Elena Brlit was born in Pohorelská Maša in 1964 and grew up in the small village in central Slovakia with her parents, younger brother and younger sister. Elena’s mother, Anna, stayed home while her children were growing up and later worked in the factory in nearby Pohorela. Her father, Juraj, worked in a different factory – one that made pumps. During elementary school, Elena was involved in several activities including dance lessons and skiing. She recalls summers spent picking berries and cycling to a nearby lake with friends. Elena attended high school in Nitra, where she lived in dormitory and studied food chemistry. As part of her education, she and her classmates spent several hours a week observing and working in different settings, including a brewery and ice cream factory.
Elena graduated high school and moved to Košice, where her aunt and uncle had helped her secure a job at the Frucola (Pepsi-Cola) factory. According to Elena, one reason for her move was to attempt to visit the United States. Another uncle had emigrated in 1968, and Elena was unable to receive a visa in her hometown. After establishing permanent residency in Kosice, she was given permission to travel and flew to Florida in June 1985. Although her visa was for 20 days, Elena realized she wanted to stay permanently. Shortly after arriving, she met her future husband, Emil Brlit, and the two married.
Elena became an American citizen in 2000. Since arriving in the United States, Elena has worked with her husband’s dental lab. The couple has two children, both of whom speak Slovak. Elena and her family regularly travel to Slovakia, as her parents still live in the village where she grew up. She enjoys keeping Slovak traditions and has a large circle of Czech and Slovak friends. Today, Elena lives in Sarasota, Florida, with her husband, Emil.
“The brewery was in Nitra and we were just working there as students. So, they let us go near pivo, or beer, but it was either working with bottles or just little things, because we were there for just four hours. It was partially to see what’s going on so it’s not the first time we walk into a factory after we finish school. So they kind of let us observe what was going on in the real world; that was nice. During summers when I was in school, we used to go for letné aktivita – summer activities – and I spent one month of every summer, while I was in school, in Prague in an ice cream factory – I loved that place! – or I worked in Čelnice where they made fruit compote, so that was really nice. I loved those times because we could see and go to Prague. At that time we paid koruna for the metro, and every day we finished work, we showered, changed our clothes and went to Praha.”
Family and Summer
“Because my uncle emigrated in ’68, we could not get a passport; we could not go anywhere. So we didn’t travel. We just stayed at home, and I think we lived in one of the most beautiful places in the world in Slovakia with the mountains… We also had a little farm. On top of my parents working, we always had a cow, and of course for winter you had to collect the food for the cows, so my father was working the fields and we went and helped. Then we went in the summer to pick blueberries and wild raspberries, but that was in the mountains. So that’s where are summers were. And we had a little lake, but we had to go on bicycles; it was maybe 6-7 kilometers, but we took our bikes, when our parents let us, and a whole group of kids went there for a whole day and we went to the lake.”
“To move to Košice I moved to my aunt’s apartment, because they helped me find the job right after school, and I wanted to go to America to see my uncle. Where I lived, in Banská Bystrica [region], they knew my uncle emigrated and it was on file, but in ’85 there were not many computers and my uncle helped me to get permanent residency in Košice. So because I had permanent residency in Košice, I applied for a visa to America from Košice, and that’s how I could go to America to see my uncle.”
“I went to school, the ESOL program, but most of the English I learned with my kids. They started growing up and we read Slovak stories and then English stories. Watching TV, news, and classical stories. But mostly with kids, when they were doing homework, vocabulary…”