America, the world’s melting pot, has been welcoming immigrants since the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock. Woven into the fabric of our nation’s history, their stories and ancestry help paint a picture of who we are as a country, where we came from, and why.
Seeking ideals like religious freedom and political asylum, their reasons for coming to America are as multifaceted as they are. But most share a single, common thread – the dream of a better life.
ANDREI BREL of WEST HARTFORD
Born and raised in Belarus, an eastern-European country bordered by Russia, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, Andrei Brel decided to emigrate to Connecticut when he was in his early 30s.
After the fall of communism, Brel was doing well living in the capital city of Minsk, but he had concerns over a newly destabilized Eastern Bloc. “It was so shaky, so unstable, and with two young children, … I didn’t see a future for me and my family.”
Following in the footsteps of his father, who’d relocated to the U.S. in the 1970s, Brel – along with his wife, Zhanna, and their children – came to West Hartford in October 1993, leaving behind an established life, family, and friends, to start over from scratch. “I always remember this date, because for me it’s very significant,” says Brel. “It’s almost like the birthday of my new life, my new family here in the United States.”
The first year or two was rough. “The language was tough, everything culturally was tough, the food was different, it was tough to adapt and assimilate.” Fortunately, he and his wife both found jobs. Within eight months, Brel was hired by the State of Connecticut, and began working for the Department of Social Services. Taking advantage of a program that allowed him to attend UConn, he got his master’s degree in Social Work while simultaneously working his day job, as well as an additional side hustle.
“I was working, plus going to school, and I had another little part-time job; this is how you have to survive,” he says. “I was leaving at five o’clock in the morning, and coming home at eleven o’clock at night.”
As hard as it was, his hectic schedule left him with little time to dwell on the difficulties of adjusting to his new life. And though he had occasional doubts, he never questioned the decision to come to America. “I know it’s not a mistake. It’s the right decision; it’s absolutely the best decision I ever made in my life.”
After years of doing social work, Brel recognized a need in his community for senior home care, and a better method of delivering meals that were culturally suitable to elderly immigrants. “I sensed a niche for myself to open some kind of kitchen, or some kind of service, and this is how I started my business.”
Nearly 20 years later, his vision, Juniper Homecare – which provides home and community services to residents in the Greater Hartford area – is thriving, with locations in