Friday, May 11, 2001

Family traveled long road from Romania

By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Everyone has a story worth telling. At least, that's the theory. To test it, Tempo is throwing darts at the phone book. When a dart hits a name, a reporter dials the phone number and asks if someone in the home will be interviewed. Stories appear on Fridays.

        For 33 years Ioana Moneta lived under Communist rule in Romania, always hoping that someday she would flee her homeland and find freedom.

        “My family was politically persecuted, as so many other families were. Their lives were practically destroyed after the Communists came to power (in late 1947),'' the 43-year-old Anderson Township resident says.

        “Some members of my family were imprisoned. Everything they had was taken.”

        Well, not quite everything.

        “They managed to put their lives together again, because they were educated people. And that is something that cannot be taken from you.”

        When the Communist regime crumbled in 1989, Ioana (pronounced you-AH-nah) and her husband, Mugurel (moo-goo-REL), hoped political stability would come quickly to their country. But it was slow to occur, and the Monetas decided the time was right to get out.

[photo] Ioana and Mugurel Moneta and their children Marius, 14 and Christina, 5.
([name of photographer] photo)
| ZOOM |
        In 1990, they left on a “vacation” to France. In reality, it was the first step in their plan to come to America.

        But there was a hitch — a major one. Their only child, a 4-year-old son named Marius, was not allowed to go with them. Romanian officials saw that as a way to ensure the parents' return.

        Believing they would eventually be reunited with their boy, the Monetas stuck with their plan. They left Marius with Ioana's parents. As they departed for France, Marius was “waving, saying, "Mommy, take me with you. I will show you the way!' ” Ioana says.

        In France the Monetas applied for visas to the United States. They underwent exhaustive interviews and scrutiny. Weeks, then months, passed as they waited. They kept in touch with family in Romania, including Marius, by telephone.

        “My mother says it was very hard for (Marius),” Ioana says. “He had moments when he was crying unconsolably. She didn't know what to do.”

        Doubts sometimes crept into the Monetas minds. Had they done the right thing? As the months dragged on, “Each day would add up more and more pressure,” Mugurel says.

        Finally, after nearly six months in France, the Monetas were able to board a plane bound for Cincinnati, a place they knew nothing about. But Ioana's brother was here, working toward a doctorate at the University of Cincinnati.

        The moment they arrived, in November 1990, they were saddled with a $1,000 debt, the cost of their air fare.

        “We took the first jobs we saw in the newspaper,” Ioana says.

        Mugurel did not speak much English, but he found work as a pool attendant at a hotel. He supplemented that with other jobs, working seven days a week, nights and weekends.

        Ioana, who had a better command of English, worked as a housekeeper.

        Meanwhile, they completed the paperwork needed to bring Marius to Cincinnati. U.S. officials approved his entrance visa in February 1991, nine months since the Monetas had last seen their child.

        But more roadblocks lay ahead.

Bureaucratic nightmare

        In Romania, Ioana's mother traveled from her home in Sibiu to the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest — a six-hour train ride — so officials could process the boy's exit visa. She had to be in line at 4 a.m. to begin a day-long wait.

        When she finally met the official who could help her, she was turned away.

        She returned another day. Same result. Again she tried, and again she returned home disappointed. “Every time she got there, she was told, "Next time,' ” Ioana says.

        The Monetas say the embassy employee, who was Romanian, might have been expecting a bribe.

        Weeks passed, then months, as Ioana's mother made seven attempts to get the visa. In Cincinnati, Ioana and Mugurel waited anxiously. Winter turned to spring, and spring to summer. Still no Marius.

        In early September 1991 — 16 months after the Monetas left their son in Romania — a desperate Ioana wrote a letter pleading for help. She addressed it to First Lady Barbara Bush at the White House.

        A reply arrived a couple of weeks later. “As much as she would like to, Mrs. Bush cannot personally answer every letter that she receives,” the letter, which the Monetas have saved, said. But it promised that officials at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest were being asked to look into the matter.

        Then things happened quickly. In Romania, Ioana's mother was called to the U.S. Embassy. Paperwork was processed. Travel arrangements were made.

        On Nov. 22, 1991, a Romanian Air Transport jet brought a 5-year-old boy and his grandmother to Chicago. The boy's parents — who hadn't seen him for a year and a half — were waiting.

        Ioana held Marius tightly as he jumped into her arms. On the way home, Mugurel was so excited he drove over a median strip, blowing a tire on their rented van.

American family

        Today, the little boy isn't so little anymore. At 14, Marius wears oval glasses and has his parents' dark hair. He's a ninth-grader at Summit Country Day School, where his mother teaches French and his 5-year-old sister, Christina, attends preschool. Mugurel, 44, is an optical engineer.

        In his spare time, Marius enjoys drawing, airplanes, fishing and paint ball. He is, by all accounts, a normal American teen. Which is to say he's feeling some pressure to distance himself from his parents.

        Mugurel smiles broadly and chuckles at the irony. All that trouble to get his son here, and now he wants to leave them.

        Marius, listening to his parents tell the story he knows well, understands why they did what they did. It was for his future, as well as theirs.

        “I'm lucky,” he says.

        He's lucky, too, that political conditions have improved in Romania, and he's been able to spend summers visiting relatives there. Mugurel has returned once, and Ioana three times.

        “But then I want to come home,” Ioana says. Home to the land that granted the Monetas citizenship in 1996.

        “We are Americans,” she says proudly.


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