I came to America in 1979. That I am an immigrant is common knowledge among friends, acquaintances, and anyone who’s sat on my schmata-covered couch (it’s not plastic, OK?). But many people do not realize that I am also a refugee.
My family fled the Soviet Union about 37 years ago so that we could buy quality toilet paper at Walgreens. That, and something about an oppressive regime. I’m too young to remember growing up under authoritarianism (though I’m getting a bit of a real-life lesson now), but my mom tells me that life pretty much sucked.
I think nothing of my neighbor overhearing Britney Spears blaring from my apartment, but when my mom was young, her family used to listen to BBC Radio at home at barely audible levels. They did this in spite and because of the fear that neighbors might discover and report the illegal act, ensuring shipment to a camp (not the summer kind), or worse.
Like most Russians, my mom wasn’t allowed to say anything she wanted, live anywhere she wanted, or work anywhere she wanted. But hey, at least she could vote. The choice was always Candidate A or Not Candidate A. Not Candidate A consistently lost by a landslide.
There were also economic problems. You know, Jews. Many Russians understood the obvious: Money-hungry, cheap Jews were manipulating the ruble. Actually, you could trace pretty much everything wrong with the country back to the Jews. Forced to queue for toilet paper, bread, or whatever surprise staple awaited you (if there was a line, you got on it)? Blame a Jew. Lost a job? Blame a Jew. Stuck in traffic? Blame a Jew. Bad hair day? That’s on you, but take it out on Ilya Cohenbergman anyway because you know he’s doing something to ruin your life. Continue reading