Vera Andrushkiw, of Troy, holds up a picture of herself during her first Holy Communion in Germany. The Ukrainian immigrant and her family lived there before coming to the U.S.

Vera Andrushkiw, of Troy, holds up a picture of herself during her first Holy Communion in Germany. The Ukrainian immigrant and her family lived there before coming to the U.S.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Immigrants recount their personal ‘independence days’

By: Maria Allard, Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published July 2, 2019

 May Mulla, of Warren, holds up her Pan Am airplane ticket stub from 1990. After Iraqi forces invaded her home country of Kuwait, the family immigrated to the U.S.

May Mulla, of Warren, holds up her Pan Am airplane ticket stub from 1990. After Iraqi forces invaded her home country of Kuwait, the family immigrated to the U.S.

Photo by Maria Allard

 Dino Valle, of West Bloomfield, who became an American citizen in 1964, is traveling to his native country of Italy this summer to perform with the Bellini Opera Theatre.

Dino Valle, of West Bloomfield, who became an American citizen in 1964, is traveling to his native country of Italy this summer to perform with the Bellini Opera Theatre.

Photo by Maria Allard

METRO DETROIT — In the middle of the night Aug. 2, 1990, May Mulla and her parents were asleep in their homeland of Kuwait when “we woke up surrounded by tanks.”

Iraqi forces had invaded the small Middle Eastern country.

“Chaos ensued. It wasn’t safe. It was a mess,” Mulla said of the days that followed. “There were Iraqi soldiers everywhere. There were tanks everywhere. Nobody was picking up the trash. There was no security.”

Everything for the family and the life they had known suddenly changed. When her parents went to the grocery store, her mom always reminded Mulla, age 20 at the time, where her Iraqi passport was “in case we never come back.”

Mulla’s parents — Iraqi citizens — were university professors in Kuwait. They had at one time lived in the U.S., where Mulla’s older sister and two older brothers had been born, making them U.S. citizens. Mulla was not born in the U.S. and lived in Kuwait as an Iraqi citizen.

During the invasion, Iraqi soldiers told Mulla’s father, “You’re going to help us create a university under Iraqi rule.”

Her father wanted no part of that, so Mulla and her parents quickly packed two suitcases each and left in the middle of the night, eventually boarding a Pan Am jet en route to America in September 1990. At the time, her oldest brother and older sister were in America. Her other brother stayed in the Middle East until later.

“I didn’t get to say goodbye to anybody,” Mulla, now 49, recalled. “I left all my friends and the only place I ever lived. We left through Jordan and made it to Michigan in October 1990. It was very hard. I lost the place where I had been born.”

Once in the U.S., Mulla — who knew “quite a bit of English” — earned a journalism degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. She became a citizen in 1996. The Warren resident decided to get her citizenship “to have a new identity, be able to vote and to just feel like I have a secure status in the country.”

She certainly appreciates the freedoms of the U.S.

“Freedom of speech was something I had never experienced before in the Middle East. I cherish it. I would defend it if I ever felt it was being attacked. I value and cherish the right to vote. I can celebrate holidays. I can be who I am, worship the way I want, dress the way I want and still be an American.”

Mulla, who is married and has two sons, is currently a graduate student at Oakland University. As a certified teacher, Mulla teaches English as a second language in Warren Consolidated Schools.

A one-way ticket to freedom
Vera Andrushkiw, a Ukrainian immigrant who resides in Troy, almost didn’t get the opportunity to reach her potential.

Andrushkiw, whose maiden name is Laszczyk, was born in Ternopil Oblast in Western Ukraine at the height of World War II. Her parents, Iwan and Klementyna, worked their own land as farmers.

When she was around 1 1/2 years old, Ukraine was occupied by the Soviet Union. As fronts continued to change, Germans eventually invaded.

“One day, my father was told by his hired hand that he saw his name on the list, that he was supposed to be arrested and sent to Siberia, and not to sleep at home that night,” Andrushkiw said. “My father decided that nobody was sleeping at home.”

The family packed two horses and a cart, along with a cow so Andrushkiw and her older brother, Eugene, would have milk. The foursome was intercepted by German soldiers, who put them on a train to Germany.

They entered forced labor. A German farmer took them in and let the family stay in his guesthouse. Andrushkiw was watched by the farmer’s daughter, Lisa, who taught her how to speak German.

When the war concluded, the farmer let them go. The family went to Bavaria, to an American-zoned camp of displaced persons, and lived in a gigantic castle where Benito Mussolini himself spent some time during the war. The castle included one wing of about 1,000 Ukrainians, and another with 1,000 Lithuanians.

It was there that Andrushkiw learned the power of self-government, with each camp possessing its own system of education and cultural integration. She would see “very entrepreneurial” Ukrainians barter with Germans for goods and services.

