by Kriti Khari
The exodus of Russians to the United States started in the 1880’s. During this exodus the majority of the people who moved to the United States were mostly Jewish. Those Jews who lived in Germany and Russia were degraded in status. In Russia, they were treated as the “other” and were in many cases stripped of their basic rights. They left Russia as settlers and not as sojourners. Settlers are those who cannot return to their home country again or do not wish to return and sojourners are those who leave their countries with an intention to return home. Zhanna Pernik was born on September 15, 1958 in Ukraine, Soviet Union. Zhanna is a Jewish settler who moved to the United States because of the humiliation she faced in Ukraine ever since she was a child. Even though Zhanna was not a part of the Russian migration in the 1880’s, she did have family that moved to the United States before her in the early 1990’s. While she was in Ukraine she lost her brother so her widowed sister-in-law moved to the U.S. with her kids. Her sister-in-law had to go through a lot of difficulties, especially because she was a widow staying in a European country. She had to go through Austria and Italy before she was allowed to enter the United States. Zhanna believes that her sister-in law’s immigration was very painful compared to hers since she at least had her family that backed her up throughout the process of immigration. Had it not been for them she would also have had difficulty.
The first generation of immigrants, usually engage in “transnational” activities. However, those who come to the U.S as refugees or asylees are barred to go back to their home countries as a result of which some groups that came in the 1990’s like Iranians, Iraqis and those coming from former Russia were banned from going back to their home countries if they wanted to live in the U.S permanently. Since Zhanna arrived to the US in 1996 as a refugee she was not allowed to go back to her home country but she never wanted to go back either. She is still in contact with her family members and friends living in different parts of the world. Zhanna is now a citizen of the U.S so she can go back to Russia if she ever wanted to but she believes that the United States has given her everything that she needs so she would never go back to Russia unless it was an absolute emergency. She feels that she has Americanized in many ways including the way she cooks. She tries to add different types of spices to Russian foods since it is available to her. She says that the food she cooks is very much influenced by the abundance of goods that are available in America and she does not have a problem with that. She feels that she is better educated after she came to the United States, her English has improved and that has allowed her to become a better teacher and a better communicator. She says that America has taught her about acceptance and that she loves the country very much.
Notes from the author: I have written this story as part of a project assigned at Mills College in my Sociology class which is Sociology of US Immigration. I come from a SouthEast Asian family and I believe that this project and this class has provided me with the opportunity to find out more about what immigrants go through when they first come to the United States and even after they are here. This was a valuable learning experience for me and I am grateful for it.
Place of Origin
Place of Settlement