The Zsingas

I was a refugee from a communist satellite country whose parents brought me and my older sister to this country to seek a better life. I didn’t learn to speak English until kindergarten, which delayed me socially. I had a rather lonely childhood because of the language issue, and it was the reading of books that saved me.

I adored books. I was always getting in trouble by my parents for reading when I was supposed to be in bed sleeping. Reading was what ultimately gave me the power to master the English language and obtain a better than average vocabulary. I was an insatiable reader.

My parents were not able to help me at all with my homework because they were just learning to speak English themselves by speaking to others and watching TV. They were not conversational and were not very articulate, and I can’t say they provided much guidance or support growing up, so I feel as though I was raised by books more than by parents. Books were my refuge, my teachers, my entertainment, my everything. I would have withered away without books.

A lack of guidance and parental support lead me to make many mistakes in life. One of them being to have become a mother at age 20 and having two children by the time I was 23, even though my daughters' biological fathers had no part in their lives in any way, even financially.

I started college and went on public assistance and food stamps for several years while I finished college. I eventually graduated with honors with a bachelor's degree in visual communications. Had it not been for all of the books and reading in my life, I would likely have ended up on welfare and minimum wage jobs for the rest of my life and raised children that would do the same.

It was books that provided me with inspiration and real examples of hundreds of different lifestyles that could be lived by a human being. Books gave me friendship, community, guidance. They gave me the skills and curiosity to search for more and better. They gave me hope for a better life. Books filled in the gaps and deficiencies of my upbringing. Anything I lacked in life, I always knew that books could teach me how to obtain it.

I always read to my children, and they always saw me reading. So books were as much part of our lives as food and water. They learned to read, excelled at it and loved it. My grown daughters now have richer lives and hopes for the future because of the large role books play in our lives. My son is in 2nd grade, and even though he doesn't like to be forced to read 30 minutes per day, he will easily read for an hour or two at a stretch, but he says, "well that doesn't count towards my homework because I was just reading that because I wanted to."

I am convinced that reading plays a huge role in intelligence levels. I have a sister with a son just a year and a half older than my son. Even though he has two parents at home, they are not readers. His father never read a book to him, and he never reads independently himdelf. He watches TV all day when not at work. My sister takes their son on outings, but she is also a huge TV watcher and does not read. My son was a better reader in 1st grade than her son was in 3rd grade because of the parental involvement in his reading. I know every parent thinks their child is the best and the smartest, but I feel that I’m pretty good at remaining objective here, and I notice a marked difference in the intelligence of my son. I really do feel that reading plays a huge part in that.

Reading to your child and your child seeing you love to read is as important as good nutrition and sunlight. Reading is absolutely necessary for a human being to flourish in life.

I could have ended up a depressed person living in poverty. Reading gave me what I needed to rise above my circumstances. Even when I made huge mistakes, I was able to overcome those and become a moderately successful person who owns a three-family house, an apartment, has a full time job as a manager in the health services industry, who just started her own corporation and signed a lease on a brick and mortar location to open a retail store/gallery so that I can move further towards full independence doing what makes me truly happy.

Best of luck to you on this project!

Take care,
Edina Zsiga

  • Edina Zsiga and son, Janos Barna-Zsiga, age 7
  • His older sisters are half white and half black, his father and I are both white Hungarians born in Hungary.