On Being a Privileged Immigrant

February 9th, 2017 No Comment yet

I am an immigrant. At the age of eight, I left my communist star pinned on my first grade uniform, and the USSR, and came to sunny Greece. I felt out of place since the moment I woke up. On my first morning here, my mom asked what I wanted for breakfast, I realized that I could have anything I wanted, so I asked for spaghetti with ketchup. Not speaking a word of English, I went to a school full of American kids, here because their parents were stationed at the US naval bases. I had a Russian last name, Maslofskaya, it was. Imagine being 10 with that name in the 1980s, in an American microcosm. My first friend was a Turkish girl, we could barely communicate, and when she tore my favorite pink skirt on the playground, my stepfather was convinced that it was time for me, now a Greek, to stop playing with a Turk. By high school, I’d achieved my sought-after status of someone who could pass for an American, no questions asked. Only to find myself in the Greek work force being labeled as an “Amerikanaki,” carrying the load of all the negative connotations that came with that word. I began telling people I was Russian again, but it was the 1990s, and the post-glasnost outpour of people from the ex-USSR, resulted in a whole different cloud of negative profiling. Most cab drivers, for example, assumed that I was a sex worker of some sort, or was at least acquainted with a few, just because I was Russian.

In New York, as a graduate student, feeling more at home than I ever had in my life, I was sometimes a “dirty Greek.” Or an ex-commie. Back in Moscow, I’m a deserter of the mother nation.

None of this is a pity story; it’s simply reality. It is what has given me strength, power, resilience, knowledge. I’ve waited in lines for cheese and butter in freezing temperatures, holding on to my grandma’s hand. I’ve been pushed in outdoor pools by Soviet swimming instructors, insisting I need to be an athlete. I’ve said prayers in Greek and English at the daily line up at school. I have sided with the Jews, I have sided with the Palestinians, I have stood on a balcony and watched the Twin Towers fall and lived their aftermath. I have watched Greece’s people lose its sunshine, only tourists and a handful of citizens still basking in its glory. I set the alarm to watch the first black man be elected president of a country I looked up to. And I yelled into a megaphone when someone who threatens not only that country, but the rest of the world, moved into a house that holds more history than his deep pocket will ever fit.

But I am always a privileged immigrant, I saw poverty, racism, bigotry, evil, and tragedy, without living the consequences.

I belonged everywhere and nowhere.

Now I don’t know where to go.

 

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