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With this accent comes a story

Hailey Pirovich's story posted on June 20, 2012 at 9:08 pm. Hailey emigrated from Minsk, Belarus to Rochester, United States in 1982

The story is written by Camp RSM @ Sunapee Counselor Hailey Pirovich.

Sitting on my friend's couch, I quietly laughed to myself as I observed her having a conversation with her father. After they had finished talking about their days and joking around she turned to me and asked me why I was laughing.

"It's just always surprising to me when my friends' parents speak English without an accent."

Since the day I was born, I have been surrounded by immigrants from the Soviet Union. These are the people with which my parents choose to spend most of their free time with. They understand each other: were raised with similar values, shared many of the same experiences, speak the same languages, and have many of the same wishes for their children. For my entire life I have attempted to speak broken Russian to these individuals who I consider my family. They have been an integral part of my upbringing, as well as my parents' assimilation into the United States.

My father moved to the United States with his parents in 1982. They decided to emigrate for a number of reasons. Firstly, his family did not believe in the economic system housed by the Soviet Union. They knew this botched and corrupt form of socialism would not be able to sustain itself, and they saw no future in it. Secondly, they truly despised the totalitarian political system which led to a lack of basic human rights throughout the nation. The government did not tolerate any form of dissent, leading to the arrests and execution of many civilians (including my own great-grandfather). The government would spy on its own citizens due to a lack of trust, and this made my family extremely uncomfortable. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, they left due to widespread anti-semitism throughout the Soviet Union. Many Jews could not acquire a decent job and were often looked down upon and insulted by those around them. 

When my father chose to immigrate, he was stripped of his citizenship and questioned about his intentions by his University. His family claimed they were moving to Israel, the only way Jews were able to escape from the Soviet Union. Upon receiving false documents from Israel about fake family members who lived they, they were finally able to leave. First they traveled to Vienna, Austria, where my they got their first taste of Zionism and Jewish history. Then they traveled to Rome, Italy for a little over a month. They survived by selling belongings in a Flea Market. In Rome, they were considered refugees, waiting for their visas so that they could travel to America, a land that they had only heard rumors about, a country with an advanced economy and unseen freedoms. Finally, they arrived in Rochester, New York. They moved into an apartment complex inhabited by other immigrants. My father took English classes in two different schools and even paid $200 from his own pocket to take classes at the University of Rochester to further improve his grasp of this new language. His family received $60 a week and food stamps to survive from the Jewish Federation, as well as having their apartment paid for.

Hearing my father's story was inspiring to me. Simply knowing that he dropped everything to give me these incredible opportunities was heart-warming. Because of his move, I was able to live in a free society. Because of his move I was able to choose where I wanted to apply to college, what I wanted to study, where I wanted to live, and  what I wanted to do with my future. Because my family risked it all, I was able to live a life they were never able to. 

The only reason my parents had been able to escape from the Soviet Union was because they weren’t like the rest. They worked incredibly hard, achieved pristine test scores, and actively applied for a visa to leave. If they had simply been content with their situation, they would have never left the oppressive society they were raised in.

My parents raised me following a similar sentiment. “The rest of the class had a low average” was never an acceptable excuse. They simply told me that they didn’t care how the rest of my class did; they only cared how well I was doing. “Good enough” was never good enough in my house. I’m extremely grateful for the beliefs with which my parents raised me. I know that any future endeavors will be heavily influenced by the fact that I was taught to never settle for average. 

Looking around, I'm happy I spent a majority of my life surrounded by Russian Jews. The network of friends my parents surround themselves with is one of support, understanding, and undying love. They all understand the difficulties one another had to face upon moving to the United States, and thus understand one another as people. In no way am I bitter or upset that most of the adults I have known in my life have an accent, because with this accent comes a story, a story of perseverence, bravery, and risk-taking.