Genesis of Contemporary Russian-American
En 102-6: Wasilko
May 12, 2004
In the 1990s the United States of America was marked with an incredible surge of immigration from the territories of former Soviet Union. “Liberated” emigres decided to take a chance, leaving everything they had behind in pursuit of a better life. They brought with them education, numerous skills and talents. Their difficulties, however, including a foreign language, their age and inability to quickly adapt their social attitudes to new values, bogged down their feat to succeed in conquering the “American Dream” (Fox 79). Overcoming aforementioned obstacles, the responsibility of creating own fortunes and great accomplishments is now inherited by the second-generation of immigrants.
Russian immigration has a long history in the United States, dating back to early 1900’s. Successive waves of immigration were triggered by World War I, The Russian Revolution and World War II. During a period of liberalization in the late 1970s and early 1980s, starting with Jackson-Vanik Amendment, Jews were allowed to leave Soviet Union. Even Andropov, the General Secretary of the Communist Party at a time, urged thousands of impoverished Jews to leave USSR (Khazbulatov 7). The regime however refused to allow most educated Jews and for that matter other ethnic groups especially Russian, to emigrate, despite the KGB claim that all individuals wishing to emigrate were free to do so (Khazbulatov 8). Most recently, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and opening of immigration rules, an unprecedented million Russians immigrated to the United States. As evidence, the Russian-speaking population in America surged 254 percent from 1990 to 1998. (Fox 79)
This most recent wave of immigration consisted mainly of Jewish refuges, skilled workers, elite scientists and artists. They came to the United States for a variety of reasons, but mostly to escape unbearable living conditions, constituted by a sudden collapse of the Soviet regime. Yegor Gaidars failure of economic reforms to reincarnate Russia led to rising prices, inflation and further penury of its citizens, leading to the rise of social and political unrest (Khazbulatov 56). Anti-Semitic feelings among general population resonated and boomed as ultra-nationalists blamed the Jews for all of the country’s problems (Fox 80). With scientific research halted and productivity decreasing, technological sector faced financial strain leading to massive layoffs of qualified professionals. Artists also grappled with plunge of art’s value in daily life. Immigration seemed like the only solution for people who could not see themselves struggling from day to day, just barely making a living.
One of the reasons for the immigration for a specific group, especially when faced with intolerable conditions, is to immigrate to where they feel they can have a better life. Anti-Semitism which has a long history in Russia and even continues into modern times was a major factor in decision of Jewish people to leave Russia. Increased vandalism against Jewish synagogues and cemeteries and public statements by political figures blaming Zionism for Russian woes, served as compounded reason for exodus of the Jewish population following the collapse of the Soviet Union (Diversity Res.). People in their attempt to escape outright persecution immigrated even to Germany, with the surge of immigration becoming tremendous at about 50,000 per year. A lot moved to Israel, but for most Jewish families, final destination turned out to be the United States. Searching for a country that could provide an opportunity to work and religious tolerance, the United States of America served as a perfect choice for them. (Fox 80)
Another significant and clearly distinguishable group of immigrants consisted of scientists. Irina Dezhina, a senior researcher at Institute for the Economy in Transition in Moscow described the situation as an “external brain drain” on Russia. Low or nonexistent salaries, constant deterioration of scientific equipment, absence of opportunity for a career growth, decreasing prestige of scientific careers and numerous other reasons led to the situation in which brilliant and elite scientist would leave Russia with their entire families at first opportunity. A typical immigrant abroad was a man 31-45 years old, who had a Ph.D. and was engaged in theoretical research, often with a large number of publications (Dezhina). According to numerous surveys, physicists and mathematicians dominated in terms of scientific disciplines, with more than 50% of the total number of emigrants. They were followed by biologists at approximately 30% and chemists. The predominant share of emigrants came from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Novosibirsk — the major Russian scientific centers. Along with highly skilled workers, artist and other talented professionals this outflow of about 20,000 per year, represented the top intellectual class of Russian citizens, the so called “brain drain” (Dezhina).
