21 years ago, on a cold and snowy winter day, our family landed at the JFK airport in New York city, as immigrants from Belarus, and made this country our home.
Whenever I hear a European accept, it touches the very strings of my heart. Why? It reminds me of my parents and all others like them, who came to this country with the hope of a better life for them and their children.
In 1992, my parents entered this country with 3 children in their arms and 2 hanging on to their coat tails and all of their possessions packed into custom sewn, huge leather bags. They were moving to a land of the unknown, with a different language and culture and leaving behind everything that was familiar. They didn’t know if they would ever see their family again, and in fact, my Mom never saw her father after that last good bye, since he passed away a few years later.
I am always amazed by their bravery. They were so incredibly young, 25 and 30, yet, they were willing to step into the unknown, because they had a dream for a better future. They weren’t looking for an easy road and they were willing to work hard, but it was so pertinent that they at least be given the opportunity to get ahead.
If you are an immigrant like us, you’ll probably recognize pictures such as this one.We would be mesmerized by the large variety of food available and how relatively affordable it was.
At that time, in the former Soviet countries, the shelves in the stores were very sparsely stocked. My parents talk of standing in lines that stretched all the way into the street for hours when a shipment of milk, bread, winter coats, etc. would come in. Sometimes, after standing in line for hours, they would still have to trudge back home empty handed because they ran out of whatever product they were waiting for, right before it was their turn.
We had fancy food only on holidays, such as Christmas, New Years, Easter, birthdays, weddings and other special days. Those were the only times when we would allow ourselves to make Olivie, Shuba, otbivnie (chicken, beef or pork cutlets), fancy cakes and jellos, extravagant yeast breads and other delicacies.
We would excitedly take pictures of our “grocery hauls” and send them to our relatives who were still back in the old country to show them proof of the Promise Land we were blessed to live in. See, that’s where it started, back in the 90s, not on social media and Youtube:)! Grocery hauls were popular back then too.
We started out with nothing when we came here, but my parents are made of hard work and determination. My Dad always said that money DOES grow on trees, you just have to learn how to harvest it. Both of my parents started out working in factories, night shifts, day shifts, evening shifts – they’ve done them all throughout the years. No matter what job they did, they excelled in it and always reached for the top. After a few years, my Dad started his own business and has been a business owner ever since then.
My Mom went to college and got her license to be a Registered Nurse, while raising 6 children, working full time and in college full time, and she even got really good grades too. She is a nurse in the Labor and Delivery unit now, and she is definitely an expert in her field and one of the best nurses on the floor. I’m sure the physicians, nurses, and patients that she works with would confirm that.
My Dad built a beautiful home all by himself from scratch, log by log, board by board, wire by wire. He taught himself how to do everything that needed to be done and did an excellent job. I’m not talking about the “quality” of work that a lot of construction workers do when they raise an entire house in the matter of months. In Russian, we call that “Tyap Lyap i gotovo” translating “tap, splat and ready”. My Dad really takes pride in the quality of his work.
I am so proud of my parents and for their constant “pursuit of happiness”. The most important thing, is that they still kept a solid foundation and always kept their priorities straight. It’s so important to stay grounded, while at the same time not settling with life and always striving for the better. It’s a fine balance, but so worth it. Hard work will make you a better person, if you keep the other values in your life in the right place.
I’ve always really enjoyed learning history and reading all about the days of long ago. I always felt a special, soulful connection to the people who lived in that age, maybe because I am such a old soul:).
These people have always been my heroes. The Pilgrims, Puritans, Quakers, Anabaptists and others, who crossed the ocean in search of religious freedom. Explorers who were driven by a passion to find out more about the unknown lands, rivers, waterfalls, forests and mountains. The families who traveled to the Wild West to settle the land, build homes, farms, ranches, businesses and communities. Many, many immigrants, who came to America, because they wanted a chance to get ahead, to at least have the opportunity to succeed. America was built on people such as these, hungry, hard-working, ambitious families, who were excited to start their life here, even though most of them started with nothing.
Yes, I do feel a connection with the characters who lived during that day and age. We were like the Pilgrims, longing for religious freedom, and a chance to worship God without being persecuted and restricted. We were like the explorers, coming to a new country, learning a new language and assimilating to a unfamiliar culture, while still keeping our identity and holding on to our heritage and values.We were most definitely joining the ranks of other immigrants, who came here in search of the “American Dream” – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is tremendous power in a dream.
During this time of year, because of Thanksgiving and the anniversary of our move to the United States, I reflect on all these things even more than usual, and thought I’d share some of these thoughts with you.
Belarus and the other former Soviet countries have a special place in my heart, and I love my heritage. I love going back to visit, I love the history and I am always interested in staying updated in what is going on in that part of the world. I am Belorussian, and that has made a significant impact on the person I have become.
No country is ever perfect, but I am so thankful to be an American citizen and a part of the most wonderful country in the word. I am grateful to my parents, that they were brave enough to leave everything that they knew behind, and go through so many years of hard work and sacrifice, as they were building a new life for us here.
The immigrant spirit has been rooted deep inside of me from early childhood. It’s a desire to grow and learn, to always take advantage of the opportunities that life presents, stay humble and be thankful for the blessings that I have. I believe that deep inside all of us, God planted a desire to always become better, and I’m so thankful that we can do so in this land of opportunity.