Anna Shatsman

Transcription of Anna Shatsman
Interviewed by: Mark Lecker
Interviewee: Anna Shatsman
Place: Edgewater Historical Society, 5358 N Ashland Ave., Chicago, IL.
Date: February 22, 2014
Transcriber: Sarah Altinbasak
Total Time: 30:00

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

ML: And you’re from Russia correct?

AS: Yes, correct.

ML: What city state village were you born in?

AS: I was born in Moscow Russia. Simple, no little village.

ML: What do you remember?

AS: I remember… so I came here when I was very young. So I don’t remember that much, but I do remember our apartment really well. We had a courtyard in our apartment, a lot of stray animals coming through there. But my parents use to teach me animal sounds, a cat and it was fun. It was very city, because we lived in the city. Always had to have adult supervision if we went anywhere. My brother tried to go play outside and they’d say, “No. We need the neighbors to go watch you while you play outside ‘cuz we had to stay inside and cook dinner.” I also remember we used to travel out into the country. I don’t really know exactly where but somewhere down south. And we had a little cottage, a family cottage that we would travel down to. There was just a lot of greenery, dirt roads, forests, and just complete opposite of this city. And I remember just loving it there ‘cuz you could just wander. My parents would just leave me, like I hope she’s still there. So it was great times.

ML: So you didn’t have the same supervision as at home?

AS: Exactly and the city it was kind of a dangerous place. I mean in Russia there were a lot of abductions and things like that - for children especially so. And my parents were very weary of that and were a very tight family. They obviously are protective, like they would turn on someone you know like that, just to protect the kids.

ML: Between the city of Moscow and the countryside where you, I guess, vacationed…

AS: Um hum

ML: Which was your favorite?

AS: I would probably… but you know the countries were more relaxed. There was a lot that I miss because my parents, when we’d vacation, weren’t obviously …and they both worked as engineers. So it was a lot of stress that came with the job: a lot of work brought home, things like that. And so it was nice because the family, the cousins….We don’t have a huge family you know. I’m not talking like forty five cousins; I’m talking my three cousins and three second cousins. We’d all get together and cook outside and be by our parents [who] used to like to distill their own alcohol. They are very Russian, very Russian. Would sit outside, taking shots, all the adults would take shots and all the kids were playing in the yard. We had … I think we had a cat. I can remember that. We did not have pets in the city because our apartment was small. But in the country there were all animals to play with and again the greenery. The cities were smoggy and dark. And it’s funny ‘cuz I have like a very distinct wine in my memory. There was the sunny side and there was the dreary city. I would point at animals all day.


ML: How old were you when you moved to the U.S.?

AS: I was almost three years old, so very young. My brother was nine and so lot of my memories I’m sure are enhanced by his stories. But as we grew up he would love telling you about, “Oh don’t you remember mom and dad used to have to leave for places so they’d leave you on the bed? And they’d give you a shampoo bottle and you’d have to chase it around for hours,” and I was, “I don’t remember this but I somehow believe you because it somehow doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility.”

ML: When you moved here with your family, did you move directly to Chicago?

AS: No, we moved to the metro Detroit area. We had family and friends there, people that my dad had worked with in the past, so they took us in and we all moved into their house. It was actually funny. I apparently did not sleep the entire flight from Moscow to JFK and my poor mother had to follow me around the entire airplane. And I was crawling under seats, climbing into other peoples arms. And from JFK to Detroit metro airport I was out like a rock. I just remember. I woke up and I remember vividly waking up in a house that I don’t know. And this old woman standing there staring at me who I don’t know. And being like, “Oh you’re so cute when you sleep.” And I was like, “Who the hell are you? Get out of my house!” ‘cuz I was like…. I don’t know why but apparently the first thing I yelled out was “Get outa my house!” and she was like, “This is my house but ok, I’ll leave”. And so apparently I locked her out of the house. My parents came home. My parents had been gone grocery shopping and I slept for like twenty hours straight and was very confused and dazed. Yeah, the poor old lady got locked out. Our closest family friends I see completely as a grandmother and this poor woman got locked out of the house for hours while our parents were grocery shopping. And I was so scared. And she was afraid that she really freaked me out. So, you know, I remember my parents coming home. I was sitting under the dining room table sobbing my eyes out because I just didn’t know anything, like I didn’t know where I was.

