Monday, May 19, 2008

Russkiy Amerikanskiy or Brighton Beach Foreva!

A day spent on the train to and from Brooklyn left quite an impression on me this afternoon. In search of “khinkali” (Georgian dumplings - well worth the schlep!) I also managed to dive into a Russian-American world yet again for several hours…

Every time I visit Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, I am constantly amazed by how un-American, let alone non-NYC it really feels being in the area.

Many years ago, Brighton Beach was dubbed “Little Odessa” by the locals, since many of its residents had come from Odessa, Ukraine. Largely populated by a huge community of Jewish immigrants who left the Former USSR 1970’s onwards, the locals are probably more culturally similar to Russians and Ukrainians than to the earlier Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn.

You will hardly ever hear an English-speaker in the street, and most of the stores and restaurants (if not all of them) are strictly Russian-oriented. I remember a couple of years ago I accidentally bumped into an elderly lady on Brighton and apologized to her in English (we are in America, after all, or are we not?) - she looked at me like I had just landed from Mars and told me to go get a life (in Russian, of course.)

Easter being one of the main Georgian family-gathering celebrations back in the former Soviet Union, I desperately tried to get real “red” Easter eggs this year and called one of the Georgian restaurants in Brooklyn, hoping I could get my dozen eggs for take out. Indeed, they did have the authentic Easter eggs, but because I asked the first question in English and not Georgian upon calling the restaurant, the owner immediately told me off and threatened that because of my non-Georgian attitude, he’d never sell me anything, including the Easter eggs! I took it as a joke initially, but as it later turned out, he meant it with all his heart and patriotic soul!

Although, there are times when I feel so nostalgic, it’s actually quite nice to be able to drop by, purchase a few Russian books and perhaps even some russkiy CDs and DVDs for “some good times”, accompanied by delicious snacks from one of the local stores - can’t go wrong with the food in the area, that’s for sure!

But to live there…. I don’t know. It seems pointless moving all the way to the US and A from USSR to create a local Russian Republic of Brighton Beach in New York. As a dear friend and a writer/journalist I have immense respect for, Ian Williams, once put it: “If you immigrate the country, you need to keep your language yet acquire the skill and knowledge of the culture in a country that you have moved to, yet you do have to maintain your own roots, as well.”

There is a healthy balance of course, but the question is: where does patriotism end and assimilation begin?

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