(Every year on July 20th, I celebrate the day my mother and I arrived in America. This year the shooting in Aurora, Colorado was so overwhelmingly on my mind that I found it hard to focus on anything else and write about my happy day until now. Please keep the victims in your thoughts.)
In 1977, the year I was born and the year my father and many other Jews left the Soviet Union (my mother and I left in 1978, my grandmother and great-aunt left in 1976), the Soviet propaganda machine began circulating a rumor. It went, roughly: life in America is so terrible that the old people eat cat food.
A lot of things about America remained beyond their comprehension.
A week after my father arrived in New York, he and a friend were walking around Manhattan in pure wonder. They got to midtown and stood in front of Bloomingdale’s watching well-dressed people come in and out. They discussed it amongst themselves that they would obviously have to show evidence that they had money, or proof of income, or some other paperwork to get inside. Surely this store for the wealthy wouldn’t just let them in. They watched and watched but didn’t see people getting stopped. They walked slowly through the doors and found no one gave them a second look.
There’s a feeling in America today that there isn’t equality until any of us can walk into Bloomingdale’s and buy whatever we want. The two men standing there in 1977 weren’t thinking that it was unfair they couldn’t wear the same clothes as the beautiful people around them, they were just grateful for the opportunity to try. They had left a place where that opportunity simply didn’t exist. You were born poor and you would die poor–everyone would. You could gain influence in your life and that might get you small victories–instead of being assigned to practice your profession in Siberia you might get lucky and get sent to a capital city. Perhaps you, your wife, your child, your parents and other relatives could have your own apartment, one you wouldn’t have to share with another family. Those were your wins.
It’s hard for Americans, even the ones who see America’s greatness and love this country for it, to understand the lack of opportunity that my family left. As Communism retreats into the rear-view mirror of history it’s easy to gloss over the everyday ways that Communism is meant to crush the individual and make everyone equal–equally poor, equally scared, equally hopeless.
If you’ve always lived in a country where companies make food specifically for cats then you’ve known an abundance that my family couldn’t even begin to imagine while they waited to be free. They wanted to say and do whatever they wanted, to live freely, to be allowed to earn as much money as they could, to keep their family safe from murderous ideologies and monster rulers. They just wanted the chance. Success isn’t guaranteed to anyone, and they knew this, but only if you come from a land of opportunity do you ever imagine that it’s even possible.
This year marks 34 years that I’ve lived in America. Even in the toughest times, in its darkest days, the times where we all might feel pessimistic about our collective future, we’re all so blessed to be here. On each July 20th I remember exactly how blessed.
Posted by Karol at 04:16 PM
I love stories like this.
[...] American years This lady gets it…and we're becoming what she left in order to have it… 34 glorious, American years [...]
“There’s a feeling in America today that there isn’t equality until any of us can walk into Bloomingdale’s and buy whatever we want.”
No one believes that.
Sorry Matthew but the (almost) half of Americans who pay no federal taxes do indeed think everything at Bloomies should be handed to them, maybe even giftwrapped.
The safety net/hammock provides a lifestyle equivalent to a $50k per year job without any of the bother of going to work. Free housing, free healthcare,foodstamps, school breakfasts and lunches, free cell phones with 300 minutes per month, etc.
Glad you like it here. We’ve been working on it for a few hundred years and most of us think it’s the best around. I’m even gladder that you write about liking it. I’ll look for next year’s post.
A post marvelous for its honesty and simplicity.
I’m reminded of the stories when Soviet leadership imported copies of the film, “The Grapes of Wrath” and showed it to Russian audiences as evidence of how the capitalist system was falling apart.
As the story goes, the effort backfired when audiences left the screenings marveling at how so many Americans had their own trucks.
What a great story. Thank you.
I just had to add to this wonderful story. I took a Russian class, and my instructor also came to America around the same time your family did. She told my class that after many years, she was finally able to bring her elderly mother to the U.S. Her mother never learned any English, but told her daughter she was amazed how strangers would smile at her as she walked down the street. This would never happen in Russia. I thought that was such a charming difference between the freedom and joy to be found in America and the poverty and suppression one finds in a Communist nation.
Thank you for sharing your story!
I have lived all my life in Canada,Sask to be more exact.I have lived the life of a Canadian but had many friends that escaped the life that you talked about.The author didnt make it up.In actual fact,the reality was much worse.Thats why my neighbors came to Canada.
When my son was in university,he took a class in Russian,with a Russian emigre as a professor.One of the students said that the Soviet Union wasnt bad because they had no unemployment to which the professor replied,you are wrong,there was no employment as everyone worked for the govt.
What a wonderfully expressive post! The differences between capitalistic and communistic systems was a basic part of education in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s. With the decline of communism as an viable oppositional economic and social construct, many young adults today don’t have a clue what the actual difference is. We need this kind of a perspective to realize why we are where we are.
