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In Every Struggle, There is Hope

Mariya Gefter's story posted on August 29, 2012 at 12:54 pm. Mariya emigrated from Riga, Latvia to Flint,MI, United States in 1993

 Struggle. It's a word that is dreaded by many, but also a necessity in our lives. However, struggle is also something that brings people together and makes dreams a reality. My family had its share of hardships, but presently, we are leading happy lives because of those struggles. One might think that the story of my family should probably be told as a “rags to riches” immigrant tale. But it was not quite like that. Coming to America as a young child, I hardly remember what it was like for me immigrating from the Soviet Union , but I could only imagine what it was like for my parents. Eventually, when I got older and asked millions of questions, I found out exactly how difficult it was for them. For me, the hardest part was life while we were actually in America, trying to balance my Russian culture with the everchanging American environment around me.

My parents and I were, surprisingly, not the first generation in our entire family to immigrate to the US. It was my maternal grandfather who came to Michigan first, during the 1970s. It was with his help, as well as the help of HIAS, that we got to the United States. For my mother, the American Dream came before I was even born, when she was a teenager, as she received pictures and then eventually visited her father at his house in the United States to see the life he led there. The contrast of her father's life to hers astounded her, and she yearned to live in the United States.

When the time to come to America finally came however, we found ourselves going from a cramped one bedroom apartment we shared with extended family in Latvia, to a slightly less cramped apartment in Flint, Michigan. It was going to take a while for us to live like our grandfather did. We visited him weekly; we saw his house and his pool and wondered if we would ever get to live like that. At that point, we were still eating government food and wearing hand-me-down clothing from other families, so we had a long way to go, but we weren't giving up. Fortunately, we discovered that there was a Russian immigrant community living right in our apartment complex! When times were tough, we would always enjoy each others company and support each other. A year went by and life in Flint got even more difficult, as the safety and the economy of the city started declining drastically. On top of their financial struggles, my parents had to deal with the language barrier, and as they still do. Jobs were hard to come by because even if you could speak English, employers didn't always want to hire people with thick accents that were hard to understand.

When I turned 8, another new arrival came to us, not from the Soviet Union, but a new addition to our family. My sister was a great blessing to us. I had always wanted a sister and my parents couldn't afford another child for a while, and when it finally happened, I was very happy. Being the first American-born family member, her experience was slightly different from mine, but she helped me grow in ways she didn't even realize.

By the time I was in 3rd grade, even more news came along. My dad told us that he got a new job in a new city, and that we were going to be moving to a new place, a better place; to live in a house. I had never lived in an actual house before, and aside from my grandfather's, hadn't really been in one either. I was so excited, I didn't even mind that we were moving again.

However, we soon realized that leaving the comfort of a close-knit immigrant community and our friends was more difficult than we thought. Now that I wasn't so young anymore, moving was hard for me. We were in a town that was the exact opposite of our previous life. It was a small, suburban town full of well-to-do families who had been there for many generations. It took me a while to get used to living there and it was hard to make friends. Kids thought it was weird that I didn't celebrate Christmas, didn't go to church (since many of them went to the same one), and had a strangely pronounced name. None of this teasing went on when I had lived in Flint. I kept hiding my culture from the other students, because I didn't know what they would think of me. I also remember being really offended when the school made me work with an English Second Language teacher, even though I had been living in the United States for a while and already had an extensive English vocabulary for my age. In fact, my love for language in all forms was what made school bearable. I wasn't particularly good at any other subjects and I wasn't really making any friends yet, so reading books and writing stories was my newfound hobby.

Fast forward to high school, where my social life was much improved and I finally realized how diverse my new community actually was. I was finally actively participating in my culture outside of my home and letting others know about it. I was proud of being who I was and where I came from. Also, at this time we were able to send my grandmother from Riga to come live with us. She is what keeps our culture alive in our hearts everyday. Without her, I may have even forgotten how to read and speak in Russian since I don't have many oppurtunities to use it anymore.

My parents had finally gotten what they wanted all along, a house we could call a home in a stable, safe, enviroment for their family. Today, I look to my parents as an example of what it really means to be happy and successful. When I remember all the hard work and struggle they went through to get where they are today, I know there is now hope for me to achieve all of my dreams and aspirations.