I landed in the United States as a child. My father was waiting for us. In a nod to the local western culture, he was wearing this strange thing on his head, a cowboy hat, and not recognizing him at first, I began to cry. My father was in Wyoming – truly the wild west – on a Fulbright fellowship, and my mother and I joined him several months into his tenure.
He loved cowboy culture: he had watched all the American westerns in Poland. We planned to return there once the fellowship ended. In fact, my parents were so sure of this that they had brought very little with them. Even prized possessions like family photographs and my grandmother’s handwritten recipe book were left behind.
We ended up staying much longer than expected. The political situation in Poland had changed for the worse in the early 1980s with the rise of nationwide strikes led by the Solidarity movement, a massive opposition movement. There was talk of Soviet intervention. My father’s colleagues in Poland began to advise him against returning, as did some local folks in Wyoming.
Wyoming is a small place, and my father was soon introduced to its lone member in the US House of Representatives, a fellow by the name of Dick Cheney. Cheney, a staunch anti-communist, met my father and encouraged him to defect and stay in the US. Don’t worry, he said, Reagan will soon be president, and we will sort out all the immigration matters. Political asylum would be a slam dunk, he predicted.
The immigration matters, it turns out, were a bit harder to sort out than Cheney predicted. Visas for Fulbright fellowships come with strict requirements to return to one’s home country for at least two years. Cheney and other prominent people made a valiant effort, but the immigration bureaucracy pushed back.
Read more at The Guardian.