I KNEW A SOVIET EMIGRE FROM A LEADING THEATRICAL FAMILY IN A SOVIET REPUBLIC.
AFTER PERESTROIKA SHE WENT BACK.
SHE VISITED THE NATIONAL THEATER WHERE HER PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS HAD BEEN STARS AND WHERE AS A CHILD SHE APPEARED ALONG SIDE HER PARENTS AND DREAMED OF BECOMING A STAR, TOO.
IT WAS THE ONLY DREAM SHE HAD AS A LITTLE GIRL.
THE THEATER WAS DOING AN AWFUL OLD STALE SOCIAL REALIST DRAMA AND THE THEATER WAS EMPTY – (WHILE A COFFEE HOUSE AROUND THE CORNER WAS DOING HAMLET AND HAD A LINE AROUND THE BLOCK).
AFTER THE DREARY PRODUCTION SHE WENT BACKSTAGE WHERE ONE OF THE OLDER ACTORS RECOGNIZED HERE – SHE LOOKED JUST LIKE HER MOTHER.
HE TOOK HER OUT ON TO THE PROSCENIUM. TURNED THE HOUSE LIGHTS OUT. TURNED A SPOT UPON HER.
AND YOU KNOW WHAT SHE THOUGHT?
YOU KNOW WHAT SHE FELT?
STANDING THERE ON THE VERY SPOT WHERE A DECADE OR SO EARLIER SHE HAD DREAMED HER DREAMY DREAMS???
SHE FELT HOW LUCKY TO BE FREE. HOW LUCKY TO BE AN AMERICAN.
SHE HADN’T BEEN ON STAGE HERE. BUT HAD MARRIED. AND HAD CHILDREN. AND LIVED EVERY DAY FREE – AS AN ARTIST. STRUGGLING AT TIMES. BUT FREE.
NO TOTALITARIAN TYRANNY IMPOSED ON HER STATE OR HER CITY OR HER JOB. OR HER BEING.
JUST HER BEING ABLE TO BE HER.
GOD BLESS HER FOR SHARING THIS STORY WITH ME.
GOD BLESS AMERICA.
Thank you for your post and the reminder of what abundance and freedom we have here. I wish more of my fellow native-born citizens saw it this way.
Well, that was nice, but you didn’t feel that. Others felt it for you.
When I was in 6th grade, I was doing a report on Communism. The encyclopedia had a chart explaining what certain terms meant here and what they meant to the USSR. I particularly remember “peaceful coexistence.” To us, it meant just that. To the USSR, it meant a period of time while they gathered their strength and continued to try to export Communism around the world. So, when I was in 6th grade, I learned that Commies lie. And I have never ever ever seen any reason to change my position.
This is why I hate the new city ordinance in Seattle that stores cannot use plastic bags any more and if you want paper, you have to pay a nickel. I used to always read books by newspaper correspondents about what life was like in the USSR and one thing I remember is that no one left home, certainly not women, without a shopping bag, just in case a store actually had something in stock. Anything, really, just something that could be purchased and, if not wanted, traded for something a neighbor had. And now, in the name of being green (bunch of damned watermelons, they are) we all have to carry shopping bags wherever we go, just like good Soviet housewives. The last thing I ever wanted to act like was a Soviet housewife and now this wretched city insists on it.
I have an 80 y.o. friend who espouses the benefits of socialism. He constantly point to Cuba as people living longer than in the US. And I actually think that he thinks communism is OK. He worked as a civil servant all his life.He basically HATES all successful business owners althogh to me is is all envy on his part. As a right winger, I, of course don’t see eye to eye with him.
I will print this out and give it to him.It succinctly says it all.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember how people think abroad. I came from Portugal at 22, 27 years ago. My nephews visited ten years ago. At one point I had to go to the bank (I don’t remember what the bank was at the time — 1st National or something like that.) And they said “oh, right, like you have enough money to bank there.” The discussion turned to WHY you’d have to have an amount of money to bank ANYWHERE. They’d interpreted — or someone had translated — a movie in such a way they thought to bank at that particular bank you had to be a millionaire. It shocked them when I told them they could open a bank account with less than a hundred dollars, even when I explained why it made no sense to restrict it to big accounts. To them, it was obvious there should be a stratification.
Glad you made it here. Glad I made it here, too, now I think about it. May America continue.
Some family friends had a friend who grew up in the Eastern bloc (Rumania, perhaps?) She visited them in the UK not long after the wall came down and travel restrictions were lifted. Quite innocently, they took her shopping in their large, out-of-town supermarket. While she was stunned by the fact that there was a warehouse-sized building packed with every manner of commodity, fresh fruit in winter, not an empty shelf in sight and all of it ludicrously cheap, the thing that reduced her to near speechlessness was that there were two complete aisles given over to pet food. Apparently it was of a quality that would have had it snapped up in her home country, for human consumption.
