When Anya Patti defected from the Soviet Union in 1990, she had no idea how hard it would be for her to become a U.S. citizen — or that it would take 25 years. Today, she is a happy mother-of-five and a Mapleton resident. Her journey to Utah may have been long and paperwork-filled, but she’s never felt more at home.
I grew up in the former Soviet Union. Because living in a communist country was all I knew, I didn’t realize what freedoms I was missing. When I turned 18, my mother and I found a flight that went from Moscow to Cuba with a refueling stop in Canada. The Soviet Union allowed citizens to go to Cuba because it was also a communist country, but you had to have a relative there. We lied and said we did, hoping to get off the plane in Canada and stay there permanently.
It was terrifying! When we got to Canada, we met with a government official and were placed in a secluded hotel for a month while our names will cleared.
We were then transferred to St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, where I met two LDS missionaries. They immediately stood out because they looked so happy and clean — very out of place in the area we were staying. They asked if I wanted to hear God’s plan for me, and I definitely wanted to hear about this plan! One of the things that resonated was when they talked about a Heavenly Father. I grew up without a dad and always felt cheated by that. Learning that I had a Heavenly Father meant so much to me. My mother was baptized first and I was baptized later.
While in Canada, I met a man and we got engaged. He was a U.S citizen, so I came to the states with him on a fiancé visa. When the relationship didn’t work out, I was able to stay in the states on a student visa and I enrolled at Ricks College, now known as BYU-Idaho (where she was roommates with Utah Valley Magazine editor Jeanette Bennett).
I was later told that my change to a student visa wasn’t valid, so I started my petition for asylum, which is a process that takes years. It takes so long that I was able to go on an LDS mission to Missouri and graduate from college while waiting.
While working in Provo I met my husband, Troy, who is also a convert to the LDS Church. We were friends for two years, dated for two months and then were married. Troy had a daughter, Hailey, and we soon added our daughter Rylee to the family.
When Rylee was 18 months old, I was given a two-week deportation order. Our lawyer was able to get the deadline extended, but we were still scrambling trying to decide what to do next.
Then a miracle came. Troy’s employer at the time, Parentlink, offered to open up an office in London. This would allow him to get a work visa and then our family (we had five children at that point) would be allowed to go with him.
After two-and-a-half years in London, we were able to come back to the United States and we now live in Mapleton. I love feeling tucked away in the mountains, yet so close to everything.
While my journey to Utah may have been unconventional, these days my life is normal — filled with family time playing board games, movie nights, shopping for home decor, my two book clubs and visiting the temple.
The 25 years it took me to gain citizenship taught me that I can do hard things. It taught me that God hears and answers prayers. The experience taught my children to rely on each other and that nothing in the world is more important than family. I am so happy to be where I am today and to have my family with me.