ML: How long did you stay in Detroit?

AS: For most of my life. II recently moved to this Chicago area. But I guess Detroit and Chicago are similar in the way that it’s really a cultural, like a cultural hub I guess. And so I’ve been around. I guess the Skokie area is very Russian or kind of Eastern European. And so I’ve been around there a lot and gone into some of the stores and been like, “Wow! I can just talk to these people in Russian and it’s amazing.” And the same thing; it’s like these little hubs and people in the metro Detroit area where you’d walk to the store and be, “Oh, these people are Russian. This is great.”


ML: Do you get a lot of chances to practice Russian?

AS: My parents won’t speak to me in English. My mom actually learned to text just so she could text me in Russian. Like the first thing she did was download [a] Russian alphabet app on her phone. And was now texting me only in Russian. But it’s great because I grew up only speaking. I didn’t read or write. And then when I went to college I forced myself to learn how to read and write so I wouldn’t have to take language in college. Kind of ashamed of that, but you know it was an easy out. And so it was fun because I now can just communicate a hundred percent with anyone in Russian and it’s really useful. I’ve been in stores here actually in Chicago… I went to a store a few… it was probably a few months ago that there was this cute old lady looking for lemons but she didn’t know how to say it in English. Which I mean to say it in Russian lemons is “limone” which is very similar. But she’s just walking around looking so sad. I could tell. She came up to me and in Russian she said, “Do you speak Russian” and I was like, “Yeah.” And she said in Russian, “Can you find someone to help find me some lemons?” And I was like. “You can just say lemons in Russian and everyone will understand you but ok sure”. And it’s really great to be able to you know….That’s something I really appreciate about having that background. And my parents really enforcing that through my childhood was having the Russian and being able to apply it in common every day situation like that.

ML: Do you find that it helps you maintain an identity of being Russian – American, or Russian who has a living, or….

AS: Definitely. I think culturally I don’t always identify with the American culture. I think I’m a lot more traditional in a lot of senses. But then I also see myself as like a modern Russian. I can never find that exact description for… but you know as far as a family goes I’ve very traditional values. Families are very close in Russia. You do have your children [who] will live with you for a very long time. Once they finally get married and move out, they move down the block. So, you know, for me it’s always been very hard. Well my parents live in the metro Detroit area. Living in Chicago, I talk with them every single day and I’m like, ‘Come visit every weekend please.” When I went to college I visited home every single weekend. But then my parents do understand that I’m a lot more modern of when it comes to the Russian culture. Because they take tradition to a whole other level and for me it’s just more of….I never had a religion to identify with and so I kind of learn to just develop a respect for humans and respect for other people’s cultures and identities. I think I’m a lot more accepting than the traditional Russian would be, especially in a multi-cultural situation. My parents would come visit Chicago and they’ll say, “Do people usually do that? What is that? Why is that girl wearing a Mohawk or?” And I’m like, “No, that’s normal guys, that’s this day and age, that’s what people do.”


ML: Do you find it difficult identifying with modern Russian or more traditionalist than Americans and trying to find that balance between?

AS: Yes, it’s definitely difficult. I think as far as modern Russians go, you have a very….It kind of takes a leap. My cousin for example still lives in Russia. She’s a year younger than me. She’s very modern Russian and it’s to a point where I just kind of feel like there’s a giant gap - like you have the traditionalist and then you have the super like high fashion. She has never spent more than a day at home since she turned sixteen. She travels, stays with her friends, meets people online and travels all over Europe. I’m like, “That’s cool. I don’t think I’d want to do that. “And then you have the traditional Americans who are like, “I’ve had a lot of friends who are traditional Catholic families.” Or there is always a tradition, as far as I’ve seen, bound religion. And I have (unintelligible) with that because I haven’t really identified with a religion. So it’s just so funny to me because I’m kind of that odd man out. But it also gives me the flexibility to root for my own kind of pathway in life.

ML: Have you ever found that being Russian fosters a feeling of being a stranger within groups in America?