In those days, due to a lack of social services and because they were not wards of the state, immigrants needed to find a sponsor. After about five years in Germany, the Laszczyk family found a sponsor in Klementyna’s aunt, who already lived in the U.S.

The family arrived in New York Harbor on Sept. 17, 1949, moving into a one-room apartment on the sixth floor of an apartment building.

“For Ukrainians who were occupied by the Soviets, they did not want to go back because they would have been arrested and sent back to Siberia,” she said, referring to repatriation. “It would have been a different story.”

Within a month, at the age of 7, she was attending a Catholic school in the city. She still recalls the names of her Italian classmates. She learned English in a month.

Her mother cleaned office buildings in Rockefeller Plaza. Her father worked in a bakery prior to helping make sewing machines in a factory. In February 1951, Iwan died of a massive heart attack. Andrushkiw’s mother remarried by the time Andrushkiw was 17 years old.

Andrushkiw married the now-deceased Bohdan Andrushkiw, an engineer for Chrysler, in 1965. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College in New York, and then took master’s classes at the University of Pennsylvania and later at the University of Michigan.

Following the births of her two daughters, Christina and Oksana, she taught language and culture at Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Catholic School in Hamtramck in the 1970s and ’80s. She routinely facilitated theater-type productions.

She later taught a Ukrainian course at Wayne State University. In the summers, she taught advanced business courses at the Harvard Ukrainian Summer Institute.

She is especially proud of the Lviv Institute of Management — an internship program at Wayne State from 1991 to 1998 that gave Ukrainians a jump-start in their business careers.

“The beginnings were very critical,” she said. “They had just declared independence. It was important for them to get a feel of what business was like in the West.

“The thing that needs to be still honed in (on) is civil society, because they have to believe they can enact change and not get disillusioned by some of the leaders,” she said. “Obviously, corruption is one of the big issues in Ukraine.”

‘The minute I arrived, I wanted to be an American’
Dino Valle was about 17 years old when he first set foot on U.S. soil. Born and raised in Ceprano, Italy, he came on a student visa at the encouragement of his father, Francesco Vallecoccia. It was the trip of a lifetime.

“In the 1950s and 1960s, we loved the United States,” Valle said. “It was the dawn of rock ’n’ roll, Elvis Presley, cowboys and Indians, Buffalo Bill and comic books.”
There were, however, some stipulations for crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The family had to pay a $5,000 sponsorship fee. Distant relative Piereno De Carolis loaned the family the money. Valle, whose birth name is Agostino Vallecoccia, had to travel with a parent. His father stayed behind in Europe, while his mother, Giovanna Vallecoccia, accompanied him.

“The minute I arrived, I wanted to be an American,” said Valle, of West Bloomfield. “There’s more freedom. I love the free enterprise in America. If you want to start a company, you can open it within a year. In Europe, it’s almost impossible. In Italy, there’s too much red tape.”

Valle, who is 75-plus years old and learned to speak English not long after arriving, officially became a U.S. citizen in a Detroit courthouse on his birthday, Dec. 18, 1964. A group of Girl Scouts stood by as Valle took his oath.

“I remember it like it was yesterday. You go and you answer all the questions. It was really cool. I took it seriously. You have to follow the rules and regulations. Back then, I had to have a doctor’s physical for tuberculosis and smallpox.

“You come to this country, it is OK to bring all your customs, (but) you have to melt in. You have to fit into the society,” said Valle, who holds dual citizenship. “I entered legally. If you come to this country, you have to immerse yourself and become an American.”

Valle said he always votes because it’s his “right.” When people don’t vote, “it’s a disservice, because one vote can make a difference,” he said.

As a licensed cosmetologist, Valle has worked in salons and as an instructor. He also sings baritone in the Bellini Opera Theatre.

The opera members were slated to perform July 3 in a concert in Italy celebrating America’s independence, performing “God Bless America,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “America” and “America the Beautiful.”

“Italy embraces the hymns. It’s like the biggest high in the world,” Valle said. “It gives you pride and joy. Your chest just doubles in size, and you’re proud to be an American.”


Sample Naturalization Questions

Civics tests are required to be completed and passed by those who desire to become U.S. citizens. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an individual must answer six of 10 questions correctly to proceed.

Some sample questions include:
1. The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?
2. Who is in charge of the executive branch?
3. We elect a U.S. Senator for how many years?
4. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
5. When was the Constitution written?
6. Who did the United States fight in World War II?
7. What movement tried to end racial discrimination?
8. How many amendments does the Constitution have?
9. When is the last day you can send in federal income tax forms?
10. Who was president during World War I?



1. “We the People”
2. the President
3. Six
4. Thomas Jefferson
5. 1787
6. Japan, Germany and Italy
7. Civil rights (movement)
8. 27
9. April 15
10. Woodrow Wilson