Anita Butera says she came to America by accident. In the 1990s, as a university student in Italy, she planned to travel to England to improve her English skills.
An unexpected visit from an aunt wanting to visit the town where her parents were born changed that. She offered Butera a place to stay so she could immerse herself in the English language in the USA, and she even promised her that he wouldn’t speak Italian in the house.
Off she flew to Virginia, just outside of Washington DC, where she stayed for six months to learn English. After, she returned to Italy with better English-speaking skills in tow.
Butera decided to pursue her graduate degree at American University in Washington, DC, after being awarded a full scholarship. While conducting research for her Ph.D. in Sociology, she learned of the great need immigrants and refugees have for legal representation, so she decided to pursue a law degree at the University at Buffalo School of Law, concentrating on public interest law.
“What I liked about Buffalo is the fact that it looked like a very welcoming place to be,” Butera says, adding that it reminded her of her hometown and did not suffer from the expense and congestion of the other city she looked at (Boston).
After graduating from law school, she stayed in Western New York, working as an attorney for Farmworker Legal Service of NY (now the Worker Justice Center of New York) in Rochester. Her career moved to academics at Marist College and, later, Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University in Saudi Arabia.
A naturalized citizen, Butera is now an Associate Professor of Sociology, Criminal Justice, & Environmental Studies at Canisius University and the Director of the Department of Criminal Justice.
Even though she spent time in the United States, Butera says that Buffalo was her first experience in being in “America,” compared to being in Washington DC, where she says, “…everyone comes from a different country, and the only thing that they have in common is that everyone speaks English with an accent…but it is not even the same accent.”
She knows Buffalo has its issues, but Butera adds that she’s never personally experienced anything negative and felt welcomed here.
“My accent is there, and my sometimes very colorful political opinions are there. In spite of all of that, Buffalonians treated me as a human being,” Butera says. “They were respectful of what I thought and what I believed. They were helpful, and they made me feel at home.”
She says she hopes the community will treat immigrants and refugees similarly, recognizing that all human beings have the same needs and hopes, wanting only to live in peace.
“We are all in the same boat. We are trying to do the best that we can dealing with whatever circumstances life gave us,” Butera says. “Some circumstances are much more difficult than others.”
Welcoming Week is a national campaign and celebration to showcase communities that strive to “be more welcoming places for all, including immigrants.”
Since Buffalo’s nickname is “The City of Good Neighbors,” our theme is Being a Good Neighbor Starts with a Welcome!
Here are profiles of local foreign-born people describing their journeys and how Western New York welcomed them, with the hope that their stories can illustrate the many ways to be a good neighbor.
Were you born in another country? What is your story? How were you welcomed in Western New York? Let us know!