Loving my beat for a living

by ANELIA K. DIMITROVA

It is as bread-and-butter as it gets.

I love to tell stories.

As the editor of the Cedar Falls Times and the Waverly Newspapers for the past eight years, I have covered, in words, pictures and video, events, happenings and human interest stories.

Professionally and personally, 2011 is the year of the column for me. Continue reading

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On Assignment with Anelia: Why the iRoving Reporter

I am lucky.

I don’t just love what I do for a living.

I live for the privilege of telling stories.

Over the last few months, I have started signing off my video stories with a statement a print byline can eventually begin to signify, but never explicitly states.
At the end of each piece, I say, ” This is Anelia K. Dimitrova, the iRoving Reporter who lives and loves her beat.”

I have come to understand that this is the mission of my life and have accepted the responsibility that comes with that realization.

As a journalist, I am a member of a large family of people who have and continue to trust me with their stories at a time of their utmost vulnerability – when they are in the depths od despair, in the throes of soul searching journeys, in unspeakably private moments when their true character is revealed, and, less rarely, in their shining, most joyful rites of passage.

In my book, there is no greater blessing than being gifted with another person’s story.

I never cease to be humbled by what I witness as I enter other people’s lives and become, in effect, a part of their family history, and eventually, a footnote in the intangible book of our shared humanity.

But the toughest stories are rarely told publicly.

For one, people who bare their inner core to me are often fear what their neighbors wil think about if they read the story as they tell it to me.

I understand the why and as I craft their story for public consumption, find myself in the midst of an arduous inner debate about how much to reveal and what to keep to myself.

As I make decisions about the appropriateness of the inclusion or the exclusion of certain aspects into a story, I also consider precednent, the perceived sensitivity of the audience and, putting it bluntly, the legal ramifications of what ultimately becomes the record.

As I have contemplated the powerful insights that end up in the garbage bin because the story’s subjects are named, I have decided to start sharing what I learn without naming names.

Hence this column. I’m curious to explore where it would lead.

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Adopting America

By Anelia K. Dimitrova

An immigrant’s story is never just her own.

In my meandering journey of hopes, dreams, transitions and challenges from my native Bulgaria to Iowa, I have witnessed many a story – some easier told than others – and live my own.

Since I first set foot on U.S. soil 19 years ago, I have always been in the continual state of becoming an American, a lifelong process of intense exploration and enriched perspective.

A week ago Friday, nine years after I took the Oath of Allegiance and swore to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic” my father, Kiril Ivanov Dimitrov, at the age of 86, became the newest member of our naturalized family.

America adopted us one at a time – I blazed the trail on Aug. 13, 2001; then my son, Vesko, followed on May 22, 2003; and at long last on Dec. 10, 2010 my dad repeated, “I will,” the sacred words which, uttered after the clerk of court reads the oath of allegiance, turn immigrants into citizens.

Our journeys took different paths: My luck struck at the age of 33, when the fall of the Berlin Wall made it possible for me and many others to take a chance to rebuild their lives on another continent.

I never hesitated to leave as I felt I had to deliver on my dreams and those of my parents, whose lives had been wasted in hopelessness.

After graduate school, I took a one-year post in the Communication Studies Department at the University of Northern Iowa, which eventually turned into a tenured job for me.

My son came here as an 8-year-old and took full advantage of what America has to offer. He graduated from Cedar Falls High School, then from the University of Iowa and finally from Hofstra Law School on Long Island, N.Y. Before launching a career in law, he honed his skills in journalism, working as a print reporter, a television producer and ending his career in journalism in 2009 as the Long Island bureau chief of the New York Law Journal.

My father, the second of five children, lived his formative years in abject poverty in Vidin, a small town on the river Danube, and when his mother died at 33, he and his siblings fought for survival.

My grandfather, Ivan, could not stand widowhood, but took serious pride in putting his kids through college despite destitution, political pressures and several remarriages, which invariably left him a widower.

My father earned a law degree from the University of Sofia in 1955, but because of the political regime and his “bad” roots, was never allowed to practice law in his native country.

But there is poetic justice in his plight: the sense of profound failure and the purposelessness he battled throughout life is richly rewarded by the knowledge that his grandson passed the New York bar on first try and shortly afterwards was  admitted to the Federal Eastern and Southern Districts of New York.

In fact, as my dad was being sworn in, his grandson was in front of a judge in Suffolk County, N.Y., defending a client in his adopted country.

What connects the two  generations is also another strange and meaningful coincidence—both were sworn in as citizens by Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Tom Shields, an avuncular man with a dry sense of humor, who himself is a naturalized American.

Naturalization ceremonies for federal judges are the equivalent of adoptions for their state counterparts, Judge Shields said.

“It’s always very special for me to preside at naturalization ceremonies,” he said. “This is an adoption. This country has adopted you. You have adopted us.”

Amidst clicking cameras and rolling video, the only allowed use of electronic devices in federal court, the judge urged the 57 new Americans from 22 countries from Turkey to Togo to Afghanistan to Ghana to Egypt, to keep their traditions and language as they immerse themselves into America’s melting pot.

Families, some with babies, packed the courthouse to the brim to witness the special celebration for their love ones.

My husband Rick and I took a family friend, Dana Yordanoff, with us to Des Moines. As the judge spoke, she cried quietly on and off, reliving her 1969 experience when she became a citizen, but had no family with her during the ceremony.

“Many of you have traveled a long way to be here,” Judge Shields said, adding, lightheartedly, in reference to the number of Sudanese citizens. “In fact, I wonder, is there anyone left in Sudan?”

But the judge’s real message was not lost in the laughter that erupted.

“People born here take for granted all their rights,” he said as many in the crowd nodded.  “They don’t vote. I encourage you: get involved in politics. Do what you want as long as it’s legal, I don’t want to see you again.”

Afterwards, the judge shook hands with each newly minted citizen and immigration officer Laura Kenkel gave them their naturalization certificates.

At the end of the day, when we drove up to our house, a friend of ours, Bettina Fabos, and her daughter, Beanie, became a part of our family history. They had adorned my front door with a gigantic American flag and two smaller ones on the side.

“I have lived all my life for this day,” my dad said later that night. “I have my dignity back.”

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