Immigrants in Connecticut come from many different backgrounds. They’re white-collar or blue-collar workers -- they’re artists and students. We have an occasional series on Where We Live that highlights their stories.
Roman Nowak was born in war-torn Poland in the 1940s. As a young adult living under communist rule, he took a job with a Polish construction company in Iraq where he eventually risked prison to escape through Kuwait, hid in the mountains of Lebanon and applied for political asylum in the United States.
He was apart from his wife and daughters for five years before they were re-united in Connecticut.
Nowak sat down with Where We Live host Lucy Nalpathanchil to talk about his journey to the Nutmeg State, in addition to his work as a community leader and philanthropist. Listen to the interview below:
On growing up in communist ruled Poland
I tell you it was hard for me. I lost my father when I was 10 years old, so my mom had six kids and I have to struggle when I was young.
I wasn't involved directly with the communists, but it was a hard living over there, not like here. I don't have a car. That was a dream in Poland to have a car at that time.
On working in Iraq
Iraq was the first time I ever go out of Poland, it was going to Iraq. That was a big surprise.
At some point we work at night. We can't work during the day. It was like 110, 120 degrees.
On communicating with family in Poland while waiting for asylum in the U.S.
I sent letters to Poland and of course I even sent the letters with a different name, so they wouldn't check the letters, whatever I talk about.
On arriving in the U.S. in 1973
I fly to JFK. I stay overnight, one night in New York City. I wake up in the morning, everybody speak English, oh my gosh.
At that time there was plenty of work in the US. We had one gentleman from Newington factory, Atlantic Machine, he was in New York and he was watching who comes to New York and he [asked] me if I want to go for work in Connecticut. I say of course I want to work. So the next day we just come to Berlin by train and start working at Newington factory.
On the Polish community in New Britain
New Britain is fascinating with the Polish people, because you have New Britain Stanley Works, Fafnir Bearing Company, there was like almost 30,000 people working in those two factories so it was all Polish people, a lot of Polish clubs anywhere you go.
On being re-united with his wife and daughters after five years
I can't even explain what go through my mind at that time.
My youngest daughter, she was nine months old when I left, so she come here, she was six years old.
Advice for other immigrants
Go for it, because if you think you can make it better for your family and yourself, this is the way and this is the country to be [in].
It's the best country in the world we are living in.