The Immigrant Spirit

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This little figure made me think of my parents, so it stands on my bookshelf today.

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.

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Our family, right before we left Minsk, Belarus and moved to America.

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.

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My first “grocery haul”:)

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 were amazed that we could make special occasion meals on a daily basis in America, because  the ingredients were so easily available. Collage

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.

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Our family, shortly after moving to America, in our first apartment. (My grandfather was visiting us at the time.)

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.

Immigrant Spirit-1-11 2 My parents had a dream to own a large piece of land. After living for 2 years in America, they bought 100 acres of beautiful countryside, which we love and enjoy to this day.

Sergi and I, hiking through the woods on my parents' property.

Sergi and I, hiking through the woods on my parents’ property.

My favorite place in the world.

My favorite place in the world.

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.

The dining room at my parents' home. It's such a sunny, cozy place for many family gatherings.

The dining room at my parents’ home. It’s such a sunny, cozy place for many family gatherings.

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:).

I love to read, especially anything historical. This is a shot of me, right before I went to work. If you'll notice, there is a set of Little House on the Prairie books. They have always been one of my favorites.

I love to read, especially anything historical. This is a shot of me, right before I went to work. If you’ll notice, there is a set of Little House on the Prairie books. They have always been one of my favorites.

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.

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My sister and I loved our dolls. We didn’t care that they came from garage sales.

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.

Last Christmas at my parents' house.

Last Christmas at my parents’ house.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Gulyana says

    Great story, Olga! I enjoyed reading it and admire your parents courage and hard work. Today is the 22nd anniversary of my husband’s family’s arrival to the US, and we are reflecting on those memories too. I myself arrived much later but can relate to some of your words too, especially cherishing your own heritage, but appreciating the comforts and safety of our newly found home. Keep up the good work and God bless your family!

  2. Irina says

    This was a great story Olga…..I can relate to this story because my Family came from the Ukraine in 1949 to Canada. They also went through hardships and let me tell you I heard those stories about NO food and long line-ups.
    They all worked very hard….and made it quite good…a lot better then some people here that have lived here for generations.
    I also have Family still living in Belarus….I’ve never been to the Ukraine but maybe I will one day….I do go to Istanbul quite often…..which my husband’s family is from….and it is very close but always run out of time.
    I love your blog and recipes….

    • says

      I hope you do get to visit Ukraine and Belarus someday, Irina.
      I think it’s so amazing the things that our parents and ancestors had to go through.

  3. Cy says

    Very touching, Olga!
    I left my country by myself 4 years ago and have been the only person in my family living in the US since then. I understand the dream, the urge for something better, and the desire to grab opportunities when they happen to you. A dream is indeed something very powerful! Like you said, the US is not perfect, but it does have its appealing side, especially the fact that opportunities to succeed in life are more available than in most countries. Thank you for sharing your story! You are a very sweet person! I hope you keep speeding the love and these inspiring stories and food! :-)

    • says

      Wow. That must have been especially challenging, coming to a new country all by yourself.
      I think America is a wonderful country, although, of course, it’s not perfect.

  4. Barbara says

    Olga,
    What a great story! My husband and I were a part of the church that welcomed so many from Belarus. One part of a story (from our side) includes the excitement of the first arrivals. The phone wires would buzz when word came that a plane was coming into Utica. We would pile our family into the car (the youngest sometimes in their pajamas!) and go to the airport. We would sing and rejoice iwith the new arrivals. Our church had a bus that would take the families that had arrived to their new homes. We didn’t have a shared language, we had God’s love between us. There was a lot of smiling and pointing in dictionaries. We knew we were living in a miraculous time in history.
    Our American family was shaped by the courage of each family who did brave the journey you so beautifully describe.
    Thanks you for sharing.

    • says

      That’s incredible, Barbara!
      I don’t know you personally, but want to thank you from all us immigrants for playing such a huge role in making us feel welcome and at home. You and others like you are so generous. You made the transition so much easier.

  5. veta says

    Yeaa!! I’ll be the first one to say thank you for sharing with us your beautiful story. Olya, your mom is gorgeous gorgeous woman. We live in America only 10 years and through all these years we always saw God’s blessings and He gave us more than we expected :) May God bless your beautiful family Olya!!!! :)

    • says

      Thank you, Veta.
      God certainly has blessed us all so much. I am so thankful that we were able to come to America and enjoy the opportunities that are available here.

