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
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.