How old are your kids and how long have you lived in Westport/the area? My boys are 5 and 9 years old and we have lived in Westport for just over 2 years although I still find myself saying, “we just moved here!” I guess I don’t quite believe that we had the good fortune to end up here. Our story is unique as well as the same as the story of many other families who left the City during the pandemic – in our case we thought it was a temporary move at the time we left.
- How did you end up where you are now in terms of your job, or whatever passion project it is you might be doing? I’m a corporate immigration lawyer and partner at Fragomen, the largest immigration law firm in the world.
A child of Soviet immigrants-I was born just months after my parents arrived in the US-I might have anticipated that I’d end up working with immigrants one day, but having grown up with little means in the Brooklyn projects, a career at one of the top law firms in the world would have seemed an impossible dream. My parents worked around the clock to move us out of the projects and to a safer part of the city, and eventually they put us through one of NYC’s elite private schools. They worked just about every job imaginable – my dad even drove a NYC yellow taxi during their early years in the US. My parents invested every penny they had into our education.
My earliest introduction to immigration law was in the form of a fellowship while I was in law school. I was awarded a fellowship through the National Association of Public Interest Law (NAPIL) and the AmeriCorps VISTA program during the summer between my first and second years of law school.
I drove across the country by myself to Florence, Arizona (near the US-Mexico border) where I would spend the summer working with immigrant detainees from South and Central America, educating them on their rights and helping those with claims for relief from removal remain in the US and navigate our complex immigration legal framework. The main mission of my fellowship however focused on setting up a self-help model so that those who might have possible claims for relief could self-identify and seek out an immigration lawyer to represent them (since our current legal system does not recognize an automatic right to counsel in immigration court for those facing removal/deportation).
The summer I spent in Arizona working for the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project was one of the most gratifying professional experiences of my life, and I returned home to New York from this experience committed to the practice of immigration law. I was honored to receive the NAPIL Exemplary Public Service Award later that year for my work in Florence.
What I did not expect is that I would end up in private practice, but a wise immigration law professor and mentor encouraged me to broaden my exposure to all areas of immigration law and eventually I ended up as a law clerk (a legal intern) at Fragomen and knew that I had found my home for a variety of reasons. I have been practicing immigration law at the Firm ever since, now over 22 years.
What was your best memory from 2021, a strange year we know…2021 was the worst and best year of my life, ironically. While the world as we knew it came to a grinding halt during the pandemic, so did my life, exactly one year into Covid. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2021. I was 45 years old, balancing working motherhood in the midst of a pandemic. We had just moved out of NYC a few months prior and my kids were being homeschooled in our basement while I tried to remain afloat. The move to remote work for immigration lawyers was particularly painful since we deal with a government agency that is still nearly entirely paper-driven, and we essentially moved the operations from our offices to our homes and had to run government filings (being printed, scanned, and copied from home) to couriers daily to get our client’s filings submitted under tight deadlines. Add to that the Covid travel bans and the tail end of the Trump administration which was particularly hostile to immigrants, my stress was at an all-time high.
It seems strange to say that I have so many good memories from 2021, given everything that I experienced, but somehow 2021 became about finding the blessings in my life, despite the challenges. After I was diagnosed and before I started treatment, our family decided to take a trip outside of the country (a novelty at that time because travel was still questionable because of Covid, but doubly so given the uncertainty of what lay ahead for me). At that point I knew that I would need an aggressive chemo regimen along with surgery, radiation and a year of antibody therapy, and we wanted to take one last trip together before everything would change. Many of my best memories from 2021 came out of that trip.
Other wonderful memories from the year include the meetings with countless other women with breast cancer or with breast cancer survivors. A born and bred New Yorker, we had left behind friends and family and just about any support network I might have had while undergoing treatment for breast cancer since I was diagnosed so soon after we moved to Westport. Once I was diagnosed however, the support somehow appeared, mostly in the form of other women who had walked this road before me and I felt the presence of so many real-life angels around me. (side note: One amazing story I can share is about a friend that came into my life after meeting through our shared oncologist). The breast cancer club is not one any of us choose to join voluntarily, but once connected, there is an unspeakable bond. I have benefited from the support of so many women over this past year and a half since I was diagnosed. I am still finding my path to serve others but I know unquestionably that I will spend the rest of my life paying forward the support that I’ve received during this time.
What are you most looking forward to in 2023? Finding my new normal.