AS: Not really. There, I mean sometimes. I know growing up in school it often did. I didn’t feel like I could identify. I went to a school that had predominately Caucasian students in middle school. At least that were all American born. All had really rich families and I was like, “My family’s working from zero. I can’t afford the things that you can afford.” I remember I swam on the middle school swim team and I couldn’t afford to buy our swim team’s team suit because my family just couldn’t afford it. All the other girls are, “How can you not afford that? It’s just a hundred dollars.” Yeah, but like for a family going from zero as of five years ago or eight years ago one hundred dollars is a lot of money to spend on a swimsuit. So I learned to cope with it. I learned to find my own friends and find my own connections with people. I mean I love connecting with people nowadays and I love being able to find that unique character in everyone. And finding that there’s always, if it’s not culturally, there’s always another way to connect with someone.

ML: Has speaking Russian ever been disadvantage of being in social situations?

AS: A little bit. I mean I guess since I was so young it was never that big of a hurdle. I was… if you’d believe it or not, for a year in preschool, my teachers thought there was something wrong with me because I just wouldn’t speak. My parents tried everything. My brothers tried everything. I just wouldn’t speak English. And I would walk into preschool every day and just sit there and stare at everyone. I kind of just broke [down] one day. I like to think that I was just absorbing everything. Once I was 100 percent confident that I could speak English, I’d let it all out. Sometimes - a lot of the time - I think in Russian. So sometimes it will trip me up and I’ll answer a question in Russian. People will say, “What did you just say? And I’ll be, “I mean blah blah blah. That’s totally what I said. What are you talking about I was not just speaking another language.” But yeah….

ML: One of the advantages of speaking another language is that there are words that don’t easily translate in English but there are actually more appropriate words. German is very good example of that. Do you find yourself thinking examples like that day to day or….

AS: Sometimes, it’s funny because Russian words a lot of times have double meanings and depending on the inflection and so, for example, the word for pancake also kind of like a swear word. But it depends on what situation you’re in, how you say it and with what inflection you say it. So sometimes when I would say - can I use the word to demand pancakes from my mom - she would say, “Did you just swear at me?” “No. I just wanted pancakes, but never mind I have to go now.” There are a lot of…its funny ‘cuz Russian….I find that [double meaning] commonly in Russian literature like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy. I took a Russian literature course in college, and it was so funny because watching…. I read all the books in Russian. I skimmed them in English but it was funny because…


AS: …watching my professor trying to dissect the book. “Oh, there’s so much meaning behind the sentence.’ I’m like, “Look, it’s the translation. There is no second meaning here in Russian. But then there would be passages where they’d be like, “Let’s skip over this one. It doesn’t mean anything.” I’m like, “Well the way it’s written this could go to mean this or this or it happens I’m trying to think of any specific examples but, you know, it’s hard to think of it right on the spot. It just comes up situationally.

ML: When you moved to Chicago did you move straight to Edgewater?

AS: I moved just north, actually on the western part of Rogers Park, but I do kind of seek out the culture in Edgewater. I’m an Edgewater wannabe.

ML: Why do you say that?

AS: It’s really just such a culturally rich….I’ll go up to Skokie to feel like the European whatever, but it’s nice to come down to Edgewater and just wander around ‘cuz you could go through so many different stages of cultures in such a little distance. I mean I’ve walked through here at all times of the day and all hours of the night. You just see different things and different people just embracing their cultures in a lot of different ways - so much good food here.I mean there’s not many places that you could, on a corner, go to Chinese or Nigerian food or Ethiopian food or, I don’t know, American pie. You can make any decision you want.

ML: Do you find that Edgewater is stronger as a community because of that diversity?

AS: I think so. I think it gives people something to identify with each other. I don’t think that I think that it’s easier to find with a community who has immigrated from the same place you have immigrated. But it’s also easy to say, you could’ve emigrated from somewhere in Africa but you went through similar experiences as I did. You had to learn the language. You had to make ends meet from years and years and years while you built up your career, while you established connections. So it makes it easier to identify with people. And I think I had it lucky because my parents were the ones really going through that and making that happen for me; to make it easier for me. But that’s my mom… went through. In English as her second language course, that’s how she made all her best friends. You know, ‘cuz there are people there who have immigrated from any country in Europe. There were Mexican immigrants in the class. There were immigrants from Africa and immigrants from China; all these cultures kind of embracing each other just to learn English.

ML: So what initially brought your parents to America?

