Emigration: "Russian" -American stream
Emigration: "Russian" -American stream

Americans themselves never use the phrase "Russian American" or they rarely use it, and they often call people from the USSR simply "Russians" - "Russian". Since Americans of East Slavic origin appeared long ago, their roots should be sought in the history of the Russian Empire, the USSR, and modern post-Soviet countries (primarily Russia and Ukraine). It should be borne in mind that the ethnic identification and native language of Russian Americans do not always coincide with ethnic origin.

By no means all "Russian Americans" are Russians or fully consider themselves so. Often, "Russians" in the United States are understood as emigrants from Eastern Europe and the countries of the former USSR, including Serbs, Ukrainians, Russian-speaking Jews, Caucasians and Turks.


Seller Jacob in Brighton Beach. Odessans of the 90s in the USA

The waves of immigration from Russia to the United States have always had a peculiar character, different from the British (mass-resettlement) or Mexican (labor). In almost all periods, the main group of arrivals was made up of people looking for a life freer from religious, political, economic and other restrictions in the Russian Empire and the USSR. There are four conventional waves of Russian immigration to the United States:

  • The first wave was associated with the Russian exploration of America in the 18th-19th centuries and was represented by the small number of Russian pioneers who founded settlements along the Pacific coast.
  • The second wave took place in the late 19th - early 20th centuries, and was represented by Jews from the Russian Empire, as well as White Guard immigrants.
  • The third - a small wave - consisted of political emigrants from the USSR from the end of World War II to the late 1970s.
  • The fourth and most numerous wave was associated with the fall of the Iron Curtain in the late 1980s - early 1990s, when numerous groups of not only Jews, but also Russians, Ukrainians, and others arrived (mostly at the very end of the 20th - early XXI century).
  • The fifth wave began in 2000. Political and economic reasons in the CIS countries gave impetus to a new wave.

Near the Brighton Beach subway station in New York. The beginning of the 90s.

One of the most massive waves of immigration is considered to be the second, which took place in the 1880s - 1920s. Most of those who arrived during this period were Jews or those who, for various reasons, positioned themselves this way. In total, over the period 1880-1914, 1 million 557 thousand Russian Jews emigrated to the United States.

Nevertheless, not all emigrants who considered themselves to be Russian Jews were ethnically. First of all, this is due to the fact that Jews in the Russian Empire, as in most European countries, were called not only ethnic Jews, but also all Judaists by religion (for example, the descendants of tribes that were part of the Khazar kingdom, as well as Subbotniks, Karaites and others), citizens loyal to them, workers and peasants who worked for them, many of whom adopted the names and culture of their employers, the names of village heads, community leaders or invited rabbis. Mark Bloch, a well-known philologist and researcher of the origin of East Slavic Jews, noted that many Russian Jews actually originate from the Slavic, Caucasian and Turkic tribes of the Khazar kingdom, which explains the differences in the ethnic genotype of groups who consider themselves Jews, for example, Ashkenazi, Subbotniks, Karaites, etc. - secondly, many residents of the Russian Empire, and later - the USSR and Russia, who emigrated to the United States, deliberately changed their first and last names to those common among Jews in order to take advantage of the preferences of the Jewish diasporas, take a higher position in society or hide the Slavic name and surname during the cold war.In addition, most of the Russian-speaking emigrants of the last wave in the United States pretended to be "Jewish refugees", which made it easier to legalize permanent residence in the country and obtain citizenship, in accordance with the Lautenberg amendment in force in the United States from 1989 to 2011, according to which Jews from the former USSR were automatically given refugee status, which many emigrants, regardless of their real ethnic origin, actively used.

Ethnic Jews in the Russian Empire were significantly different from the Jews of the USSR and modern Russia. Most of them then lived in the western Russian provinces (Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states), rather compactly, concentrating in Jewish regions and settlements where they were not a minority, sometimes accounting for up to half of the city's population. In such conditions, the Jews had a poor command of the Russian language (especially due to the lack of television and mass education), speaking mainly Yiddish, as well as local languages ​​and dialects, retained their religion (Judaism) and culture (characteristic clothing, hairstyles, etc.).) Upon arrival in the United States, such groups of Jews quickly forgot about their formally Russian origin and passed into the English language in the second generation, continuing to preserve their own religion and culture.

Many emigrants from the Russian Empire, the USSR and the CIS countries changed or shortened their names and surnames in order to merge with the Americans and avoid unnecessary suspicion (for example, at the height of the Cold War). So, at different times, the Mironovs became Mirrens (Helen Mirren) or Mirami (Frank Mir), the Agronskys - Agrons (Dianna Agron), Sigalovichs - Sigals, Factorovichs - Factors, Kunitsins - Kunis, Spivakovs in Kovy, etc. But surnames were not always deliberately distorted, sometimes distortions were the result of errors in spelling and pronunciation of phonetics unusual for Americans, so Maslov became Maslow, the Binevs turned into Bennyoffs, the Levines into Levines.

Only about 65,000 of the 3 million immigrants to the United States from the Russian Empire between 1870 and 1915 openly identified themselves as ethnic Russians. A significant part of the Americans, who now indicate Russian origin, are descendants of immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Carpathian-Ruthenians from Galicia. A significant number of Galician Rusyns converted from Catholicism to Orthodoxy and now form the basis of the Russian Orthodox Church in America.


St. Michael's Church, Detroit Show 1930

Immigrants from Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, as a rule, had left-wing political views and were active in the trade union movement.


Members of the Union of Russian Workers at the Labor Day parade. New York, 1909.

This association of Russians with political radicalism subsequently reinforced prejudice against migrants. After the Russian revolution, during the "red panic" of 1919-1920, anti-Russian xenophobia began to be based also on the threat of the spread of the revolution. Fear of political radicalism prompted the introduction of immigration quotas based on the ethnic composition of the US population in 1890 (that is, before significant immigration from Russia).

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