by Dushica Protic; edited by Sandi Radoja

Today is 53 years since I arrived in America as a child.

We were lost. My mother hung laundry on the fire escape of our seven-story tenement and grumbled how crazy Americans built balconies with no doors. I was her translator as she cried when the fireman came with a ticket because we could ill afford to pay it. She didn’t speak English. After school, before homework, I would go with her to the supermarket telling her this is flour, this is salt, this is sugar. We saved and bought our first television, a small black and white, to watch the first moon landing. But we missed it; we didn’t realize that US TV had multiple channels, so we stayed tuned into “The Munsters,” a sitcom.

My parents saved, buying furniture on installment and diligently paying monthly in cash because they were unfamiliar with credit cards and checks. At age 12, I won my first court case, saying I want American justice for my parents to an amused judge, showing hand-written receipts for furniture purchased in cash, signed with a fake name of a long gone salesman. My parents were working; couldn’t come. As I matured and my parents got older I became more and more a parent to my parents as much as they were  parents to me.

I have to pinch myself when I think of how far we have come, that I can sit here, writing this, retired, living comfortably in New York City from investments; no debt, son educated. But, it was all built with blood, sweat and tears, mainly those of my late parents. Mom worked as a nanny; dad worked three jobs, including at a drug addict clinic until he could finally certify as a doctor (and even then private practice, jobs in two nursing homes, and attending privileges at two hospitals).  All the sacrifices were made to give us opportunities, to educate us, my brother as a Ph.D., MD from Rockefeller University and Weil Cornell Medical School and myself as a lawyer with degrees from Cornell University and Fordham Law School.

In retirement mama and tata helped shape three grandsons into upstanding young Serbian American men and human beings, with college and graduate degrees from Stanford University, Oberlin College, Georgetown Law School, Cornell University Engineering, University of Chicago.  When their job was done, they passed away at home in New York, first one then the other, with me by their side.  But they are still with me every day.

As for me, did I experience hardships, discrimination, prejudice – as  an immigrant, as someone with a strange name, as a woman?  Sure, I did. From bullying in school as a kid to a colleague at work who told me to go back where I came from when I responded I was not voting for a Clinton, the duo who had bombed my former homeland; to surprise expressed in interviews that I spoke English so well (despite a resume that showed an Ivy League college education with a degree in English); to many other even more serious incidents. I never whined about it.  It just made me forge ahead even more. 

The moral of my and my family’s life in America is that this is the land of opportunity for those who want to grab it, for those not waiting for generations of empty government promises and handouts to materialize. Yes, a land of opportunity; but the slogan does not say: “A land of easy opportunity.”

About the Author: Born in Belgrade, Serbia, Dushica Protic practiced law for over 30 years in New York, specializing in securities laws, compliance and litigation. She was a staff attorney at the U S Securities and Exchange Commission, and was in private practice at the prominent international law firm of Weil Gotshal and Manges, among other prestigious positions. She is a graduate of Cornell University and Fordham University School of Law where she was editor of the International Law Journal.

At age five, Protic moved from Belgrade to Harar, Ethiopia, with her parents and brother, where her father was a practicing physician and researcher. The family immigrated to New York in 1967. Dushica wrote this piece in 2020, in remembrance of the anniversary of her family’s arrival in the United States.

Protic is the founder and moderator of the 8,500+ member Linked In group – Serbian American Professional Networking Group and its Facebook counterpart. For more information about membership in these groups, please reach out to Dushica online.