Every story from my childhood has two different, and often opposite, versions when told by my parents. I have spent the last thirty years piecing them together, both in paintings and stories. That's why I was honored when a brilliant young woman named Ariel Kirman asked me if I would like to contribute to a book of essays she was compiling about the experience of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who arrived to the United States as children.
And the most amazing part?
Ariel is donating all proceeds to HIAS, the very same organization that helped my family come to America when we were refugees.
The book features 20 essays, including my own. While the American lives of my fellow contributors took all sorts of different paths, I was touched when reading the essays by how much we had in common. The experience of being a child immigrant shapes who you become and your world view, even while it gives you the freedom to be whoever you would like to become.
My parents and I in Ukraine
In my essay I tell the story of growing up under the shadow of an oppressive regime during the Chernobyl explosion, to our escape from the Soviet Union as refugees. I am including a quick expert here, and I hope you will consider the book for your holiday gift list!
My parents and I arriving at Chicago's O'Hare Airport June 1, 1989
An excerpt from my essay:
When I was five or six, an old friend of my grandmother’s came to visit. Her name, like my grandmother’s, was also Maya. She had left the Soviet Union years before and now lived in America in a place called “Chicago”. She had been a railroad engineer alongside my grandmother in Kiev. Now, in Chicago, she worked as a manicurist. She told wondrous stories of America, of strangers smiling at each other on the streets. She said she was dismayed that when she smiled at a teenage girl in the elevator of our Kiev building on the way up, the girl looked back at her like she had two heads. I wondered why anyone would smile at someone they don’t know.
She brought gifts for everyone. Pantyhose for my grandma, for my mom a set of eyeshadows with more colors than any of us had ever seen, and for me she brought the most beautiful gift of all – a tiny little silver bell filled with chocolate. It was so precious that rather than eat it, we proudly displayed the treasured gift in our china cabinet along with my grandparents’ wedding tea set and crystal glasses, for all our guests to see. Years later, in America, I would learn that the precious bell was called a Hershey’s kiss.
Order the book here!