  6. says

    Great story olga! I can really relate….We came to US dec.19 1990. My parents had 2 (9 month old) twins and plus 8 of us.Me being the oldest was only 81/2. It was not easy for sure,but with Gods help they made it. Beatiful family.God bless !!!

  7. says

    Thank you for sharing such journey! I am also from Belarus and we came right on Thanksgiving in 1999 so on Thanksgiving day each year, we also celebrate our arrival to US. Which city you lived in in Belarus?

    • says

      We lived in Minsk, Belarus. I agree that Thanksgiving always makes me more thankful for this country and our journey here, just because we came here so soon after this holiday.

  8. Marina says

    Great story, Olga. We came from Azerbaijan too in 1993. The first place we went was the mall. We could not believe all of the stores and things they sell. :)

  9. Olya Shem says

    Olga, I have tears in my eyes from reading this post. We immigrated to America on November 24th 1995 on Thanksgiving Thursday. Every year at Thanksgiving we reflect on our time here and the blessings that God has poured out on our family as well. Thank you for sharing this personal post. Your parents house and property looks like a dream come true. Praise God!

    • says

      Thanks for taking the time to write, Olya.
      Yes, my parents’ home and property are wonderful. Our whole family really enjoys to visit our home. It was an amazing place to grow up.

  10. Olya Shem says

    Olga, I have tears in my eyes from reading this post. We immigrated from Ukraine to America on November 24th, 1995 on Thanksgiving Thursday. Every year at Thanksgiving we reflect on our time here and the blessings that God has poured out on our family as well. Thank you for sharing this personal post. Your parents house and property looks like a dream come true. Praise God!

  11. Lena says

    Olechka, thank for sharing. We too came to the US in 1992, our parents 41 at that time, with 5 children aged 18 (me) to 8, and not much more than the giant custom made bags filled with goose down pillows and our few possessions in this world. They too, worked their hardest at everything they could, and my Mom also graduated from college with honors. Yes, how we delighted in the bountiful shopping trips, and all the ice cream our freezer could fill! Your parents were younger, and so brave, but I also think about how it was for my parents, who in their early 40s left everything familiar and plunged themselves into a new world, full of opportunity, especially so for us, their children. I am thankful to God for His good hand, guiding my parents through all the challenges and blessing us all in so many different ways.
    Have a wonderful Christmas with your dear family!
    P.S. I really loved the pictures!

    • says

      Thank you so much for sharing your story too. I’m glad you enjoyed the pictures and our story too.
      We brought those pillows too:). Isn’t that funny? Our relatives that were here already told us to bring them, as though there aren’t any pillows in America, ha ha.
      Our parents are so brave and selfless. I just love them!
      God has been so good to us here and in Belarus too.

  12. Irina says

    Beautiful story Olya! I really enjoyed reading it and reflecting on our comparisons since I am from Ukraine. You are such an inspiration to be. May God bless you even more.

    P.S. You are excellent writer- you should have majored in English and teach English/literature/writing.

  13. iiarn2005 says

    You are awesome! Not only do I love your amazing recipes, you have the most heartfelt, amazing and nastalgic stories. This is also a very pleasant coincidence for me because just two weeks earlier I spoke of Slavic immigrants in my speech class. I feel like the generation of immigrants 20+ years ago which included me as well, is slowly fading away and there is no one to archive those memories. I also feel like there isn’t enough appreciation and respect from the newer generations to even have an interest in our history of immigration therefore, I felt a need to create a little archive of memories for my family and am so excited to find out that I’m not the only 27 year old with an old soul. God bless you, Olga!

    • says

      Hi fellow 27 year old “old soul”:)!
      I agree with you that it’s important to appreciate history and always cherish and remember our roots. That’s so awesome that you spoke of this subject in speech class!
      Thanks so much for taking the time to write and for your kind words. I have enjoyed writing since I was a little girl.
      As a new immigrant, who didn’t know any English when we arrived to America, I didn’t like school for a few years. I remember the first time that I actually looked forward to class was when the teacher had us write a story and illustrate it. It was a project we worked on for a few weeks and I liked it so much, I started to actually look forward to class, instead of dreading it. Ever since then, writing has always been a passion of mine.

