It’s not always easy to move away from your hometown, let alone immigrate to a completely different continent, but that’s exactly what one former Calexico Unified School District principal did to fulfill her life’s dreams.
Recently retired, Liliana Dimian worked for about 16 years as the principal of Dool Elementary School. Prior to her time in the Valley, however, Dimian’s passion for education and knowledge were just two driving forces that motivated her to defect from her home country of Romania and set off in search of freedom.
“I was born where they used to call behind the Iron Curtain,” Dimian said. “It was not a free country. It was under Russian influence.”
Dimian was raised in communist Romania during some of the early years of Nicolae Ceausescu’s repressive and often brutal dictatorship. She was 22 years old when she decided to defect with her husband and flee to Italy as a refugee for a year before moving to Canada.
Dimian recalls the most difficult part of the journey was having to leave her 22 month old son, Danny, behind with her parents. She had to wait three years before reuniting with her son in Canada.
“I was not sure if I could ever get him out of Romania and away from the conditions that were there,” Dimian said. “The good thing about it was that my parents were still in Romania. He was their only grandchild, and they took great care of him.”
While in Canada, Dimian soon gave birth to her second son, Andrew, and once she was able to bring Danny out of Romania, she knew she had made the right decision for her and her family’s future. Her parents would later join them in calling Canada their temporary home.
“That was a struggle, but it was also an incredible joy when I could get him out and I knew that his life and his brother’s life would be completely different than mine,” Dimian said. “They will experience freedom.”
During her time in Canada, Dimian continued her education, obtaining several degrees along with her teaching credentials.
She started her career in education 42 years ago, first as a teacher and later as a principal.
“I already knew I loved kids and wanted to be around them because I wanted to make a difference in their lives,” Dimian explained. “But I also knew that they’d make a difference in mine.”
Dimian believes it was the love and support from her parents, who were university professors in Romania, and grandparents that helped her understand the world was a beautiful place and she was worthy of exploring it.
“What shaped me and helped me go through what I have been through in my life was … being a little girl knowing that I was loved and trusted, and they had confidence that I could do anything,” she said.
It was this same confidence and drive for adventure and new cultures that led Dimian to the United States.
She was the principal of King George Secondary School in the West End of Vancouver, British Columbia, and her sons had already left the nest when she decided to make her way to the Imperial Valley.
“My minor was in Spanish, and I wanted to live in a Spanish culture,” Dimian said. So she went to work for the Central Union School District as a principal at Dool Elementary. “Mexican culture is very close to Romanian culture; I thought, let me try and go.”
Dimian remembers she made a promise to the then superintendent she would do her best to commit as principal for at least three years.
“Now we are in 2018, and I just retired, so my two years turned into 16 years,” Dimian said. “In the meantime I decided to make the United States my second home and apply for U.S. citizenship.”
After living with a green card for much of her time in the Valley, Dimian received her citizenship early this year, in April.
“I knew after being a principal after a year or two that I really fell in love with the kids here,” she explained. “They were so loving and so accepting of me.”
Dimian views her home country’s harsh restrictions and lack of freedom as a driving force for her thirst of knowledge and interest in varying cultures and communities.
She is also grateful to the children she’s worked with over the years who have kept her passion for being adventurous alive.
“You know I’ve been through some difficult times like everybody, but I guess what made me keep on going was I had a thirst,” she said. “Also I think I was really fortunate because I chose the right profession."
Little kids are great dreamers. They have their eyes on everything, to new knowledge, and that kept me wanting the same thing.”
Dimian has continued her passion for adventure. After retiring from CUSD in October of 2017 she soon made a new home for herself in Wickenburg, Ariz. She still visits her friends in the Valley and says she has no regrets.
“I look back at my life and think that that’s exactly what I wanted to do, and hopefully over the years, I’ve made some difference in the kids’ lives,” Dimian said.