My mother has always been a bit of a rebel. She organized anti-government theater productions with my father and was an active participant in a thriving Polish artistic underground community. She used theater and writing as a tool of social change—and it worked. One day she was stopped on the street while walking to work. A communist agent told her that if she didn’t cease her activism, the government would throw my father and her in jail and ship me off to an orphanage. She would never see me again.
From that day, my mother made it her mission to escape the country of her birth (and mine) so that I could grow up in a place where I could be free to pursue whatever kind of life I wanted without fear.
Two days before Christmas Eve, 1985, we finally got our chance at freedom. My parents took me on a Christmas cruise to Germany. We carried two suitcases for our entire family. I was only six years old, but I will always remember the viciousness with which the customs agents knifed open random suitcases, the baying police dogs, the crying mothers and fathers who were stopped at the checkpoint. I will also never forget the customs agent who looked at our little trembling family and who told us to “go—just go.” And we went.
We got off the cruise ship in Hamburg and immediately trekked to a homeless shelter. We didn’t know anyone—or a word of German. We just knew that this was the first step to our new lives. We were political refugees in Germany for almost three years. But we were waiting, always waiting for sponsorship to the United States of America. For us, America was a country where, if you worked hard and contributed to the multi-cultural fabric that has always made this country one of the most beautiful places in the world, you had a shot at a life that you would be proud to call your own.
In 1988, we received word that a church group in eastern Washington State was willing to sponsor us and we finally wound up in America. We settled in Seattle, where my mother and father worked multiple jobs, every day, so we could have a place to live and food to eat. But during those early years, we were definitely part of your distasteful 47%, Mr. Romney. We lived in low-income housing and received food stamps. My father worked in construction, as a pizza deliveryman, a laundry coin collector, and everything in between. My mother worked in day cares and in a candy factory where, with her one hand, she was able to package as much as candy as her two-handed co-workers. Still—it was rarely ever enough and we were often on one form of assistance or another until my parents learned English and finally obtained work in their respective fields. No matter how hard my parents worked, without social government programs, we never would have made it.
You might be asking, Mr. Romney, why I choose to focus on my mother. After living for many years on the lower end of the middle class spectrum, the government saved us once more. My father walked out on my mother and me one day. He left my mother with bills, debt, and expenses at a time when she was not working outside of the home. I was enrolled in one of the best private schools in Seattle (because the Jesuits liked investments in smart, poor kids and because I cleaned the school after hours to work off some of my tuition). But still there was the rest of the tuition, rent, food—and no money to pay for them. So my mother worked, went back to school to further her education, and we received welfare. I went to school and worked the entire time I was a student (both in high school and college). And we somehow made it—again, grateful that we were not completely alone.
My mother is now almost seventy years old and collects Social Security and uses Medicare. She falls right in line with your 47%, Mr. Romney, as do so many of the seniors you chose to write off. She doesn’t have much, but she still manages to run a Polish radio station in Seattle and coordinates a monthly multi-lingual poetry salon. She is a proud American citizen—as am I—and we’re both excited about the upcoming election. You see, even though my mother’s monthly income is about what it costs you to fill up one of your yachts with gas, she will still find the ten dollars to send to Barack Obama—a presidential candidate who has not dismissed her and her contribution to these United States. And ignoring my mother, Mr. Romney—well, I don’t have to tell you that that was a big mistake.
Dominika Wrozynski teaches creative writing, literature, and editing courses at Florida State University as a Visiting Faculty Instructor. She is the poetry editor for the Apalachee Review. Her latest poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Slipstream, Kritya: A Journal of Poetry, and The Spoon River Poetry Review.