Lake Arrowhead resident Corina Colan emigrated to the U.S. 30 years ago.
Corina Colan as a girl in Romania.
PHOTO: Corina Colan 3
Romania was under a communist dictatorship from 1947 to 1989.
PHOTO: Corina Colan 4
Food was rationed and people had to stand in line for hours.
PHOTO: Corina Colan 5
School children had to wear uniforms, which Corina Colan said she hated.
PHOTO: Corina Colan 6
To say that public transportation was crowded is a gross understatement.
PHOTO: Corina Colan 7
High school students were forced to work in the fields.
PHOTO: Corina Colan 8
The revolution in 1989 ended the communist regime.
(Photos: Corina Colan)
The realities of living under communism
By Mary-Justine Lanyon
It’s a reality those of us born and raised in the United States cannot comprehend.
Lake Arrowhead resident Corina Colan grew up in communist Romania. In 1992, she said, “I decided I had had enough. I wanted a better life.” And so, she emigrated to the United States.
But what was it like for her as a girl?
“Everyone I have talked to from Romania agrees: We had a great childhood. We didn’t know any better. Our parents didn’t worry about us. We were outside playing all day long. We rode our bikes, we went backpacking and hiking. It was very safe.”
Prior to the Ceausescu era, Romania was a constitutional monarchy. Then, in 1947, when Romania was the last monarchy in the Eastern bloc, King Michael was forced to sign a document abolishing the monarchy and proclaiming Romania a People’s Republic.
The government, Colan said, nationalized properties exceeding 50 acres. “The government took everything from the people,” she noted. “Everything was a co-op. People from the countryside came to the cities to work in factories.”
Because of the influx of people from the countryside, the government had to build housing for them. These houses were all prefabricated and very industrial looking.
Because the president wanted to pay all external debt, he exported everything to pay the bills. “Food was scarce and was rationed,” Colan said. A family would have a punch card for eggs, sugar, oil. “You had to stand in line. Queuing in front of grocery stores hoping to find some food became common.
“It was almost like a social event,” Colan said. “You would linger in hopes they would have some butter or bread. People would spend hours in line. They would bring chairs, knitting.”
Colan added she was very pregnant with her son. “I would stand in line for six hours for butter. I had my daughter at home and had to feed her. I would get up at 4 a.m. to get milk at 6 a.m. You could only get two bottles. If you were lucky, you could go through the line again and get more milk, if there was any left.”
It wasn’t only food that was rationed – power, hot water and gas were also rationed. “There were times when we had no power,” Colan said.
Because most people did not have cars, public transportation – buses and trolleys – were overcrowded. The Dacia was the most popular car for those who could afford one. “You had to wait nine or 10 years to get one.
That wasn’t the only wait. People had to wait eight to 10 years to get an apartment so they lived with their parents or grandparents as adults.
As for education, it was similar to the system in the U.S. The students, however, had to participate in events that introduced them to communism. They had to wear uniforms, which Colan said she hated. And, she said, “they checked our nails to make sure they were clean.”
To advance from junior high school to high school, students had to pass exams in math, Romanian and another subject. High schools in Romania focused on certain topics. Colan went to a math and physics high school and later worked as an engineer in a factory.
For the first two months of each high school year, the students were bused out to the fields to work. “We picked potatoes all day long,” Colan said. While she was in high school, she went to a tractor factory for a week each semester, putting together tractor engines. “It was interesting,” she said. High school students also underwent mandatory army training.
In December 1989, the Romanian revolution ended the communist regime. Colan noted the president and his wife had a one-day trial. “He ran away but was caught.” His execution, she said, was shown on television.
“Then people had to understand what democracy is. I didn’t understand it until I came to the U.S. and went to law school,” Colan said.
After the fall of communism, Romania went through a very tough time. “A lot of people wanted to bring communism back because they didn’t know any other way. There was a lot of turmoil.”
When she came to California in 1992, “it was a real culture shock for me. Romania was 50 years behind.”
Colan eventually brought her mother and her children to the U.S. One day her daughter wanted help with her chemistry homework. “The question was, ‘What do you think about this?’ Through my schooling, no one had ever asked me what I thought about anything. We just learned facts. Today I’m very opinionated but I learned that here.”
In Colan’s first job in the U.S., as a property manager, her boss told her to smile. “I was a happy kid but, in day-to-day interactions under communism, no one smiled at one another.
“I’m happy I’m here,” Colan said. “I wouldn’t go back to live there.”