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Romania native Danny Prata explains why he's happy to be a proud American citizen

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Danny Prata said his father was especially proud to become an American citizen, a pride he passed along to his children. Independence is something many Americans might tend to take for granted. But for some, it's why they immigrated to the U.S.

Some of the conflicts that drove people here have faded into history books, replaced by new contributing factors as people of different cultures seek refuge in America.

It was 1980 and the era of communist president Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania when Danny Prata and his family moved to the United States. He was 13 and his image of America was based on what he'd seen while watching "Dallas" on prime-time television.

"It was kind of a shock to my system," Prata said. "The life was kind of back in time (in Romania), you know. We even had an outhouse in the 1980s."

Needless to say, Southern California — where the Prata family settled — was nothing like the opulent Texan setting of "Dallas."

New freedoms

Prata's parents were proud to become citizens of the country.

"My dad was a pastor — the communists don't like Christians so (my parents) had a lot of pressure," Prata explained. Immigrating meant more freedom and opportunities for Prata and his 10 brothers and sisters — opportunities Prata says he has never taken for granted.

Their immigration started with Prata's older brother. He crossed into Yugoslavia and after the Yugoslavian government let him go at the Austrian border, his brother spent a year in a refugee camp, working on his paperwork to enter the states. Once in California, Prata's brother made friends in a Pentecostal congregation that sponsored the rest of the Prata family to join him.

"It wasn't all rainbows and unicorns," Prata joked. "But, (in the U.S.) you also had peace and quiet. You didn't have police officers coming to your door for no reason."

When they first moved, school was not only an opportunity, but a real challenge.

"We moved in June and started school in September not knowing any English, which was difficult," Prata noted. The children took ESL classes for days at a time the first few months.

The family moved to Vancouver, Wash., in 1989, and Prata then moved to Sandy in 1990 after marrying his then-wife, a Sandy woman.

"The weather (in the Pacific Northwest) was like back home," Prata explained of the move. "The cost of living here was lower too, (and) I was always interested in the outdoors."

When his children were growing up, Prata was involved in the community as a coach for their club sports and as a member of the Sandy Community Action Center Board.

After high school, Prata attended trade school to become a machinist, an opportunity he said he might not have been afforded in Romania.

"The opportunities were not there," Prata said of his home country. "I don't know if I'd be in the same line of work. You almost got put into something in Romania. Everybody worked."

Prata still lives in Sandy and works in Clackamas as a machinery programmer, noting that he enjoys the proximity to Mount Hood and the various recreational opportunities it offers.

Though not all of Prata's memories of Romania are bad, he hasn't been back in the nearly four decades since he left. He's thought about going back with his two children to visit, but he considers the United States home. He connects with old friends and family via social media.

"For a while, when it was communist in Romania, if you got a letter from over here you could get in trouble," Prata noted. "Some of our friends even told us they were dead so we wouldn't write and they wouldn't get in trouble."

Prata celebrated becoming a citizen 12 years ago and enjoys commemorating Independence Day on the Fourth of July with a barbecue and watching fireworks with family and friends.

"Once you leave (a country) you don't really celebrate their traditions anymore," Prata explained. We tried to go with this tradition because that's where you've got to live. I appreciate the opportunities and freedoms. You've got rights, and I support all of that. We didn't have that. You've gotta take advantage of those. Once your rights are gone, you're gone. Sometimes I wish some of these people who want to abolish things like the Second Amendment should live in a country like (Romania) and maybe they'll understand."

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