Billerica’s Violeta Jeliazkova
BURLINGTON -- Violeta Jeliazkova lives in Billerica, but her Bulgarian heritage has shaped much of her work over the past 18 years.
This weekend her contributions as co-director of the Bulgarian-American Cultural Center Madara were acknowledged by top officials including Gov. Charlie Baker.
“My community is like my child,” she said.
Jeliazkova, 46, was honored by citations from Baker and the Massachusetts Statehouse through state Rep. Mark Lombardo.
She also received the Ivan Vazov medal from the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad for promoting and preserving Bulgarian culture in North America. Bulgarian Consul General Maya Hristova traveled from New York to present the honor at the Burlington Marriott Ballroom Sunday night.
The event was also a fundraiser to help cover medical costs for Jeliazkova who has stage four pancreatic cancer.
“Cancer took away several of my organs, it took away things I loved most, but what it cannot take away from me ever ... is my love for you,” she told community members Sunday, according to a press release.
Jeliazkova moved from Bulgaria to the United States two decades ago. After a briefly living in Lowell, she moved to Woburn, which next to Cape Cod, has one of the largest Bulgarian populations in the state, according to President of the Bulgarian Center of New England Dave Flashenburg.
About seven or eight years ago she moved to Billerica with her husband George Enchev, who co-directs the Bulgarian-American Cutural Center Madara.
Jeliazkova said she started her organization to help integrate members of the Bulgarian community and promote happiness. Over the years, she collaborated with other cultural community groups.
“It doesn’t matter what people they are, if they get together they will live happier lives,” Jeliazkova said.
In the 1990s, following the fall of communism, the Bulgarian community in the United States grew. By the late 1990s Flashenburg said Jeliazkova was trying to “single-handedly” build a community in the Greater Boston area.
“Now there’s a healthy vibrant community,” he said.
Jeliazkova recalled discovering traditional Bulgarian folk dances were taught at Copley Square in Boston, a tradition that has persisted for decades. When she and other members of the Bulgarian community visited they found many Americans knew the dances, but immigrants from Bulgaria, particularly the younger generations, did not.
“Many people were inspired by our American friends to go back to the culture,” she said.
After several years juggling both, Jeliazkova left her job as a mechanical engineer to organize cultural initiatives full-time.
She said while many people in the Bulgarian community vote or work at universities, the Bulgarian community is not very involved in government. Jeliazkova said she was invited to the Statehouse by an aide in Lombardo’s office when the aide stopped by Jeliazkova’s house to present her with the recognitions. Jeliazkova hopes to visit next week, possibility with some other members of the Bulgarian community to make connections and share information.
“I want to tell about our community,” she said. “I want to tell what I do.”
Jeliazkova said she has slowed down due to her illness, though her organization is supportive of upcoming events by other organizations like the Balkan Dance Party Extravaganza. The event is from 7 to 11 p.m. on Nov. 17 at 1326 Washington St. in Newton.
“She is a blessing to the community,” Flashenburg said.
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