28 Oct National Immigrants Day
Have you traced your ancestry? Do you know where your family came from?
We all seem to want to know where we came from. You can purchase a DNA kit and learn a lot about your family history. You even get percentages back that tell you what percent of each ethnicity you are. In many cases, you can track relatives back and find out exactly when they immigrated to America and where they immigrated from. Since childhood, most of us have learned about how America is a melting pot of cultures.
For immigrants, they know where they come from and bring a stronger sense of their original culture with them to America. At Pulaski County CASA, we are lucky to have 3 immigrants on our staff who bring a diverse perspective to the work we do – Xanthoula Groom, Greek American, CASA Outreach Coordinator; Danny Muniz, Mexican American, Advocate Supervisor; and Anya Mowry, Russian American, Advocate Supervisor. Each of their paths to America are different. Xanthoula met her husband Bruce who was stationed in Greece when he was in the Air Force. They married and she ended up in America. Danny had residency with his family in America when he was in his teens but went back to Mexico as an adult and got his Master Diver Certification and came back to America after Hurricane Wilma devasted Cozumel. He completed his citizenship in 2010. Anya spent a large portion of her childhood in a Russian orphanage until she was adopted by an American family at the age of 11.
Their childhoods were each different.
Xanthoula shared, “I had a wonderful childhood. My mom and dad were nurturing, loving and protective parents. Growing up my parents instilled in me a very strong sense of right and wrong. My father was a minister, and my mother was a Sunday school teacher, stay-at-home mom, and a minister’s wife. She always taught me that it was our duty as human beings to use our resources, talents, and time to bless others. She always taught me to speak for the oppressed, advocate for the orphan and use every opportunity to help those in need. What we call today being in pursuit of social justice. My mother exemplified all those teachings in her own life and made sure I was involved in various opportunities to practice these teachings. My father taught me to use my intellect and critical thinking skills to analyze a situation and problem solve. He instilled in me that words are tools: they can be used to destroy, or they can be used to bless. Well-chosen words that convey a message effectively were his specialty. He was an eloquent preacher, and he had a fiercely analytical mind. He insisted I use my voice, learn to defend my opinions, analyze facts, and pursue the truth. He encouraged me to express opinions based on facts and after careful consideration.”
Xanthoula always reminds us that Greeks need a lot of words to explain things!
Danny is more reserved and doesn’t use nearly as many words as Xanthoula, but he recalls a very happy childhood with three siblings and lovely parents who always had time for all of them. They lived close to ocean which he loved.
Anya has so much to share about her childhood that she wrote a book, “My Life in Siberia, Russia.” Anya was taken away from her biological family and lived in a Russian orphanage from the age of 5 until 11. Her adoptive parents adopted 4 children total from Russia. One of those children was her childhood best friend. She meet her mom during that time and says, “My mom and I didn’t speak the same language at all but we fell in love with each other and she decided she wanted to adopt me as well so a year later, they came back and adopted me.” From that point, she grew up in Idaho in a happy, loving home.
There is much to be learned by the histories and differences these 3 bring to the table and there is much to be gained by the commonality they share. They each have a desire to help others and use their talents and skills to advocate for children in the foster care system.
Xanthoula remembers, “My maternal grandmother, Xanthoula, after whom I was named, shared with me countless stories of her unhappy childhood. She lived in extreme poverty growing up and was physically abused at the hand of her father. I remember the indignation I felt even as a little girl to hear of children being abused. It was such a foreign and horrifying concept to me! This injustice committed against someone I loved so dearly made an indelible impression on me.”
“Little did I know that decades later the totality of the teachings of my mother, father and grandmother would serve as invaluable tools in my child advocacy work with CASA. I am forever indebted to them for their example and efforts. They are not famous people, but their legacy of social justice lives on.”
Danny shared that his parents were fantastic but as he got older, he recalls seeing others who did not have the childhood he enjoyed. He stated, “What CASA does really appeals to me because I have always, and this goes back to since when I was probably a teen, I never grew up wanting to be rich or have fancy cars or anything, but I wanted to do something that I really care about and be involved in. I’ve always looked for something that has a meaning not just to me but for someone else. Something that could touch somebody’s life or change somebody’s life and when I heard about CASA, it caught my attention right away and I thought it was something that I really wanted to do.”
Anya says she was drawn to working with CASA. She states, “Some of the things I’ve seen and heard kids go through here – I, myself, growing up as an orphan, I, myself, being abused by an older brother, I knew that I could relate to hard cases.” She wants to help children recover from trauma and knows after experiencing it herself what the kids are going through.
Xanthoula, Danny, and Anya are such a valuable part of Pulaski County CASA. They bring such diversity to our program and they bring such passion to the work they do. Today on National Immigrants Day, we honor them and their contributions.