Hudson County is no stranger to immigration. For years, Jersey City’s Ellis Island funneled in people from all walks of life in pursuit of the quintessential dream of a better life in America.
Though Ellis Island is long-closed, standing now as a museum after years of neglect, that immigrant yearning is still alive, albeit in forms no one could have predicted during its heyday.
Weehawken’s Robert and Angela DeZeeuw are living proof of that, blending Dutch heritage with modern American life.
The paths of the happy couple could not have been more different.
Robert, a longtime engineer with PSEG, immigrated to Hoboken at age four in 1952, growing up in the area and even residing in a house used in the filming of “On the Waterfront.”
Angela, meanwhile, born in Paramaribo, Suriname, immigrated to Amsterdam at age 13, years after Robert had graduated from Stevens Institute in Hoboken, and eventually made a career for herself in the fashion industry.
For years they lived their lives unaware of the other’s existence, separated by a thousand miles of ocean.
Fittingly enough, it would be the Internet that brought them together.
After meeting on the Dutch dating website relatieplanet.nl in December of 2006, the two instantly hit it off.
After two months of courtship, the pair arranged to meet on Valentine’s Day, with Angela flying into JFK and Robert picking her up from the airport.
Sounds perfectly romantic…but
A typical Hudson County gripe almost ruined the moment.
“It’s good that I left three hours early,” Robert recalls as Angela shyly laughs beside him. “Because I took the Pulaski Skyway and it was just stopped cold. I just made it by the skin of my teeth.”
Traffic and all, Robert was able to make it to the terminal just in time to pick up Angela.
“We recognized each other right away,” she says. “And he was precisely on time, something that I rarely see because I come from a country where everything goes by in a minute.”
And after three years of dating, the two finally said their vows in a pair of ceremonies in 2009, one by the pastor of Robert’s mother’s church in the Netherlands, and another by a more local figure, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner.
But the process of being married by Weehawken’s top political figure was more complicated than Robert expected.
Robert’s initial requests to have the wedding at the Weehawken water tower, followed by Hamilton Park, were both rebuffed.
“The mayor said ‘It’s too cold’,” Robert recalls. “So we settled for the municipal building.”
The couple has enjoyed all the spoils of married life, becoming virtually inseparable. Some days are filled with trips to flea markets in the Meadowlands and Englishtown.
“We do everything together,” Robert says.
And together, the couple embraced the process of acquiring formal U.S. citizenship.
The uneasy road to citizenship
While Robert’s citizenship process went along relatively smoothly, Angela’s faced more difficulty.
The de Zeeuws believe a clerical mistake that listed Robert’s country of origin as Honduras slowed down Angela’s application process, which was already confounded enough by the fact that she had applied for a Social Security card under her maiden name.
“We’re not sure,” Robert says. “But maybe that’s why it took longer.”
Along the way, the de Zeeuws, working without a lawyer, received assistance from the office of Rep. Albio Sires, particularly staffer Donita Torres, who aided the couple with the necessary forms and applications.
“I don’t think I would have been able to do it without her,” Robert claims.
Finally, on July 9, Angela was formally sworn in as a U.S. citizen, the culmination of years of romance and countless bureaucratic red tape.
“It was really a moving experience,” she said.
With the citizenship hurdle out of the way, Robert and Angela can finally get back to the things that really matter in life. Like flea markets.