AS: So my parents they, my dad’s Jewish, my mom’s Orthodox and so that wasn’t a very accepted, excuse me, accepted marriage. My grandparents they were like, “You’re committing social suicide because in the ‘90s…. I guess they got married in the 80s. But even still through the ‘90s you had your Jewish community and you could flourish in the Jewish community. Then you had your Orthodox community and you could flourish in your Orthodox community. That really engulfed the government with things like that. And they maintained very strict boundary. My father, for example, wasn’t allowed to go to college to begin with because he was Jewish…


AS: …and they said, “You have to serve in the army before you go to school.” So he… similarly his graduate degree was kind of taken away from him because he was Jewish. They didn’t let him finish grad school. So he and my mom had overcome a lot of difficulties and to kind of bring in these cultural mutts - to say to the world my brother and I - they kind of realized that there were no opportunities that would make it easier for my brother and I. And their friends had just immigrated to America and had just gotten on their feet. They had… my dad’s best friend actually had a job opening and so like, “I can extend a work visa. We can have you come work here as an engineer. You know you are very qualified.” And so my dad came over on a work visa and we came over to visit and just never went back. My parents are like, “Well that’s the only way you’re gonna get an education. You can’t go to Jewish school. You can’t go to orthodox school, so good luck.”

ML: How would you rate other than falling asleep on the…. The overall experience of leaving Russia and then beginning to grow up here?

AS: Definitely so as far as the plane goes, I definitely met a lot of cool people back in the day. That was when attendants used to give you toys so I was like happy to have been…. I had every toy in the book. I think they ran out of toys because of me; because I was the only lonely kid on the plane. But definitely it was interesting coming from the… my resistance to speak English and then growing up in a community where we kind of planted roots - in a community where most of the people had been there for years and where they inherited their houses from grandparents or something. So there were some really deep seeded roots financially, as well as overcoming that aspect of it – like, “Oh I’m wearing hand me downs from family friends.” I can’t afford designer clothes like all the kids I was going to school with. I had to make my own way. And I had to sort of accept the fact that I was never going to be exactly like these other kids, but eventually these other kids would realize that they were a lot more like me than you know. They wanted to bully them like the fifth grade.

ML: Overall how would you rate living in Chicago versus living in Detroit?

AS: I think that Chicago offers, I don’t know, it offers a lot more culturally. Unfortunately Detroit has like really strong cultural, especially in the metro areas, strong cultural hubs. But they are not as strong as they are here. So you have your very…. Detroit is known for its Mexican town. It’s great, but you don’t go a block too far and it gets dangerous. So Detroit hasn’t had the opportunity, I guess, to flourish as much as Chicago has. And I think that’s what I love about Chicago. When I got a job in the Chicago area I said, “Well this is perfect for me because I can learn about other cultures.” I’ve always loved doing that and I can learn it by kind of living it; living the American version of it or an Americanized version of it. So I definitely loved it. I know my parents kind of had a little bit of a culture shock when they came to visit me or helped me move in. They were like, “Oh, you’re really living in this neighborhood. Oh, there’s so many different people here.” There’s like, well you know….They’re all people who have come here to live their lives and to kind of make the best for their families. So what I like about Chicago is that it is, as you know America’s defined as like a melting pot, but Chicago really shows that. Chicago is a city that like really exemplifies that.


ML: Do you ever clash with your parents about I guess what you’d call Americanized values where….

AS: A little bit, a little bit. I’m also just the stubborn child of the family. So our parents have learned that threatening to disown me is never gonna work because I’ll be like, “OK, fine. Disown me, like whatever. See who wins this one.” They’ve tried things like that. They’ve, in the end, they’ve just realized that if I make my own mind up I’m gonna do something. So they just nod and like, “OK. Sure.” It’s funny ‘cuz I try to push them a little bit. We went to… there’s a great store in the suburbs called Fresh Farms. I’ve made them go and try Indian food and other kinds of foods and like, “Oh, look! This is the greatest thing ever. ‘Cuz you know there’s one store where all these cultures are coming together.” And my parents are like, “Oh yeah. This is great. Thanks kiddo. You’re so great!” But, you know, I’m a little too stubborn for them I think. And so we clash, but they quickly fold and just accept it.

ML: Do you kids ever go home?

