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Family from Bulgaria thankful to be in U.S.

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In the Elmhurst home of Nellie Lozanova and her daughter, Milla, that language is Bulgarian, their native tongue, although both are fluent in English.

"Thanksgiving gives me an opportunity to think about things that, during the day, I might not ordinarily think about," Lozanova said. "For example, the fact that I am living in the United States somehow makes me more grateful for having been born in Bulgaria. Being so far away from my birthplace, I have learned to love and respect it more."

Since Bulgaria has never had a holiday quite like Thanksgiving, Lozanova and her daughter usually spend the day with American-born friends. This year they will celebrate the holiday with another family in Queens.

Bulgaria, an East European country almost as large as New York state located on the Balkan Peninsula, is bordered by the Black Sea, Romania, Yugoslavia, Greece and European Turkey. The history of the land originally called Thrace has been one of almost continual foreign domination. Ruled by the Ottoman Empire from 1386 for 500 years, Bulgaria celebrates one of two Independence Days every March 3 to commemorate the escape from the yoke of Turkish rule in 1887. During World War II, the Soviet Union occupied Bulgaria and the communists took over the government, abolishing the monarchy and declaring a republic. Today the small country is independent.

As the special events/membership officer of the Queens Museum of Art, Lozanova, 40, is thankful to be able to indulge her love of the fine arts while supporting herself and her daughter, 14.

She first came to New York in 1973 when her father, employed by the commercial office of the Bulgarian Mission to the United Nations, was assigned here during the peak of the Cold War. After three years of junior high school the family returned to their home in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.

"It was tough for me to be thrown into the waters of a regular school without knowing a word of English," Lozanova smiled. When the family returned to New York after her graduation from high school, Lozanova attended Hunter College where she majored in English art history with a minor in theater. Ironically, her American college diploma worked against her when, after completing her studies here, she applied for a job as a repertoire clerk in a Sofia playhouse. "They felt that I did not know enough about Bulgarian plays and treated me like a walking model of capitalist propaganda," she said. "I began to work freelance, translating American plays and theatrical magazine articles into Bulgarian."

After Lozanova's husband suffered a fatal heart attack in 1992, she began to think about moving to New York with her then 6-year-old child. She applied for and received a Fulbright Scholarship in order to pursue her master's degree. The late Sen. William Fulbright (D-Ark.) had set up a scholarship fund in order to promote mutual international understanding. At the Queens Museum of Art, Lozanova coordinates the opening of new exhibit openings and the popular "First Thursday" programs.

Lozanova regularly visits her mother and brother in Bulgaria where Milla spends the summer.

"I consider myself to be a product of international exchange and am thankful to be able to look at my birth country as a resident of New York and also to be able to see American as a Bulgarian," she said. "I am fascinated to be here as this American presidential election drama unfolds. You know, during the collapse of the Socialist Bloc and the conversion to democracy, we Bulgarians had to vote for our own first president. We had Americans present in order to monitor our first free election.

"At that time we used to wonder, Who monitors the elections in America?"

Posted 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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