There are about 45 million American-born children of immigrants living in the United States today. I am proud to say I am one of them. Both of my parents were born in the former Soviet Union and immigrated to the U.S. in search of the most basic freedoms of religion, speech and press.
My parents’ story is unlike any other. Together, they truly achieved the American Dream — starting out living in poverty, to eventually becoming some of the most successful people I have ever come across.
My parents raised my brother and I in a traditional Russian-American household. We spoke the language fluently around the house, indoctrinated Russian culture and values and incorporated Russian foods in our palettes.
Growing up, I always knew I was a bit different from my peers at school. Yes, we were very similar in the way we talked, acted, and engaged on a daily basis. However, what they never saw — and what I always couldn’t help but notice — is that we were also incredibly different.
I am technically an American, but that label doesn’t quite seem to fit. To this day, I feel stuck in the middle of two worlds that no one seems to understand, unless they’re in it.
The way I grew up was very different than my friends, but eventually my close circle became accustomed to my family’s “uniqueness.”
It was a constant to come home to my elderly grandmother cooking in the kitchen for the entire family. For meals, if you didn’t finish the food, it was considered incredibly rude to her or anyone who prepared the meal. As a result, I learned the act of truly stuffing everything down. But I never cared. Home-cooked meals seemed like a god-send, and no restaurant could ever compare to my grandmother’s incredible dishes.
My friends always found it odd that I had to text or call my parents notifying them of my whereabouts every 30 minutes. My entire family lives in a 15 to 30 mile radius from each other.
Slippers are worn in the house all the time. Everyone was trained to squirm and halt the perpetrator from advancing further in our home if shoes leave the front doorway.
All of my family members are incredibly superstitious, with funny sayings like “you can never whistle inside or you lose all your money,” or “knock on wood so you don’t jinx yourself,” and even the classic “never celebrate a birthday ahead of time or it will bring you bad luck.”
I still yell at my friends when they whistle indoors, because it makes me extremely uncomfortable.
Sleepovers never existed because my parents did not understand the point to them. Why couldn’t I just sleep in my own bed?
It was when I came to Lehigh that I realized how much of a culture shock I am to others. Without ever truly having a sleepover, I was incredibly nervous to have a roommate. I never went to camp like all the other kids in my neighborhood did, so being away from home was another challenge. My college friends never understand why I call my parents at least twice a day every single day, and why all hell would break loose if I don’t. But until people began to point it out to me, I never realized that what I was doing was different. For me, it is my normal.
Maybe I will never be completely similar to my friends and peers, but I think that’s the fun of it. I love being around people who are not completely like me or else life would truly be boring. I know there is one thing for sure, I will never get tired of people asking me to say something in Russian when they learn that I speak the language. The reactions I receive in response is nothing short of chuckling entertainment.