By Nelly Nersesyan
I am what you might call the repeat offender of immigrants.
I moved to this country twice: the first time, in 1991, when I was just ten years old, the decision was obviously not my own. My parents had decided that it was much safer, not to mention better in every other way, to raise their kids in the United States. Decision made, my mom, my brother and I set off for America. My dad, however, remained in Moscow. His parents were still alive at the time and he couldn’t bring himself to leave them. Needless to say, it was not the best arrangement. A year later we came back.
The second time I moved here, I was an adult. In fact, I already had a kid of my own. The decision was most definitely mine and the road to becoming a permanent resident has been so long and so fraught with stress and anxiety that it’s safe to say I really, really wanted to be here. That said, I definitely and firmly belong to the “to go” camp.
And here’s why. I was born and raised in Moscow. I lived there, with the exception of that one year, until the age of 27. That means a lion’s share of my friends live there. My family also lives there. There’s my brother and his family. My cousin, who I am very close with, and her family. My aunt. The list is pretty long.
Both of my kids were born in the States. My 11-year-old lived on and off in Moscow until she was about two, but she hardly remembers this. Small-town USA is their home. They love it here. The problem with small-town USA, however, when you yourself come from a bigger city and are used to all the cultural opportunities, is a dearth of other Russian expats. It’s pretty hard to find a Russian-speaking friend for your bilingual kids, for instance.
So they may end up thinking that the only people who speak this weird language are their immediate family and what’s the fun in that? It’s a bit like our grandparents speaking Yiddish and us foolishly never showing an interest in learning it because hey, it’s for old people.
So I take my kids back about twice a year. And they love it. They have made friends there. They have been to every museum in Moscow and St. Petersburg that you can imagine. They have toured St. Petersburg with an amazing guide who does this every day yet never fails to remember the two kids from America who speak without an accent and can walk around Peterhof for 7 hours catching her every word and never complaining about being tired.
We have watched almost every kid show available in the Moscow theaters at the moment. From Tom Sawyer and The Prince and the Pauper to Dragunsky’s Deniskiny Rasskazy (Deniska’s Stories) and Alexander Grin’s Alye Parusa (Scarlet Sails), we’ve seen it all. The Russian theater experience is pretty incredible and not something I can offer my kids in our neck of the woods here.
Move to a bigger city, you’ll say. Don’t get me wrong. I love New York and Boston. In fact, I am very much considering moving closer to the Big Apple.Still, it’s not the same. Our Moscow friends won’t magically appear there. The theater performances we are used to — and can afford — won’t magically become available there on a regular basis. All in all, the cultural bond that I’ve been building with my kids for years is so deeply enmeshed in my roots that I can’t imagine never going back.
This does not, however, mean that I am in any way blind to the country’s horrific regime or any of the issues that are so obviously there. I have no intention of moving back for good. I realize that a visit is very different from a permanent stay. But for better or worse, it is my first home. I lived on Malaya Bronnaya from the age of fifteen and have walked the paths of Bulgakov’s characters many, many times. For me, the draw of culture can never be overestimated.
And funnily enough, my kids feel right at home there. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that we have many more friends there than we do here. Perhaps it has to do with how those friends spoil and entertain them. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that they are growing up reading the same books I read and watching the same movies I watched. It’s probably a multitude of factors.
The bottom line, though, is we like going back. And that’s that.