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Dear Dad: A Christmas Card

Judith Sloan

Warren Lehrer

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Ian Oncioiu's Passbook
(Warren Lehrer)
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We're getting into the thick of the holidays. Maybe you've already spent some time shopping for gifts - or maybe not so much this year. Maybe you've started receiving a few holiday letters or cards. Sometimes these letters are incredibly personal - and not always in the best way. Sometimes they even reveal family secrets long buried. Raluca Oncioiu, whose family is originally from Romania, received one such Christmas card.

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Raluca Oncioiu: My dad, he was in the Romanian army, he was a captain. And he applied to come here as a tourist. And in '81, the Romanian government said, "OK, you and your wife can go. But the girl has to stay, because that way you'll come back for her."

Ian Oncioiu: Nobody, my parents didn't know about my departure. Nobody. Because you have the KGB signature, you go to the airport, you are just about to board, and meanwhile someone makes a call: "Hey, there is a guy. You gave him approval to leave. He's not going to come back. What's his name?"

Raluca Oncioiu: They came here as visitors, and they defected.

Ian Oncioiu: My ex-wife at the time, she was always, crying, crying, crying. "We left our daughter there. What's going to happen to her?"

Raluca Oncioiu: So they wrote back.

Ian Oncioiu: We made up a story. Like my ex-wife was pregnant again.

Raluca: Pregnant again, but she'd get better medical care here. I was an only child, and I thought, "Uh, they're going to have a kid over there. Forget it, they're going to leave me here." So I was quite terrified.

Raluca Oncioiu: I was living with my grandparents and my aunts and uncles for about a year and a half before my coming here was approved.

Ian Oncioiu: When she came here -

Raluca Oncioiu: I really resented him when I came here, for about a year.

Ian Oncioiu: I was her worst enemy for almost one year.

Raluca Oncioiu: We just didn't get along very well. And I didn't really like this country at all.

Ian Oncioiu: We barely talked that time. She didn't want to walk next to me on the sidewalk, let's say, or in a store.

Raluca Oncioiu: My dad's always been the military type. He's very dictatorial. I would liken him to Giuliani. He would punish me if I didn't recognize a particular symphony or the composer. And I had to read all these books that he told me to read. And for him to make sure that I read them and understood them, I would have to write a report on them.

Ian Oncioiu: I think I was quite severe with her.

Raluca Oncioiu: In 1991, my parents had separated. And around Christmastime I would come back from Tufts, where I went to undergrad, and we would get Christmas cards from Romania. In very stereotypical chauvinist Romanian fashion, they'd be addressed to my dad, but they'd be for the whole family. So I found a Christmas card addressed to my dad I opened. And I remember reading "Draguh Tata," which means "Dear Dad," and I totally freaked out. I ripped it up. I went into this big temper tantrum. And then when my dad came home, I said, "I have to talk to you."
And I said, "There was a card in the mail. It was from your son. And I want to tell you that I ripped it up and it's in the garbage."

Ian Oncioiu: Her half-brother was a hidden fact. Well, I was the only one knowing about it here.

Raluca Oncioiu: He denied it, he said he didn't know if this was his son or not.

Ian Oncioiu: I said, "Raluca, yes, I had an extra-marital affair while being married to your mom. And she had a baby, but I'm not 100 percent sure the baby's mine."

Raluca Oncioiu: And that was it. Then. There was nothing else. We didn't talk about it again. Then I heard from my aunt, who went to Romania several times, that she brought the person who'd written the letter, something from my dad, and that he looked just my dad. So I knew he was my half-brother.

Ian Oncioiu: I knew the kid was mine. I took care of him the first three years. Liviu is my son. So Liviu's mother found a way to send his picture to me. So immediately, I call him. Oh, that was a fantastic call.

Liviu Oncioiu: I had to sit down. The first time I when heard him again, he called. I don't remember what he said, I just recognized the voice.

Ian Oncioiu: Haven't heard my voice for so long, he forgot about my voice. He said, "If you are my dad, stay with me."

Liviu Oncioiu: He came to Romania and we talked more. That's when I found out about my half-sister.

Raluca Oncioiu: And then my dad had a DNA test done. And then he told me that he has a son. And then a couple of weeks later he asked me what we can do to bring him over. Me being the immigration expert, I did the papers for him.

Liviu Oncioiu: My sister told my father and my father told me, that I only have two or three weeks. Otherwise I'll lose my chances to come here. That month I was becoming 21, and after 21 you have to go through another process.

Raluca Oncioiu: Since he wasn't the child of a marriage, and since he wasn't legitimated,
my father, according to immigration law, he had to prove that he had an ongoing relationship with him over the years as a father and son. So in order to prove that, he had to submit letters.

Liviu Oncioiu: I had some pictures with him, letters.

Raluca Oncioiu: I wasn't ambivalent about him coming over. When I agreed to do the papers, I was grown up or whatever. What hit me the hardest was, he had to submit letters. And when I read them is when I really got upset. They were mostly from my dad to him. And he would write these amorphous things to him. He didn't necessarily write those things to me until later on in life. Everything is like a metaphor. Very poetic.

Liviu Oncioiu: I didn't seriously think about coming here. So I didn't probably realize what I was starting and what I was doing til I was already here. Like a childish thing. "Hey I'm going to America." Nice, now what?

Ian Oncioiu: This is a painful thing to reconsider.

Raluca Oncioiu: And the kid, I mean, he's great. And he's so sweet. I mean he's very nice. I didn't think I was going to like him. Butů

Ian Oncioiu: I hope she got some good from me.

Raluca Oncioiu: I mean, I don't think of him as my brother, but I like him. He's really nice and my husband likes him.

Liviu Oncioiu: Yeah, my new family. Hello! I didn't ask my mother about lots of things. I didn't ask him. I think if they want to tell me that's fine. If they don't, that's fine again.

Ian Oncioiu: It's a very strange story, isn't it?

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(Originally produced for "Crossing the BLVD: strangers, neighbors, aliens in a new America," a multimedia project that documents the lives of new immigrants and refugees in a book, audio CD, traveling museum exhibition, performance and interactive website. Crossing the BLVD is a project of EarSay.)

  • Music Bridge:
    St. James Infirmary
    Artist: Marc Ribot
    CD: Saints (Atlantic/Wea)

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