What is the best show you have recently (binge) watched? AND/OR what is the last book you read? The last book I actually finished -I’m usually about 10 pages into a dozen books!- is Radical Forgiveness, recommended by another Westport mom. The book is actually not what it sounds like and is less about the traditional definition of forgiveness and more about the perfection of our lives as they are. I’ve always believed that everything happens for a reason. Embracing the philosophy shared in the book helped me to also see that we can find opportunity to grow where we least expect it and that everyone in our life is a teacher, if we allow for that possibility.
One of the books I’m currently reading should be mandatory reading for every woman (and every man that loves any woman): Breasts, The Owner’s Manual. I’m obviously sensitive to the subject matter but this is truly an amazing guide to self-care and self-empowerment for women, in the age of off-the-charts breast cancer diagnoses. There is so much that we can do to support our health and wellness…before a crisis!
I haven’t binge watched it yet but I’ve been waiting for Shantaram to come to the screen. This is one of the most epic and favorite fiction novels that I’ve ever read and I’ve always thought that it would make for good tv. I believe the Shantaram series just dropped in the last few weeks.
What is your favorite podcast? So many! Anything to do with holistic health and wellness but my current top pick is The Art of Being Well with Dr. Will Cole.
What is your greatest indulgence? Anything sweet. I’m a sugar addict despite everything I’ve tried to curb those cravings.
Which talent would you most like to have? Anything musical. I gave up the piano for sports when I was in middle school and true to my parents’ advice, I regret quitting to this day.
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you? That I’ve done an Ironman. I raced Ironman Lake Placid in 2010.
If you weren’t doing what you are today, what might your career path might have been? This is an easy one. Becoming a lawyer was a brain choice, not a heart choice. With everything my parents sacrificed for my education and future, I never really had a choice but to succeed professionally, not just for myself, but for them.
The irony is that just after I graduated from law school, my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed soon after her diagnosis, and before she was able to see me get sworn in as a lawyer. By then, my parents were already financially on the decline (though they managed to set my brother and me up with an extraordinary education during their more financially stable years) and by the time I was in law school, I knew that they would need my financial support (which played a big role in my decision to pursue private practice at the time).
Because my mom was mostly the main breadwinner in our family by then- my dad was disabled- my dad relied entirely on me financially once my mom died. When I graduated from law school. I thought I would work in private practice for a few years before moving on to public interest law and eventually pursuing my true interests but that was simply not my reality given my life circumstances. I supported my dad until he passed away in 2019.
I’ve always had a passion for holistic health and wellness. This is the area of interest that I’m always reading about, listening to podcasts and eager to learn more about. I love helping others in their health journeys and am passionate about empowering anyone that is interested in learning more about ways to simply feel better. As a self-professed earth mama, if I could do it all over again, I would choose a career in line with my passion.
If you could travel to one place this next year, where would it be and why? India. I’ve spent the last year doing quite a bit of soul searching. India would be the perfect place to culminate all that I’ve learned and have yet to learn.
If you had 24 hours to do whatever you wanted to do, what would it be? Even though I’m a born and bred New Yorker –I lived in NYC my entire life before moving to Westport- being in nature is what feeds my soul. I’d spend my 24 hours taking in everything that nature has to offer, from the ocean to the trees, all of the places where I feel most plugged in to myself.
Are you a morning person, or a night owl? How does sleep fit into your life? Morning, hands down. I’ve been an early riser my entire life. Sleep is a challenge, but that early morning quiet time before everyone else in my house is awake feels like a gift with limitless possibilities each day!
What thing has surprised you most about being in the suburbs? Westport is a unique suburb but the biggest surprise has been the amount of arts and cultural events available not only in town but in all that the surrounding areas have to offer. We are certainly never bored for lack of something fun to do!
QUICK THIS OR THAT:
At a movie: Candy or Popcorn? Who goes to the movies anymore!
Cook or order in? Cook – it’s a form of meditation for me.
Cake or Ice Cream? Ice cream on top of my cake.
Iced Coffee or Hot Coffee? Hot tea!
Beach or Mountains? The beach is where it’s at for me!
Puzzle or Board Game? Does chess count as a board game? I’m a child of Soviet immigrants. Chess was the only game in town when I was a kid!
Wine or a Cocktail (if cocktail, which one?) Kombucha.
Reading or writing? Writing in the morning, reading before bed.
Before bed: Social media or book/TV? A page of a book at most before I’m out!
Watch or play sports? Play. I don’t have the patience to watch.
Stay in or go out? Stay in but bring the party to my house. I love to share my home.
Comedy or Drama? Drama for sure. I’ll take a good cry over a good laugh any day.