R is for Russian Girl
Russian-American, Russian, First generation Russian girl? What was I? I was born in New York City of parents who were born in Russia, pre-Revolution. The definition of first generation is a child born of immigrant parents, here in this country. My mother came to this country in her teens, my father came later after a perilous journey leaving Moscow during the Russian Revolution of 1917, living in Paris for a few years as many "White Russians" did, and then on to New York. He and my mother met there, married, had two daughters and later came to Colorado. His story is very fascinating, but unfortunately, as many emigres, he did not share very much of his past, preferring to start anew here in the United States.
My first language was Russian. Although my parents spoke English, they spoke only Russian to me, as they correctly anticipated that once I started school I would quickly learn, and switch to, English. This was my opportunity to learn Russian. And learn the language I did. My parents spoke the beautiful pre-revolutionary Russian, which after the Revolution, changed. The alphabet was shortened and many "bourgeois" words, were removed. And. . .yes, once I started school and learned English, I refused to speak Russian. I did not want to be different; when I was seven we moved to the Midwest and there were no Russians at my school or in our neighborhood. I wanted to fit in and my family was different. My mother had an accent; she worked--unheard of in my neighborhood. And on Russian Easter, a priest blessed our home, walking around outside in his long robes, swinging the incense container and chanting prayers. I prayed that no one would see him.
What have I learned? First, my one regret is that I did not keep up the Russian language, I lost it. Yes, I still understand a little and I can say a few words and when I hear Russian spoken in a store here or in a public gathering place, I lean in to hear more, and tears come to my eyes.
Our parents died when my sister was 20 and I was 27, so they never knew how much we appreciated them and all they went through and now we treasure our heritage.
If you know another language, share it with your children. It is a tremendous asset. It's hard to keep a bilingual home, but you can make it a game, make it your secret language to be used and practiced just with the family. Of course, having a grandmother in the home who does not speak English helps, but my parents spoke excellent English, and they finally gave up.
The next two blogs will continue the Russian theme, "S" for snow, a story about my mother, and "T" for travel. I'll share some travel pictures of Russia.
Thank you for reading this very personal blog. Read Tina's blog (www.kndlifeisgood.blogspot.com) about learning Swedish, and see what a happy experience knowing another language can be.