A reader, Janis, shares her family’s courageous “coming to America” story:
It’s the little details of being “other” that creep up unexpectedly. Late last night I read Julia Ioffe’s own refugee story in The Atlantic and was brought to tears by her mention of the mineral collection in a blue cardboard box. I also had one, as a child in the 1960s, and I know it meant something to my grandparents, but I don’t know what. (It was likely some nationalistic and chauvinistic collection of natural resources; Russia has the best quartz, bauxite, etc.)
My grandparents escaped from the Soviet Union in 1921, masqueraded as a klezmer band on the way to a gig in Bessyrabia. My father was an infant hidden in their coats. Once they got to the other side of the river, they kept going. They were able to get a visa from their interim residence in Bucharest. They arrived at Ellis Island in 1923, on the sister ship to The Titanic.
My grandmother’s brother also left the USSR, but the rest of the family stayed. They survived the war by going east into the Caucasus and hiding. After WWII and during the Cold War, communication was limited and cryptic between my grandparents and their siblings. In 1960, my grandparents went back to the USSR to visit family and returned with a blue box of minerals for me. The whereabouts of that box is unknown, after many moves.
Thank you to Julia for sharing her story. It is monstrous the way that respect for others has morphed into intolerance and abuse [under the new Trump administration]. It’s not my America.
Janis also provided the following image of an American stamp that “reminds me so much of my father’s immigration photo” (seen above, posted with permission):
From the U.S. Postal Service’s Stamp Subject Selection criteria: “The Postal Service will honor extraordinary and enduring contributions to American society, history, culture, or environment. The stamp program commemorates positive contributions to American life, history, culture, and environment; therefore, negative occurrences and disasters will not be commemorated on U.S. postage stamps.”
After I posted the old family photo on my Facebook page, I was charmed that my nephews shared the post with a proud and full-throated defense of immigrants. We need more of that. They and their friends saw my nephews’ faces in my grandfather’s, and my son’s face in my grandmother’s, which was a lovely connection for them.
The infant in the photo is my aunt, who died two weeks ago. The little boy (age 3) is my father, Boris Tuchinsky, who changed his name to Traven to avoid the quotas imposed on Jews applying for admission to medical school. Boris Tuchinsky graduated 1st in his class at NYU and was rejected for medical school. Boris Traven was admitted.
Speaking of medical schools, reader Renie is worried that they’ll suffer under the Trump administration:
I just got off the phone with one of my children—an administrator for a fellowship program at the medical school of a major state university. The story she told me was of tremendous fear and upheaval.