  14. Ala says

    Thank you for sharing your story! We moved to tne USA 3 years ago,and all the memories are fresh in my mind. Your story about your mom who graduated from college with 6 kids it’s amazing. i also want to go to college, but I don’t know how I can do it with 3 kids…Your story ispired me. Thak you so much! May God bless you! P.S! Keep posting something more than food and recipes! You are really good writer and your stories always touching me.(sorry for my bad English)

    • says

      Absolutely, Ala! You can do it. With hard work, dedication, support from family and lots of prayers, a lot can be achieved. Go for it!
      Thanks for such a sweet comment. And your English is great!

  15. Lena M says

    Read your story and had all these thoughts and memories in my head and then read all the comments and found out I’m not the only one.
    Thank you so much for sharing. I just hope that I will pass that history on to our kids the best I can to make sure they are grateful for everything we have here… I realized that so much is taken for granted even by me now its sad…
    thank you

  16. Olga St.P says

    Your story and mine are almost identical :) Came to US via JFK in November 1992 from St. Petersburg, with the whole family: me at 15, my sister at 4, mom, dad and 2 grandmothers, all possessions in handsewn bauls, 2 per person. I remember like yesterday the 1st trips to the grocery store, wondering around, amazed at everything. All of us starting out with cleaning, babysitting jobs, dad being a busboy at a local pizza shop, strange schools, language barrier, no friends. I have deep roots, which I love, respect and cherish. Fast forward 21 years later, there is no where else I rather be than a citizen of USA!

  17. Yelena says

    great story! we came to the US dec 16th ’92 from Pinsk Belarous with my parents an the 5 of us since my dad didn’t want to leave with my moms family in ’89.your parents are amazing! it shows that with hard work and God’s grace we can accomplish anything, i always try to explain to my american mother in law that with hard work and God anything is possible(she always pity’s the poor,homeless etc but i always say if an immigrant can come to america and be succesfull why can’t an american who has lived here their entire lives?) the pics are just the perfect for this story!

    • says

      I absolutely agree with you 100%, Yelena! I’m so proud of my parents and others like them who worked hard to get ahead. The wonderful thing about this country is that there are so many available opportunities, as long as people are willing to work hard.

  18. Joe Van Duerm says

    Olga,
    My wife follows your blog and I must say that in my eyes she too is very passionate about food and family. When we started having children, dinner time became very important to us because it brings everyone together at the same table. We are blessed to be able to take a look into your kitchen and experience your passion for family! :) Both sets of my grandparents were immigrants that came to the US from Belgium, Italy, and Ireland, passing through Ellis Island in the early part of the century. It is here that our “roots” and traditions became firmly established, while creating new ones with each passing generation. Thanks for sharing with those that read your blog, sample your food through delicious recipes you post, and your passion for family. I, too, am a nostalgic “old soul”! God bless you and your family. You, along with your family and parents, serve as an inspiration to all of us.

    • says

      Hi Joe!
      I really enjoyed reading your comment. Thanks for sharing your family history with me. What a rich heritage! I am always fascinated with immigration stories. They touch my heart in a very special way.
      Thank you to you and your wife for visiting my website. It means a lot to me.

  19. Anna says

    Hi Olga-
    I first came upon your site to find some delicious recipes, but now days later I still haven’t tried out a single one. I have been hung up on reading your stories and I am so thankful that you have posted the things you did…from the little details of your family to your trials and triumphs of adoption to the ICU stay. Even though I don’t know you, but you are such an inspiration. All I can say is…. God Bless You and your wonderful family!!! Sometimes when we experience a trial we think that we got it the worst but after hearing other stories God really only gives us what we can handle. I thankful to you and God that there are people like you who are not closed in and are willing to share. Thank you.
    As for your recipes….they look amazing and I will be trying them soon.

    • says

      Hi Anna!
      Welcome! Thanks so much for visiting my blog and for your kind words. May God bless you too.
      We learned a lot with all of our experiences, most of all, we have seen and tasted the love of God in such a powerful way.

  20. Vita says

    Olga, what a touching story! We came to Canada from Belarus (Gomel) during perestroika as well. I can really relate to your story about the immigrant spirit – my parents worked very hard to achieve what they have and are very much thankful for the opportunities Canada granted them.
    I love reading your traditional potato recipes so near and dear to our Belarusian heart!
    Bless you!
    Vita

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