And we Americans have been blessed to have you. Thank you for this reminder. It was a blast of light in a dark day.
[...] on July 24th, 2012 A shining city on a hill. That’s what America is to a lot of folks. [...]
This was a wonderful post and I will read the others. I was recently in NY for the first time since I was a child.
The awe I felt in my chest to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island again brought me to tears. My husband and I looked at each other and both of us said aloud, “Only in America!”
Many native born Americans think they hit a triple when in fact they were born on third base. It’s good to be reminded of this fact from time to time. Glad you got here as soon as you could.
I grew up on Long Island, one of my high school teachers lived near the big old mansion that the Soviets used for their UN legation’s housing iin one of the old north shore towns. My teacher said the Soviet’s would go shopping in a group – so the wives could keep an eye on each other.
They were fascinated by the bread — by all the types and varieties of bread in the store. My teacher said whenever the Soviet’s came to shop they immediately made a bee line for the bread aisle. You knew the Soviets had been shopping because they would clear out the bread aisle.
[...] grateful to Karol for her post over at AlarmingNews. I’d like to think that I don’t take my freedoms for granted. However, I’m 3rd [...]
[...] moved to market on roads paid for by the government, too), I really appreciate this post by Karoli, 34 glorious, American years: In 1977, the year I was born and the year my father, his mother, his aunt and many other Jews left [...]
As someone whose story mirrors the author’s (I am a few years older and left the USSR 2 months later, on September 13, 1978), I can vouch for the veracity of the sentiment. Couldn’t have said it better myself; more sarcastically, maybe, but not better.
[...] This wonderful post from Karol at AlarmingNews gives us that on a day at least I need it. In its entirety (minus a short into): In 1977, the year I was born and the year my father, his mother, his aunt and many other Jews left [...]
What I find interesting is that your sentiments mirror those I’ve heard from most other immigrants. Sadly, too many actually born in this country fail to appreciate it as much as those who decided to come here. In any event, this country is lucky to have you. Congrats on the first 34 years, and here’s to many, many more.
[...] Is this by Yakov Smirnoff? Probably not. Somebody who calls himself Karol at this website: 34 glorious, American years The proprietor of legalinsurrection is a lawyer and hence a lot less sloppy than I tend to be. Its [...]
[...] via 34 glorious, American years. [...]
[...] This wonderful post from Karol at AlarmingNews gives us that on a day at least I need it. In its entirety (minus a short into): In 1977, the year I was born and the year my father, his mother, his aunt and many other Jews [...]
[...] found this excerpt of a letter posted at Questions and Observations. It was written by Karol at the AlarmingNews blog. In 1977, the year I was born and the year my father, his mother, his aunt and many other Jews [...]
wow, the return of a blogging audience! actual people, not tweeting angry birds! 55 comments. yay.
thank you for this birthday present, Karol, as you do for so many yrs
I found this delightful post through a link at QandO. Sometimes it helps to see things from a different perspective!
(Now I’ll have to go back and read the previous posts!)
Thank you, Karol.
[...] Sheinin immigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union 34 years ago today: It’s hard for Americans, even the ones who see America’s greatness and love this country for [...]
I’d like to repost this, but don’t know how. So well stated!
[...] 34 Glorious Years in America: A Celebration! It’s hard for Americans, even the ones who see America’s greatness and love this country for it, to understand the lack of opportunity that my family left. As Communism retreats into the rear-view mirror of history it’s easy to gloss over the everyday ways that Communism is meant to crush the individual and make everyone equal–equally poor, equally scared, equally hopeless. [...]
[...] The first third or so of a post at AlarmingNews.com: 34 glorious, American years [...]
The Soviets weren’t wrong on that cat food thing, just early.
[...] If Canada’s economy is the envy of Europe, why the hell do the liberals and leftists want to emulate European economic policies? Related: What Obama doesn’t want you to know about Canada. Do you mean fiscal responsibility can actually be good for the economy? Shocking. Related: America is kind of awesome. [...]
[...] 2012 – 11:32 am – by Stephen Green Tweet Karol Markowicz celebrates her 34th year in America and writes: In 1977, the year I was born and the year my father, his mother, his aunt and many [...]
[...] Karol Sheinin, “34 glorious, American years.” Read the whole thing.™ Filed under: Democracy In America, The Gulag Archipelago, The Substance of [...]
[...] leaders had such a skewed vision of America brings to mind blogger Karol Sheinin’s recent brilliant observation: In 1977, the year I was born and the year my father, his mother, his aunt and many other Jews left [...]
[...] ahem, the worker’s paradise to go to that awful America where there was racism, homelessness, old people eating cat food! Friends dropped you, family who was staying behind feared you. Association with you could mark [...]