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A husband brought her here, and a son kept her here
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Daria Christenson came to the states from Italy after meeting her American husband at an airbase in Italy.


BETTENDORF -- Life in America hasn't been easy for Daria Christenson, but she's happy.

Ms. Christenson was born and raised in Udine, Italy. In 1955, when she was 16, she left for England to study the language, she said. When she returned to Italy two years later, she began working on Aviano Air Force Base.

That's where "I met my husband," an American named Harold, Ms. Christenson said.He was stationed on the base for four years, she said.

"(We were) connected all the time," she said, adding that she supplied parts to one of the squadrons on base. She ordered the parts, and Mr. Christenson picked them up.

Mr. Christenson also played baseball and basketball on base, and Ms. Christenson said she would go and watch his games.

"So we started going out," she said.

They were married in Udine in 1962, when Ms. Christenson was 23. They relocated to Mr. Christenson's hometown in Wisconsin after his years of service were up.

It was a little town called Orfordville, so small if you "blinked, you don't see it," Ms. Christenson said.

They lived with Mr. Christenson's family until he took a job in Chicago.

It was difficult adjusting to life in America, Ms. Christenson said. For starters, her mother-in-law was a "very strict Norwegian," she said, who wasn't keen on the fact that her son had married an Italian.

It was a "hostile environment," she said, adding that it was quite a few years before her mother-in-law actually got to know her.

Mr. Christenson took a job in Chicago, but after about three months, he had had enough of it. The company liked him, though, Ms. Christenson said, so they transferred him to a branch in Wisconsin. The couple would bounce around a bit for Mr. Christenson's work, and the two welcomed their son, Mark, in 1964.

While working in the Midwest, Mr. Christenson traveled throughout Illinois. He became acquainted with a man in the Quad-Cities who owned an engineering business with locations in Dubuque and Davenport. The businesswasn't doing so well, and the man wanted Mr. Christenson to take over.

Mr. Christenson managed the business for a few years, and then the couple bought the company. "I took care of the office here" in Davenport, Ms. Christenson said, while her husband wore "a lot of different hats."

It was the 1980s by then, and there was quite a decline in business. The company was struggling, and Mr. Christenson got sick. In the mid-1980s, Ms. Christenson closed the Davenport location to concentrate her efforts on the Dubuque location.

Mr. Christenson's health "separated him from me," she said. She was not able to take care of him and run the business at the same time, and the two divorced.

She continued to run the Dubuque location until she sold the business in 1997 and returned to Bettendorf, where the couple had owned a house since 1972. No matter where they had bounced around, they had never sold it. She still lives in the house today.

When she returned to Bettendorf, Ms. Christenson took a year off before taking a jobat Ansaldo, in Montpelier, which had the maintenance for the technology involved with recycling steel at IPSCO.

She worked there for two years, until the office closed.

As a side job, she taught French lessons. One day, one of her students told her that someone at Deere & Co. wanted to talk to her because she spoke Italian, and the two speculated that it was for a job.

Ms. Christenson said her first thought was, "I don't know nothing about tractors!" But that was all about to change.

Ms. Christenson now has worked for Deere for about eight years, processing warranties. While she works with Italy often, she also does business with India, China -- "all over," she said.

Simply put, Ms. Christenson said, she ended up in the states because she married an American. Prior to meeting Mr. Christenson, she said she had "no intention" of moving to the U.S.

"I had a good job (in Italy)," she said, "and I love my country; I really do. I miss it a lot."

While she came to the U.S. from Italy, Ms. Christenson said she does not see herself as an immigrant. Immigrants, she explained, leave their country voluntarily to better their lives.

"Coming here didn't make (my life) better for me," she said.

"It really hasn't been very easy for me. I always feel that Italy was the home -- (I'm just) paying the rent here."

Ms. Christenson said the prejudices she experienced in this country were "overwhelming." She remembered not being invited to a party once because the hosts weren't inviting any Italians, she said.

"That put me in the wrong state of mind," she said. "I wanted to go back (to Italy) so bad. I felt very uncomfortable."

She couldn't understand why anyone would be prejudiced against another person. She wanted to ask if people were so prejudiced against Italian people, "why do you eat Italian food?"

Her husband was always on her side, though, she said, even when things were difficult with his mother.

While she has remained a happy, friendly person, "I never had the feeling that (I could be) completely open with anyone," she said. You "never know what they think."

But she chose to stick it out in the states -- she couldn't leave her son.As a child of World War II, she said, "we have had to cope with worse things than this." She has "thick skin," she said. But she definitely is more closed off now.

"I'm not as open as I am in Italy with my friends," she said. "I don't feel that way no more."

While she said she would prefer to be in her home country, "under the present circumstances, of course I am glad to be in this country and I try to make the best of it."

Statues that remind her of home fill her garden, and much of the framed art in her living room reflects her home country.

She belongs to the local Italian-American Society with about 60 or 70 other people, she said, where she tries to help her culture and her country's history resonate.

"I like what I'm doing" at Deere, too, she said, adding that she only works part time now.

She said she used to travel back to Udine fairly often, until her mother passed away in 1989. "I'm a guest, now," she said. "Before, I was going home."

Besides her son, her entire family remains in Italy, she said, including her siblings and their families.

She also has quite a few friends in Rome, she said.

Email andSkype have allowed her to keep in touch with all of her friends and family in Italy on a regular basis."I love all the technology," Ms. Christenson said

She even got to see her nephew's brand-new baby via Skype. She and her family were "so excited," she said. It made her"feel a bit more close."

Every year she says she'll visit her home country "next year," she said, but before she knows it, that year has passed and she's on to the next.

Until the time comes, though, there's always Skype.

Italy
-- Location: Southern Europe, a peninsula extending into the central Mediterranean Sea, northeast of Tunisia.

-- Population: 61,261,254 (July 2012 estimate). No. 23 in the world.

-- Languages: Italian (official), German (parts of Trentino-Alto Adige region are predominantly German speaking), French (small French-speaking minority in Valle d'Aosta region), Slovene (Slovene-speaking minority in the Trieste-Gorizia area).

Source: CIA World Factbook.




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