What is it like being an immigrant in Central Florida today? Ruth Strakosha is now a citizen of the U.S. but like generations before her she remembers the challenges of becoming an American.
Feature length – 14:53
(Old passport title photo – Sanja Gjenero)
More than 12% of the population of Seminole County, Florida is foreign born. Central Florida is as attractive a destination today as it was in the past. We remember one of the first immigrants, Johan Anders Boström, a seaman from Sweden who decided to stay in Florida in 1855 after he was shipwrecked for the third time. He was the first to start cultivating oranges that were growing wild in this area. Later, Andrew Duda came from Slovakia and from the bare soil of Slavia built an agricultural empire which still flourishes. Each newcomer has a story of hard work and faith that continues in our community. This is the story of one family who recently came to Central Florida following in the footsteps of Johan and Andrew.
In 1996 Zhanetta and Petraq Strakosha arrived from Albania with their nine year old daughter and four year old son. They followed in the footsteps of the grandfather who had come to work in the United States more than 70 years earlier. In Albania, Petraq was an engineer and Zhanetta was an economist in professional positions. But they were unable to practice their religion openly and their personal freedom was limited. The fall of communism in Albania made it possible for them to acquire the necessary documents to come to the U.S.
Arriving in Orlando they found menial jobs and began the hard work of settling and succeeding in a country where the language and customs were new and daunting. Like immigrants of the past, they encouraged their children to strive for a good education as the key to success. They struggled, learned English and eventually became citizens of the United States. Owning their own business was the next step and last year they invested their savings in downtown Oviedo. Their restaurant, Santorini’s, serves the traditional home-cooked Greek food.
In this feature, their daughter, Ruth Strakosha, remembers the early years when she stepped into a fourth grade class speaking Albanian and Greek but no English. She observed the sacrifices and hard work of her parents and set her goals. Her personal efforts resulted in a string of achievements from Disney’s Dreamers and Doers, to class valedictorian in high school, to graduating in the honors program at the University of Central Florida. She was selected as a member of the first class at the new UCF medical school where her study continues.
They never forget their roots in Albania but they fully embrace America as their country and their home.
The story of the Strakosha family should be familiar to most Americans whose ancestors immigrated to the U.S. and to the many thousands of new arrivals here today. Persecution, economic aspiration and dreams of freedom brought them here and hard work, persistence and faith in the future built their dreams.
Additional Feature Information
Extended Interview & Pictures
Ruth Strakosha and Desta Horner
Extended interview (28:43)