January 5 marks my 25th year living in America! When I came here I was just a scared 23 year old girl; that means that I have lived here longer than I lived in the USSR.
On this major anniversary for ours, I want to go back and remember 25 major events that happened to us here in my America!
We came here as Jewish refugees from USSR, we got sponsored by my brother ( I’m forever thankful to him) and the Jewish community of Michigan .
So here it goes:
1.Back in the Soviet Union we celebrated the 1991 New Year. It was a great party full of laughs, tears and emotions. We knew that in the few days we would be forever leaving our homeland and our friends. Pan Am tickets were bought for January 5th from Moscow to New York . We were leaving our hometown to get to Moscow on January 2nd. As we were walking out of our empty apartment to catch the train, we received a phone call from HIAS telling us that our tickets were changed from the 5th to the 4th . Can you imagine if we would have missed this phone call…….
2. Arrived at JFK at 2:00 in the morning January 5th 1991. After going through the immigration process, we mistakenly were sent to Syracuse NY instead of Detroit MI. I don’t know how, but we were able to explain to our officer that we were going to Detroit. He genuinely felt sorry for us and asked us a few times if we were sure we wanted to be sent there.
We were greeted by our cousins, who lived in NY for 2 years already and in our minds were experts in American living and were fluent in English. They brought us food and I had never tested anything so delicious, but most importantly they brought us diapers for our 13 month old baby and life already was so much better in America!
3. Move forward few months/years, we are both working and learning English by watching Price is Right and old American movies. The first few years were one of the most carefree years here. They were also years when we made friends for life. All the people we are friends with today were people we met in the beginning of our immigration process. They were just like us- they came here from different parts of the USSR and just like us were trying to make the best of their life. It was our tradition back then to meet every Saturday for pizza (no one cared about gaining the weight) and a movie on VHS ( remember those) . We were still clueless, but so happy to be able to afford little things, like getting tickets to see the last tour concert of Pink Floyd. It was the first time I smelled pot . Life was so much better in America.
4. Few years later – heartbreak! My dad suddenly passes away. My biggest regret is for him not being able to live life here, to travel a little, to see his grand-kids grow up here and be proud of all of us.
5. We bought our first house and I got a washing machine! ( I will not mention how I put the regular dish-washing liquid inside the machine and flooded the whole first floor ).
Funny thing, our little baby is entering elementary school now and we were afraid that he will have problems with English since we all spoke Russian with him. After only 2 weeks in school he started correcting our English . (By the way he still does it) .
6. We are Americans! We finally got our citizenship! It was one of the best moments here! It does not matter if we speak broken English, and don’t understand American football -we are Americans!
One thing I have to mention, when we were passing our citizenship exam I saw a sign on the wall saying something like this . “If you live in the United States for 40 years and don’t speak any English, you are allowed to bring an interpreter to your citizenship exam”. I was appalled then and I’m appalled now.
7. Our first vacation- finally !!!! Nothing can get more American then a cruise and a visit to a Disney World. We took a 3 day cruise to the Bahamas. In my mind I was visiting a location of the Brook Shields movie “Blue Lagoon” .
You know the feeling when you are experiencing something amazing for the first time – this was our very first trip to the happiest place on Earth- Disney World! It was overwhelming and not just for our 6 year old- it was an unforgettable day for us.
8. Visiting Las Vegas for the first time! How American is that!
9. My hubby got a job with GM – truly American Company! We were now a part of something so big.
10. The child kept asking for a baby brother, if not a baby, then at least a dog! We settled on the baby brother, who changed our life forever. ( on one of the sleepless nights for the whole family the older brother said to us that he would have been fine with a dog) .
My experience of giving birth first in Soviet Union and then in America deserves a different post, but I want to mention one thing – drugs!!!! Life is so much better in America!
11. I met President Clinton! WoW! My work allowed me to travel, so on one of the business trips I met him and shook his hand. When I told him it is a pleasure to meet him, he replied – it’s my pleasure to serve you. The first thing I did after meeting him was to call my mom! She said to me that it’s just like meeting Brezhnev ( I disagree- meeting Clinton is so much cooler)
12. September 11. Like every American I would never forget where I was and what I was doing that moment. After losing my father, it was the darkest day of my life. I was lucky to be able to visit the Twin Towers a few years earlier .
13. Visiting Paris for the first time! I have to give credit to my hubby, who kept this trip a secret to the very last minute! It was my 35th birthday and so far it was the best one ever!
14. Watching Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane on Broadway . The Producers was one of the funniest movies I have ever watched and now I got to see the show live.
15. Flying over the Grand Canyon – what a breathtaking sight!
16. Going deep, deep down in the Mexican submarine was a pretty scary experience but it was definitely worth seeing untouched marine habitat and sharing this experience with my oldest child.
17. Finally visiting our country’s capital! Touring Washington DC at night was the highlight of the whole trip. The lighting on all the monuments left us overwhelmed ! Seeing thousands of the people being sworn in as Americans by Janet Napolitano was nothing short of amazing. It really made me proud to be an American .
18. Exploring Alaska! I have never seen such majestic and raw beauty ! Flying over and landing on the glaciers – wow! Riding the Gold Rush train over to Klondike, digging for gold, watching whales confronting black bears, flying over fiords and glazers , seeing Russia from our window – just kidding, but this the closest I’ve been to Russia since our move. We even bought few chachkies like Matreshki.
19. Falling in love with San Francisco! There are many beautiful cities in USA, but San Francisco has my heart.
20. Finally realizing there is no place like home. Michigan is Beautiful! I have to confess. Every time I had to travel for work I would come home disappointed that I don’t live somewhere else- it took me years to finally see the beauty of my own state. What makes it beautiful is not just the lakes and the waterfalls and the hiking routes and not just the upper and the lower peninsulas but the people. During my 25 years living here I’ve met the most generous, genuine and kindest people. I still hate the weather though.
21. Having both of my sons becoming Bar Mitzvah was really a tribute to my ancestors . Growing up in the Soviet Union meant that no one believed in God and everyone believed in Communism . Being able to be free and have our sons becoming men according to Jewish tradition was a great celebration.
22. My oldest graduating college and getting his first job ( wait, what? Am I that old?)
23. Visiting Israel and seeing my cousins for the first time in 25 years ( some of them left before us) . One of the greatest experiences in my life is learning about the beautiful country of my people and to be proud to be a member of the tribe.
24. During this time I saw my friends become engineers, doctors, accountants, lawyer, business owners, I saw my kids and their kids grow up to be free, to chose any path they wish. I saw my mom and my parents in law aging with dignity.
25. I LOVE THIS COUNTRY – the good, the bad and the ugly. This was the best move we have ever made in our lives. Let’s see what the next 25 years will bring!