AS: I do. It’s one of the easiest places I’ve ever moved. I mean I didn’t move very far for college and it never felt like home ‘cuz I was so close to my parent’s home. But also culturally, it was always just never like…. You know, I never identified with people. I went to school in Ann Arbor. It’s a very cultural place but I never really identified with the level of culture there. Moving to Chicago, I never felt more at home. There was never a place easier to explore and where you could just kind of walk around and soak it in. That’s when I really liked it - when I moved here ‘cuz I didn’t know anybody. So it’s kind of what I did. I just walked around and would go into random shops and get looked at weird when I’d pull over to gas on the South side and like, “Yeah. I’m ok with this. I’m ok that it’s a little dangerous. I’m ok that it’s not hypothetically friendly. But it’s what I don’t know. I like the adventure of it and it made like kind of settling in here really quickly really easy.

ML: Did you ever consider leaving the city?

AS: It’s something that if I do, it’s for something like graduate school, or work, or because the city can’t offer the… you know…. I am always someone seeking an adventure, a challenge. So it’s hard to think about it. But it could happen - probably not anytime very soon. I like it here. I love my job but it could happen someday. But it would probably be to seek out some pretty cool adventure. I’d always want to be able to come back here because I’ve formed some really… some connection with people. I formed some sincere friendships and it’s always gonna be home.


ML: So I know this isn’t gonna come as a surprise but do you feel a bit about what’s going on now in Sochi, do you get a lot of questions about Russia or Russian culture?

AS: Yeah, it’s funny. People are always like, “Oh, they did this special on this kind of Russian food. What else do people eat?” One of my best friends actually just had an Olympics party and was representing Russia and had to make Russian food and I had to dish out Russian recipes. I was like, “Add alcohol to everything. That’s what Russians like to eat!” But it’s funny ‘cuz I’ve most of the questions that I’ve been getting are, “Who are you rooting for?” And I’m like, “Well usually I root for the U.S., but it’s hard for me because a lot of athletes are trained in the U.S. or trained in Russia. Then they compete for a different country. So for me I just like in an event to choose a favorite. “Oh, I want Netherlands to win here of course.

But I get a lot of questions like, “How [do] I feel about all those conflicts, like the social conflicts going on pre-Olympics and throughout the Olympics?” It’s hard because the politics in Russia are just shocking to me that it’s a country that’s seems to be as developed as America but…. So it seems to be as developed as the U.S. but socially and politically it’s kind of…. I don’t know if it’s lacking, but it’s developed in its own manner. So it’s definitely something that’s come up a lot in people asking me, “How do you feel about the reign of Putin, and how do you feel that’s impacting us culturally here in the U.S.? And how do you think that the U.S .reacts to that? Is it appropriate?” And for me it’s always been, you know, I kind of accept it for what it is. There’s nothing I can personally do as far as I don’t 100 percent agree with the government in the U.S. either. It’s something that’s, a balance. There’s never going to be a perfect situation and it’s unfortunate.

I feel bad that social policies arise… you know the eastern European sea board – Ukraine. We’re there and it’s hard to think about the…. I still have family over there that’s going through that. But as far as the Olympics go, right there in Russia, I don’t know why they chose the warmest part of Russia for the Olympics. That’s one of the things where they announced it was in Sochi, that’s where my parents went on their vacation - their honeymoon in the winter. So, to go to a beach. So, yeah. I guess good decision. Like good job world!

ML: Do you visit Russia?

AS: I can’t actually. I can’t visit Russia unfortunately. Russian - American dual citizenship? When we came over, because we kind of came over in the shady like work visa - travel visa….


ML: Oh.

AS: …we never denounced our Russian citizenship. There’s a 50 % chance if I go back there that nothing will happen. And then there’s a 50% [chance] that I will have been in their system as evading taxes for you know twenty years of my life. They’re gonna be like, “Alright, well, go sit in the prison for awhile while we figure out how to charge you all this money.” Yeah. When my parents obviously went to Ukraine - unfortunately now that’s not an option - but they went to Ukraine to hang out. They kind of met in the middle. So you know its there’s other ways you know. I guess the nice thing about Europe is that you can travel. People in Europe can travel so easily with the E.U. that it’s easy to meet up with people from America. There always gonna be some kind of thing that they are accepted in.

ML: Well thank you very much for your story, it’s a very interesting creative story.

AS: Thanks.

ML: So thank you for your time.

AS: Thank you.