A great immigrant story Posted by: McQ
on Saturday, July 21, 2007
Somtimes with all the vitriol that flys around about America and its place in the world, there are times when a sanity check is more than called for - enjoy the story:
All Russian female names end in "A". My grandmother was Sarra, her sister Raya. My other grandma was Antonina. My mom is Nina. Her sister is Gyala. So, when people meet me and learn I was born in the Soviet Union they ask "so what is your Russian name?" When I tell them that Karol is my name, in Russian, in English, in whatever language they choose, they are confused.
I tell them the story: My father got permission to leave Russia when my mother was pregnant with me. His mother and aunt were already in America and he had to go, it was the only hope for us all to leave.
Leaving the Soviet Union was unlike leaving most places. You were stripped of your citizenship and told you can never return. You were an enemy, even your friends might shun you. I think that was fine with my father, he was American before he ever set foot here. He was a freedom-loving Capitalist who loved rock&roll, wanted to see the world, practice medicine and raise his family. He wanted me to have an American name, so that when I reached this great country, no one would think of me as different. I would be American, by virtue of my name, almost immediately. He sent my mother a list of American names and she chose Karol. A Russian person may pronounce is Kyeh-ral. Of course, they couldn't know that spelling it with a "K" would mark me as different, but in a good way, I think. It lets me never forget where I was born, that while I'm American, and so blessed to be here, I could've just as easily ended up spending my life in the place my father refers to as "prison" with a name like Masha, Inna, Katya or some variation thereof. It reminds me that I am lucky.
Today is 29 years that I'm in America. Tonight I'll raise a glass with my father and brother (my mother, funny enough, left for Russia yesterday to visit her sister) and I'll be thankful that I got to live my life here. I'll request we go to Tatiana's on the Brighton Beach boardwalk in Brooklyn (the restaurant I wrote about here), so we can be among all the other lucky people who, almost entirely by chance, got to live their lives in this amazing country.
If you've ever lived for a while outside this country (and I'm not talking about a few weeks) you may have difficulty realizing how, relatively speaking, wonderful a place this really is. Even with its problems and politics you'll find few who would choose to live anywhere else and many, such as Karol's father, who dream of living here.
As a first generation immigrant, I must agree with the author. That is why I never understood the "Hate America" crowd. What’s country in the world can a poor refugeed boy, who arrived with nothing but the shirt on his back, became member of the top income quintile. "The American Dream" is a misnomer. It is not a dream; it is a reality.
And if you ever HAVE lived outside of the States for any significant amount of time, you will remember pining for a return to a place where you can say what you believe without fear of even minor punishments, and where people are allowed to congregate together in spite of differences of race or class.