Yesterday was the 37th anniversary of my immigration to America from the former Soviet Union and I forgot all about it. The date isn’t circled or marked on my calendar. Maybe my parents independently raised a shot glass toasting the memory, but I’ve gone years without noting the day. For my parents, it marked the day they started their new life but since 1979, there have been endings and beginnings and the “landing in America” date has long faded from the celebration.
I was five years old when we left Kiev and I will forever be an immigrant in America. (More accurately, a refugee.) Conveniently for me, we landed in New York City, home to more Russian Jews than any other city in the world. An Immigrant in America is not difficult to find and, in fact, being an immigrant is itself something of a characteristic. Fleeing your birth place, never to return because it’s forbidden is a PTSD-level experience, which we pass down through generations. The traumatizing experience allows immigrants to relate to other immigrants, even from a different culture easier than they can with Americans.
I witnessed this play out with my first husband, whose parents immigrated from China. We connected over the plight of the new American life. We bonded over not being able to bond with Americans. We understood each others’ weird foods and cultures and working at the family business. Both of us grew up handling our school forms and doctor’s appointments. Translating wasn’t so much of a talent, as it was a necessity. Both of our red-flagged countries (ironically) instilled in our families the importance of education, strong family values, and solid work ethic. My ex-husband and I were from different religious backgrounds but united on how neither one of us was raised with faith. We were schooled in the religion of family drama. We both grew up in a bubble whose family never engrossed itself into a community because we never connected with one. We connected on being different from everyone else rather than connecting on being similar to each other.
Therein is the miracle of life, any day is an opportunity to start over or fix it. This was my parents grand life lesson to me.
I would like to take this moment to officially express my gratitude. I’m thankful for my parents’ courage to flee what they knew for uncertain hope. The day we landed in JFK was like a rebirth, the butterfly which flapped its wings and set our American Life in motion. The immigrant experience formed the foundation upon which I have shaped my entire life. As I spend the year reflecting, analyzing, and documenting my life, I must remember it’s equally important to celebrate life’s victories. Especially those which have forever shaped how my future family will think of homeland.