From Birthday Candles to Roman Candles

Born on July 4th, Viorella “Vicky” Mattucci knew she was destined to become an American.  She arrived at age 20, not speaking a word of English, and now celebrates her birthday, and Independence Day, with fireworks.

PITTSBURGH - When Vicky Mattucci lived in Russia, July 4th was just her birthday. Now as an American citizen, she shares her birth date with America’s Independence Day, a sign she believes signaled her destiny to live in the United States.

Mattucci came to America when she was 20 years old. Growing up in Russia, and later on in one of the Republics of USSR (Moldova), she was oblivious to the absence of democracy.

When you’re a child, you don’t look at things the way adults do. As I became a young adult, I realized it was no way to live your life – to be afraid to speak your mind, to watch what you do and how you do it, to constantly look over your shoulder in fear.

When the Transnistria War broke out in the early 1990s due to political and military conflict between neighboring states near Mattucci’s home, she knew she wanted to move.

At the time, she lived by the Black Sea, and an opportunity came about that temporarily opened up borders for people to willingly leave. She jumped at the chance because even a few months down the road, it would have been gone. Mattucci came to America in the winter of 1994. 

A New Home

The propaganda in Russia gave Mattucci the idea the United States was all highrises and crowded streets like New York City. But she moved to the Midwestern town of Kansas City, KS, and was greeted with miles of farmland and wide open space between buildings.

Mattucci did not know a word of English when she came to the United States. Like many others in her birth country, she spoke multiple languages, including Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian and German. Her first order of business when she arrived in the states was to learn English.

“It was more of a cultural shock. A lot of my difficulty had to do with the lack of language. Not being able to understand can create a lot of stress. It was hard to enjoy the changes during the first two years because it is frustrating to not be able to express yourself.”

Speaking English is satisfactory for some people, but Mattucci wanted to learn as much as she could. After about four years of community college courses and intensive studying, including accounting classes, she could read, write, speak and was ready to apply for citizenship. She completed the process in Kansas City, successfully completing the test about American History and the Constitution.

“They give you 10 questions out of 100 and you need 60-70 percent to pass. Since I studied hard, I wanted to do more questions!”

Her most memorable part of that experience was not the naturalization ceremony, but her co-workers that were cheering her on and helped her to study for the exam, quizzing her on a daily basis. It has been 15 years since she became a proud American citizen, but their friendship still stands.

Vicky Mattucci loves to travel. She visited California and the Pacific Ocean in 2002, shortly after she became an American citizen

Finding Her Place

Mattucci spent nine years in Kansas City before moving to Pittsburgh, a city that interested her with its smaller size and cultural diversity. Quality of life was the easiest adjustment for Mattucci in the states. Accessibility to basic needs was a lot easier, but the hardest part for her was, and still is, missing her friends and family.

Everything else is doable if you put your mind to it. Missing family and friends is part of it, but I still miss them all the time.

As an only child, Mattucci is surrounded by an extensive family that still lives in Moscow. Because of the overseas tension, video chatting each week substitutes for visits. Video chats with her mother are also a way to practice her Russian.

“I have visited family, and it’s stressful because you don’t know what to expect. It’s good for my mother though because she is retired and can come over to the United States for months at a time.”

Now a 10-year veteran with PNC, Mattucci is a business analyst in real estate banking. Outside of work she loves to travel.

While living in Kansas City, Mattucci worked for an airline so she has actually experienced most of the United States outside of Pittsburgh. Given her global background, her bucket list is simpler – she wants to see more of Pennsylvania’s hills and mountains to ride bikes and visit the parks. 

Even though she grew up around the Black Sea and other exotic destinations, her favorite place to visit isn’t far from Pittsburgh.

“My favorite destination is Lake Erie; it’s so quiet and peaceful. I also have a few friends near the Great Lakes (Chicago area) and my husband has relatives there too.”

Vicky Mattucci and her husband, Anthony Mattucci, in the Birch Park near Moscow (2006)

Vicky Mattucci celebrates her birthday and Independence Day together – on July 4

My birthday tradition is to watch fireworks with my family. I told my now eight-year-old daughter that the fireworks were for me, and she wanted to have a July 4th birthday too. But last year she was studying in school and realized they weren’t for me. It’s been our family joke for a while.