Nearly 90% of Russian immigrants settled in and around major urban centers, with large concentrations in New York City and the surrounding Tri-State area, as well as Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami, Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle (Fox 87). For these newcomers life was not easy initially, especially for those who didn’t have friends or relatives in the United States. Facing language difficulties, financial problems and indifference of fellow immigrants, their everyday life was plagued by constant concern. Living in extremely poor conditions, working in the menial labor market, assimilation into the cultural and legal framework of their host country, for most part was a dismal failure. Although highly educated with approximately 16 years of formal schooling (about 4 years longer than fellow European immigrant), and despite earning about $3,000 to $4,000 per year more then other immigrant groups, they failed to realize their dream on a grand scale, settling for less (Diversity Res.). Only about 20 percent of scientists were able to become involved in teaching at universities, or further work on pure research and development at high tech companies (Dezhina), such as Nikolay Bobrushkin, an accomplished math professor at WPI. Certain few of first generation immigrants, however, were able to achieve the status of being well-off and famous. Their position in American society is quite documented and was noted by the “Washington Profile” agency; such as Pavel Bure (hockey player), Mikhail Barishnikov (dancer), Alexey Abrikosov a Nobel Prize-winning physicist to name a few (Sitebits). Still, majority of immigrants live in obscurity.
Currently, as Ruslan Khasbulatov stated, “Russo-Americans are well educated, ambitious professionals who lead active lifestyles, and contribute to their communities”(Khazbulatov 10); with over 50% of this group having an average household income of over $55,000. Statistics shows that approximately 64% of the Russian-speakers are married and have an average of 1.6 kids with most of these kids being brought alongside their parents during immigration at an early age (Fox 78). The majority of youth came to the United States after being schooled in one of the best public education systems in the world (StudyRussian.com). Their highly educated parents strongly believed in necessity of broad education. Through parental encouragement, the passion for learning in their children, is starting to pay off. Although still indistinguishable, certain stereotype is becoming evident: such as Sergey Brin, an innovator, researcher and entrepreneur, co-founded of a leading online search engine – Google, Inc. A Moscow’s native, he was brought in the United States at early age by his family in the early 1990’s. His father was a math teacher and his mother a physicist, both of whom escaped Anti-Semitism and found a better place to continue their teaching and scientific careers (Tanner). Yakov Kronrod, last year’s Worcester city council candidate and a recently graduated from WPI, immigrated to the United States with his mother in mid 90’s and right away picked up on a new language and culture. He is only 23 but his ambitions are already very solid (Chris Kanarakus 6). Dasha Cherepennikova is a top of her class student at Wachusett Regional High School with substantial plans for the future, immigrated at very early age with her mother, a genetic scientist. Grigory Grinshtayn is an ambitious political science student at Clark University with immense goals and abilities. His family found refuge in the United States escaping Anti-Semitism in Ukraine in 1993. The examples above, all of relatively young immigrants, show a great deal of motivation and promise to do well in life. Their young age at which most of them immigrated, made them flexible enough to quickly master the communication and cultural skills needed to effectively progress themselves into a future success story. It also becomes apparent that their drive to success and passion for knowledge is carefully fostered in them by their parents.
It is evident that after the assimilation first generation immigrants from Russia, did not contribute anything of significance to America. Their progress was hindered by inherent inability to quickly adjust to a new society. Due to numerous barriers, most of these newcomers did not have a chance to engage in activities that they were interesting to them, giving up their hopes of ever reaching them. Through their failure, however, first generation immigrants have fostered and developed opportunities for the successful assimilation of their children into the American culture. Their desire to educate, nourish and broadly develop their children will serve as the key factor in determining the success of the next generation of Russo-Americans. It is now up to young immigrants, who are more adapted to American culture and language, to realize themselves to the full extent, further establishing and perfecting a permanent mark in the history of the United States of America.
Fox, Susan. “Loss and the Emigration Experience of Jews from the USSR.” Mental Health Workshops 2003: 79-90
Kanaracus, Chris. “The Unusual Suspects.” Worcester Magazine July 31 – Aug. 6, 2003 : 6-9
Tanner, Adam. “Pair Evaded Family Academic Legacy to Found Google.” News.com 2003:http://investor.news.com/Engine?Account=cnet&PageName=NEWSREAD&ID=1034455&Ticker=MSFT&SOURCE=N27650200
“Learning Russian In Moscow at the famous Lomonosov University.” StudyRussian.com 2004: http://studyrussian.com/MGU/russian-education-system.html
“10 Most Influential Russian Americans” Sitebits 2003: http://www.sitebits.com/2003/2003-12-16.html
“Culture-Sensitive Health Care: Russian Jewish Immigrants.” Diversity Resources, Inc. Amherst, MA. 2000: http://www.diversityresources.com/rc04_sample/russian.htm
Khasbulatov, Ruslan. Velikaya Rossiskaya Tragediya (“The Great Russian Tragedy”). Moscow: Too Sims, 1998.
Dezhina, Irina, and Graham, Loren. “Russian Basic Science: Changes Since The Collapse Of The Soviet Union And The Impact Of International Support.” Royal Society London October 22, 2001: http://www.crdf.org/cgi-bin/Conference2001_Papers/GrahamDezhina_paper.htm