Tuesday, April 04, 2006

from russia with love

It is ironic, but my parents find me too Canadian, while my husband finds me too Russian. I guess once an immigrant, always an immigrant. I’m probably always going to have a double identity.

For a period of time it wasn’t really surfacing too much. Life in school and university, and even at work, revolves around a predictable path that hardly leaves time to ponder its meaning.

But once my child was born, all of a sudden my past became important. Surprisingly even to myself (and even more so to my husband, who luckily adapted), I realized that it IS very important to me that my kid knows my language, my culture and the history of where I’m from. Images of me being old, gray and forgetting English floated in my mind. He needs to learn Russian, if only to understand what poor old mommy is mumbling. But more so to know who he is.

You need to know where you come from, to figure out where you’re going.

Being a Russian in North America is unique. Years of Cold War have hardly created a positive perception, even less so an accurate one. I’m constantly amazed by the misinformation on what communist Russia was like.

First of all, I’m stating it for the record: I do not approve the communist ideology or totalitarian regimes in general. But not everything about Russia was bad and ugly. I can’t help remembering certain aspects fondly. For example, Russia had reasonably good medicine. At least I remember that when I was a kid and had a fever, the doctor came to see me. For free. My parent’s didn’t have to take a sick child to a clinic and then wait for hours to be admitted. After freaking out over my kid’s fever, I can truly appreciate that for what it’s worth.

In the time since I’ve left, I have heard the most bizarre misconceptions. From “did you have –insert domestic appliance here, such as TV or a fridge- there?” (Of course not. We had no technology. We sent a man to space on a horse.) To “is it true there is no food in Russia, and you had to line up for hours for stale bread?” Funny, I don’t remember ever having stale bread. In fact, the only bread I do remember, is freshly baked and still warm. The discovery of week-old sliced bread in a plastic bag came only upon my arrival overseas.

See, having a double identity is fun. People open up to you with comments so absurd, you’d never come across them otherwise. And that’s an experience I feel I owe to my kid.

Though, given the multicultural background he is, “double” is a major understatement.


Blogger kerri said...

My city has a very large Russian population. And I love it. I have to admit that I've always been jealous of kids with double the fun when it came to their ethnic backgrounds, and especially of children who were raised in bi-lingual households. I would LOVE to be able to speak two languages fluently. Especially if one was my "native," or "home" tongue. :)

Where in Russia are you from, if I can ask? I have been to both Moscow and Volgograd.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Alexys Fairfield said...

It's wonderful to have a double identity, it may come in handy for being a spy. I have a good friend from England who gets questions from, "Do you know the Beatles" to "Are the roads there cobblestone? Though it sound ridiculous, some people are so far removed from culture. And that's what you have, a rich culture and even richer history that your lovely son will be proud to impart to his children.

2:12 AM  
Blogger Jody said...

My mother is Italian, so I grew up listening to her and my grandmother speak Italian to one another. I learned it, but never retained it.

My mom still speaks it fluently, but she never uses it. When she comes to visit, I encourage her to speak italian to my kids, and she does, but it takes lots of prodding on my part.

Hopefully some of the memories and words will be retained by them.

10:31 AM  
Blogger galina said...

If you think Toronto is bad - try Vancouver - I've NEVER been to a place more provincial and easily amazed by a foreign accent.

2:06 AM  

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