named Tom. His friends had a car that had a purple neon license plate and I could always tell when Tom and his friends were cruising down the main street, while we were jogging down the sidewalk and jumping over the sprinklers.  In that fashion I spent the first 2 weeks of my summer in America, then it was time for the camp, so we got in a school bus (and how excited I was about that!) and took off to somewhere near Madison, WI, the capital.

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The taste of America- I get to check it out in person at the age of 15, but only for the summer…

When I was 15, my mom, through some kind of connections (since we were far from having money for charity) joined the Lions Volunteer Club in Latvia and I became a young Leo Club member. We helped out with community outreach, collected toys and performed in orphanage and helped out with ecological projects. Apparently between the Lions club members it became popular to send your children to summer camps in different countries. My mom had found a brochure with 15 summer camps in America! I almost died from excitement when she told me I could pick one that I liked best! All the states where the camps took place did not sound familiar (there were other places in America besides California, New York and Florida???). Since I was a very active, sporty and outdoorsy child, I picked the one that had a lake, swimming volleyball, singing and dancing as part of their activities and was located in some place called “Wisconsin”. Apparently they were big on cheese and bear cubs- and I loved cheese and animals, so obviously this was going to be great. At this time back in Latvia the newest trend was hanging out with people who rapped and listened to hip hop ( I even took a Hip Hop class), skateboarded, watched MTV videos and talked about graffiti and skate parks. Since Latvia used to be about 2 years behind the American pop culture, in 1996 I would listen to 1998 hits like Booty Call (I had no idea what that meant), “The Boy is Mine”,  some nice songs like “This Kiss” and (my fave) “Ghetto Superstar” (click on links to listen to get an idea what I’m talking about if the titles do not look familiar).  

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The (Crooked) Journey to my American Dream (immigration from Soviet Union to US)

The (Crooked) Journey to my American Dream (immigration from Soviet Union to US).

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The (Crooked) Journey to my American Dream (immigration from Soviet Union to US)

When I was 11, I thought I was Kelly Kapowski from "Saved by the Bell" and was madly in LOVE with Zack Morris 🙂

Almost everyone I meet asks me: what brought you to United States? The short answer is “I decided at a young age that I wanted to live in America!” Visions of NYC,  Times Square, California beaches and boardwalks, celebrities, Disneyland, ball pools and water-park slides, yellow school buses, high school lockers and cheerleaders from “Saved by the Bell” consumed my thoughts and dreams since I was 9.  I could vividly imagine walking down the palm enclosed alley, greeting celebrities on my way to my glass-window, beachfront home with a fire pit.  I would then hop in my red convertible Mercedes and driving off to a glamorous law office in Manhattan, where I worked Ally McBeal-style! In my imagination NYC was only a short car drive away from Southern California beaches and the unbelievably warm, turquoise blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Where lived an imaginary girl that I wanted to be….

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