Instructor shares story growing up in a communist regime
Gov. Pete Ricketts recently proclaimed the month of July as “Victims of Communism Remembrance Month” in Nebraska. He held a ceremony with Nebraskans who lived through communist oppression, including Southeast Community College instructor, Dr. Elina Newman.
Newman, originally from Baku, Azerbaijan, moved to the United States in 1993 as a refugee with her parents. Newman said she fled her country because of a territorial dispute that turned into religious persecution. She and her family came to Nebraska in search of a better life.
“We were forced out of our home, and the government stood on the side and watched it happen,” she remembered. “My mom, dad, brother, and I lived in a one-room hotel room, where we ate, bathed, did homework, slept, and went to the bathroom. My education journey would have been decided for me. How I was supposed to act as a woman, what I wore, how much schooling I had, how far I went in education, what jobs I was eligible for, and who I married would be determined by someone other than me.”
Newman and her family went through multiple interviews, background checks and health checks in order to finally be approved to leave Azerbaijan. After living in Moscow, she and her brother, parents and grandparents came to Nebraska with just $100. They lived in a small apartment in downtown Lincoln.
“It was a mansion compared to what I was used to,” she said. “My dad worked three jobs and my mom worked one job. Eleven months after we got here, my father died in a car accident, and my mom was on her own caring for her in-laws and two young children.”
But the family and Elina persevered. Her mother bought a house, the children entered school and Elina eventually went to college and recently earned her doctorate. The 37-year-old teaches psychology at SCC’s Lincoln Campus. She doesn’t take for granted her life and what it took to get here.
“I learned to appreciate true freedom,” she said. “I have unique experiences that allow me to empathize with a variety of students. I learned to advocate for students who feel helpless. Nothing in my life was given to me. I am not a victim; I am a survivor. I am a proud citizen of the U.S. and will continue to do what I can to defend the rights, freedoms and opportunities for myself and future generations that I otherwise would have never had. I am thankful my family was accepted into this country.”
Newman ran an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Lincoln City Council earlier this year. In addition to teaching, she also works as a pharmacy technician. She and her husband Matthew live in Lincoln with their 13-year old daughter, Annalise.