A Nation of Immigrants: Elefteria Xega
Elefteria came to America with her family, learned English and waitresses at Lake Pizza in Webster.
By JANET STOICA
This is the fourth in a series of articles about local immigrants and their lives in the United States, why they came, how they lived, and what their outlook is about this country.
Have you visited Lake Pizza & Restaurant in Webster? If you have then you’ve probably seen a spunky and customer-friendly wait staffer named Elefteria. She’s one of the great staffers at Lake Pizza who is always at your side when you need a good hot meal or a nicely shaken martini. She gives you the best dining experience you could ever have and always with a smile.
Born in Albania, a beautiful country tucked under the republic of Montenegro on southeastern Europe’s Balkan Peninsula, Elefteria always considered herself Greek as her grandparents were from Greece. Albania shares a southern border with Greece. As the “winner” in a lottery that would allow her to emigrate to the United States in 2004, she took the opportunity with her husband, Dhimitraq Xega, and two children. Their oldest daughter, age 19, was attending college in Athens, Greece and was accepted at Clark University in Worcester where she finished her degree in accounting, has become a CPA and also obtained her teaching credentials. Their younger daughter was a high school sophomore at the time of the emigration and transferred to a Worcester high school and then graduated from Holy Cross College with a biochemistry degree. She furthered her education by obtaining a master’s degree in science from Harvard and currently works in the lab of a pharmaceutical company. No doubt about it, Elefteria is a very proud mom as she describes what her daughters have accomplished.
“My husband and I came here for a better life for our children,” she said, “I am very glad we came. We worked hard and found ourselves.” Lefteri was an accountant in her native Albania and her husband was a professor of veterinary science. “We couldn’t practice what we had been educated in when we came here so I worked at a Dunkin Donuts on Park Avenue in Worcester for 2.5 years. I made donuts, bagels and other baked goods. My day started very early as we began selling our products at 4 a.m. It was a bit scary being in the bakery with a small staff at that hour but it all worked out. At first, working the night shift was very hard. I didn’t speak English. The language barrier was very hard. I briefly thought about returning to Albania but my husband didn’t want to return. I went to Clark University for a year to learn English. My husband worked at a Worcester gun factory 60+ hours weekly and then worked for a friend’s cleaning business for extra money. We really didn’t have time to further our education here. We focused on supporting our family. In 2007, we moved to Webster as my husband’s friend worked at Lake Pizza and the employment opportunity presented itself.”
Lefteri can speak four languages: Greek, Albanian, Romanian, and English. Absolutely amazing but not uncommon in Europe. Seems like the Foreign Service certainly might’ve been a great opportunity for her in her younger years before her family came along. When the Albanian lottery brought her and her family good fortune to make the trip to America they came with trepidation and certainly fear of the unknown. Her husband, Dhimitraq, truly seemed to be the real catalyst for the family’s moving decision. Dhimitraq had to promise his daughters that if they didn’t like America, he would let them return to their home country. Obviously, everything worked out as their daughters’ successes were absolutely wonderful. “My husband’s sister was here in America already,” said Lefteri, “we stayed with her for one week and then found a rental house for our family. We always wanted to buy our own place but then my husband passed away from illness in 2015 and that never happened.”
Lefteri described her oldest daughter’s experience while attending orientation at Clark University. She said her daughter came home in tears because of her limited English skills and seriously considered returning to Athens but her husband convinced his daughter that she should try one semester and then make a decision. It worked and all was well. The interesting facet of the education system in Greece is that if you are a dean’s list student, the government will pay for your tuition and you take care of the cost of books. Her daughters did very well in the U.S. Because of their good grades, they were able to obtain several scholarships but the Xega parents’ share of the remaining tuition was still quite expensive. They managed it all however.
The Xega family studied hard and long for their U.S. citizenship tests. They all passed successfully in 2009. “We knew the United States was the best place in the world to be,” said Lefteri, “I love the U.S. If my husband were still with me I’d be so much happier though. We’ve been blessed with two grandchildren ages 10 and 8 from our oldest daughter, Eleni, who is married to John Sgouritsas, owner of Lake Pizza & Restaurant; and with two more grandchildren from our youngest daughter, Kristina, aged 2 and a newborn. Last summer when I visited Albania, a restaurant owner approached me and asked my opinion about coming to the U.S. Without hesitation, I told him to make his plans.”