Though he isn't from Romania, Hudson resident Nick Motu has been a part of the Romanian community his entire life. His father was an Orthodox Priest in South St. Paul. The church, he said, was a real center for the Romanian community in South St. Paul.
"My whole childhood, and young adult experience... was around immigrants that came from Romania," he said. "Not a summer went by without somebody visiting from Romania, or temporarily staying with my parents until they got a job and acclimated to the country."
Motu shared some of his experiences with the Heritage Organization of Romanian Americans in Minnesota (HORA) and Twin Cities Public Television. TPT Producer Susan Marks has been working with HORA to produce a documentary called "Through the Iron Curtain - From Romania."
The documentary tells stories of daily survival in post World War II Romania, which was under a communist regime.
Motu's own grandparents came to the U.S. from Romania in 1910. He said South St. Paul was a "hub" for Eastern European immigrants.
And within that hub, St. Stefan's Romanian Orthodox Church, where Motu's father was pastor, was a hub for the Romanian immigrant community.
"Religion is at a much higher plane of society in Romania than it probably is for mainstream Americans," Motu said. "So when people came here, they gravitated to the church. That was kind of the hub of social activities."
After services, which usually ended at about noon, Motu said, there would be a lunch at the church.
"People would socialize the entire afternoon," he said.
Monthly church dinners are one of Motu's favorite memories of that "social hub," he said.
"We'd cook Romanian food. It was always packed," he said. "People loved those dinners...It gave a chance to the community members that weren't Romanian to come and see what the church was all about and the Romanians were all about. And I think that was very beneficial for South St. Paul."
Motu's said he and his brothers were also very involved in the church. They served as altar boys for their father, helping at weddings, funerals, church services, church dinners, baptisms, and more.
His parents were part of the immigrant community.
"My father helped immigrants legally immigrate to the country," Motu said.
He was raised speaking both English and Romanian. His parents served as translators in court, and helped translate for immigrants as well. Motu's father helped immigrants register for programs to learn English and assimilate to the U.S.
"Many of them were very accomplished in Romania: engineers, doctors, dentists, but when they came here, they had to do other things, more menial things, because they didn't know English," Motu said.
Over the years, the church hasn't changed much, Motu said. The dinners are still held once a month. He still attends them , though not as regularly as he did in the past, as he lives in Hudson.
He said the biggest difference is the new faces.
The reason people immigrate has also changed, Motu said. During the times covered in the documentary, people immigrated to escape the communist regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu.
These days, he said, people come for jobs or to be closer to family.
The immigration experience itself has also become more politicized, Motu said.
Motu said he's seen the trailer for the documentary, and he's impressed with it.
"I am excited. I want to see it," he said. "I think it'll provide a permanent record of the Romanian immigrant experience."
He said it's good that HORA and TPT put this documentary together.
"If you don't record history, it's gone forever," he said."If I don't respect it and pass it on, it's going to get lost."
A premiere of "Through the Iron Curtain - From Romania" is planned for 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22 at the American Swedish Institute (ASI) headquarters, 2600 Park Ave., Minneapolis. The public is invited. For tickets and more information, visit www.throughtheironcurtain.com.
The premiere will include a panel discussion, awards ceremony and documentary screening.
"Through the Iron Curtain-From Romania" was produced by HORA and TPT with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society and HORA.
The documentary will start airing on TPT MN on Nov. 5. It will also be available to PBS national channels and Romanian TV channels.