The fact that my father's family had managed to hold onto their traditions for so long despite pressures from everywhere to abandon them is a testament to the resolve of my father's family (Magun, 2010).
It did not take long for my family to become a pizza, hot dog, and hamburger style Americans but one of the things that my friends found so interesting about my family were the Ukrainian traditions that we continued to honor and observe. My parents were in their 40s when we emigrated so they were well indoctrinated into the Ukrainian diet and social mores and, despite their willingness to adapt to the American life-style, inside their own home they continued to live in much the same way that they also had. Fresh breads of all varieties were a constant staple in our home. Several blocks from our home was a little bakery that specialized in Eastern Europe breads and my mother, who by this time had begun working out of the home and did not have time to make her own breads, was one the bakery's best customers. Other than breads, our diet consisted of potato dishes in all forms and some sort of soup at every dinner (Dabars, 2002). My friends always considered this odd but, for me, it was all I ever knew.
We ate very little beef in our home. When we first came to America I remember thinking how odd that there were hamburgers on the menu of nearly every restaurant. In the Ukraine this would be unheard of as pork and pork products such as sausage and ham were the primary meat product. As we became more Americanized, my sister and I would go with our friends to McDonald's or Burger King but inside our home pork remained the dominant meat product.
Without a doubt our family's participation in the Russian Orthodox provided a stabilizing influence and reinforced our ties to our home in the Ukraine. Our small Church in America could have been easily placed on a street in downtown Kiev (ROCIA, 2005). It looked nearly identical to the one where we worshiped in Kiev and except for the fact that the priest performed the liturgy in English there was no noticeable difference. I could easily imagine myself back in Kiev when I entered our Russian Orthodox Church here in America. For us, in keeping the tradition of our religion, Easter was the big holiday. When we first arrived in America we were surprised to what a big deal Americans made out of Christmas. We celebrated Christmas in the Ukraine but for us Easter was the big celebration not Christmas.
Although my family managed to maintain most of their traditions relative to religion, holidays, and diet we failed to continue the use of either our native Ukrainian language or our Russian. When we first arrived in America we used both languages extensively in the home and when we were together as a family outside the house but over time this practice began to decline. My sister and I were the first to begin using English inside our house. Once we began to establish friendships and our friends would visit our home it was inconvenient for us to switch between the languages. In fact, in some ways, it was embarrassing for me when my parents would continue to speak to me in the presence of my friends in either Russian or Ukrainian. By the time I reached high school English was spoken nearly 24/7 in our home but both of my parents retained little pet phrases and nicknames in Russian and Ukrainian that they would use when the time was appropriate and they wanted to make a point. Surprisingly, I have not lost the ability to talk to my two surviving grandparents in Russian and do so exclusively whenever I have the opportunity to talk with them.
It has been interesting growing up in America as immigrants from a nation that many Americans grew up despising. When my family came to America the Soviet Union had only recently broken up and most of my friends and acquaintances looked upon me initially as some form of refugee (Bates, 2004). They would ask me questions about how bad things were in Kiev before we "escaped?" Or they would ask me how horrible was my life in Kiev? At first, being only 9, I was not sure how to respond. I had no recollection that we escaped in any way and I never view my life in Kiev as being anything other than wonderful. To this day, I have nothing but pleasant memories of my life there. As I became more Americanized and matured individually, however, I began to understand the nature of the questions. I began to understand the difference in political and economic theory between America and the Soviet Union and, in the process, recognize that my friends were simply asking questions based on what they had been told to believe about the conditions in than existing Soviet Union. From my perspective, however, the questions were inappropriate and did not represent my reality. My family did not escape from anything. There was nothing from which to escape. My family never felt threatened in anyway while we lived in Kiev. We came to America to pursue better opportunities because of the political and economic upheaval taking place in Kiev at the time. In the years that I have lived in America there have been a number of similar times here. What I remember of my time in Kiev was all good and I prefer to hold on to those memories that way.
The fact that my extended family remained in Kiev has always bothered me. I miss the special times with my grandparents, cousins, and my aunts and uncles. I have remained in contact with most of them through regular mail and the introduction of the internet and email has made this process much easier. They have seemingly all adjusted to the new situation in the Ukraine and their lives do not appear to be much different than my own. They worry about paying their bills like I do, raising their children, and how the weather will affect their weekend plans. None of them is particularly interested in political affairs and the topic is rarely, if ever, discussed. I often think that I could return there without ever feeling that I had left.
Unlike many of my friends in America who possess little or no knowledge of their past cultural background, I came from a situation where I lived my culture on a daily basis. My family's cultural history on both sides is purely Ukrainian. My family can trace its family tree back at least five generations and my immediate family is the first and only members of my extended family to leave the Ukrainian soil so I know my background and know it well. Even after being in America for nearly twenty years and being very Americanized, I am still Ukrainian and always will be. Few if any of my friends can make a similar claim. In this regard, I feel most fortunate.
For me, there is no doubt where I came from or what my background is. My heritage is not a mixture of Irish and German immigrants, or French and English like so many Americans. Instead, my entire history is based upon a several mile square of Ukrainian real estate. This small part of the world has made me into what I am today and I am proud of the fact that I still follow the traditions that my ancestors always have and I intend to continue doing so. It is who I am.
My family's moving to the United States, however, represents for my extended family a dramatic new branch in their family tree. The fact that we moved from Kiev at all represented a change but the fact that we now live in America means that the long line of genetic and cultural identity will soon be broken. Presently neither my sister nor I is married but when we do ultimately do so it will not likely be to a fellow Ukrainian and a long line will be broken. For the first time in our family's history a new culture will be introduced and our family will become multicultural. Most Americans would not consider this as a remarkable development because they have been living with multiculturalism all their lives but for me and my sister the entire idea is somewhat troublesome. Tevye in the movie Fiddler on the Roof (Jewison, 1971)battled this reality as he saw his family divided in different directions and now my sister and I will soon face the same reality. In many ways, this development represents the final step in our becoming Americanized. A…