Felix Carroll: In the shadow of freedom, a citizen takes form

Editor's note: Today marks the debut of a twice weekly column by Berkshires resident and veteran journalist Felix Carroll who has joined The Eagle as its community columnist.

By Felix Carroll 

The kindly man doesn't want to hover, but, but — the crowd's thinning out, it's time to leave, and he definitely wants his form back, filled out. Name. Address. Date of birth. Social Security number. Sign it. Date it. Simple.

"I'm sorry," Vladimir Soasti says to him, pen in hand, empty form in front of him. Vladimir got distracted. He was talking about all those times he's summoned the butterflies in his stomach to fly in formation — most recently, 45 minutes ago, when he stood before a judge, raised his right hand and pledged his oath of allegiance to the United States of America, and then felt the butterflies settle down and perch upon a dream.

El sue o Americano. That's what they called it back in Ecuador. The American dream.

"Yes," Vladimir says, "everyone knows of the American dream."

Back in 2001, as he summoned the butterflies to formation before leaving his family, leaving his homeland and alighting upon Berkshire County, here's what he imagined: Someday he'd be driving, windows down, beautiful summer day, and he'd be eating an ice cream. Four years later, a beautiful summer day, windows down in his Ford Mustang, "Love Me Two Times" by The Doors blasting from the speakers, Vladimir sat behind the wheel and had himself an ice cream. Just like that. Ice cream never tasted so good.

He writes his first name on the form, then pauses to make a point for fear it get mislaid.

"Everything is possible here," says Vladimir, 39. "It happens if you work hard, be humble, and help people as well."

The kindly man collecting the government forms is roving the far side of the room now. Vladimir, one of 21 people from 17 countries who took the oath to become U.S. citizens at the Norman Rockwell Museum last Saturday, has other examples of imagining things and them coming to pass.

It was 2003. He imagined falling in love and starting a family. He had been here two years already, working restaurant jobs on a temporary visa, missing his mother's potato soup, saving money, taking classes, cramming every ounce of American culture a brain could handle to learn the language: sitcoms, movies, radio stations.

Dog-tired at the end of an evening shift, he nonetheless decided to catch the end of a Latin party at Bogies in Great Barrington. He arrived for last call. And that's when he saw her, a new arrival from Peru, a future nursing assistant, his future wife, raven-black hair, brilliant and beautiful. He said to himself, "Oh, wow."

The band announced its final song. Vladimir summoned the butterflies, crossed the room and asked that woman to dance. She was Sandra. It was a salsa. The horn section ripped the roof off.

Sandra, who shared his dream to "live a normal life," the components of which were unavailable in their native lands, stood by Vladimir's side following the naturalization ceremony, along with their two daughters — April, 9, and Adriana, 7. Together, the Soasti family, along with the judge who swore him in, posed for a photo before Rockwell's iconic Freedom of Speech painting. You know the one: of a town meeting, of the workaday man with earnest eyes standing tall and accorded the floor.

As the cameras clicked, Vladimir clutched a small American flag on a wooden stick and smiled wildly.

In the reception area afterward, there's just this one last detail, this one last form to fill out if he wishes to — and, yes, he wishes to. But first he wants to share other examples of imagining things and them coming to pass. Like owning his own audio/visual production business, which he now does. And someday telling his daughters about that little trick of his about imagining things. When April told him last year she wanted to write a letter to President Obama but was afraid he'd never write back, Vladimir responded, "Do you see in your mind he's going to answer you?" She paused. "Yes," she said, "he's going to answer me."

A letter arrived at her door in July from former President Obama, who advised her to "stay focused on your education and never stop looking to help others."

When President Trump recently announced his decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protected hundreds of thousands of immigrants from deportation who were illegally brought here as children, the protests in Park Square in Pittsfield included a workaday man with earnest eyes: Vladimir. He has family and friends who now fear deportation to lands they've never known.

Back at the reception following the naturalization ceremony, the kindly man collecting forms is behind him again, eyebrows raised. This time the man stays put as Vladimir presses ink upon the form: Name, address, date of birth, Social Security number. Signed. Dated. Simple.

And with that, the U.S. citizen known as Vladimir Soasti of Pittsfield enters the roll of registered voters.

Reach Eagle columnist Felix Carroll at fcarroll@berkshireeagle.com.


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