Maria Eliades, CIANA's Communications and Programs Manager, in Athens Square. Photo: Olivia Sztanga
Astoria, NY -Maria Eliades first started working at CIANA as a volunteer in March. In August, she joined CIANA’s staff as its Communications and Programs Manager. For Maria, the journey to CIANA started overseas, in Turkey.
While teaching at a Turkish university in her last three years in Istanbul, Maria began to see the effects of the Syrian refugee crisis first-hand.
“In my last years in Turkey, I started seeing the refugee crisis up close. It was certainly in the rest of Turkey too, but I was seeing it up close on Istanbul’s streets,” she said, “I became friends with several Syrian refugees, too. I saw this crisis in the ports of Greece, I saw it up North, and all of this was really deeply affecting.”
At the same time, what she saw in Turkey and Greece reminded her of her own family's history, of how her father’s family left Turkey in 1959 to come to the US and try to build a better life for themselves. Her family’s history and her own ties to Turkey left her wondering whether she was doing enough to help the migration crisis that she saw unfolding before her eyes; ultimately prompting her to move back to the US after the 2016 failed coup attempt in Turkey.
When she first came back, Maria was eager to work with refugees before finding out about CIANA through a friend. After discovering CIANA, she thought that it made a lot of sense to work with immigrants.
“You’re not a refugee necessarily but you still have a lot of needs, and I don’t think that’s really recognized. You come into a country, whether it’s the U.S. or someplace else, and you often don’t know the language, you don’t know how the system works, you don’t necessarily have a job, and you have to navigate all of that.”
Her own experiences in navigating the move to Turkey and adjusting to life there had given Maria an appreciation for how difficult it can be for people to immigrate to a new country to which they have no ties, but her understanding of the immigrant experience in Astoria doesn’t stop there.
Astoria is where her father’s family came when they arrived in the US, where her mother eventually moved and grew up. These streets are where her great uncle owned and operated two baklava shops and where her grandparents raised her father and uncle to become an engineer and surgeon. Astoria is a place where her family was able to succeed in ways unimaginable in their home countries, and in turn, where Maria hopes to help other immigrants achieve those same dreams.