Vitaliy Vladimirov

Transcript of Vitaliy Vladimirov
Interviewee: Vitaliy Vladimirov
Interviewer: Christina Xiques
Date: February 13, 2014
Place: 5358 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, Illinois
Transcriber: Mark Lecker
Total Time: 20:21 minutes

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

CX: This is Christina Xiques, at 5358 N Ashland Ave, on February 13th, interviewing Vitaliy Vladimirov [who] comes from Russia. So you said you come from Russia, right? Did you live in a city, or in a village?

VV: Uh, the city that I lived in was about five hundred thousand people, it’s called Tver.

CX: Ok. And were you born?

VV: I was born in Russia, yes. So I mean we lived in a house, in a city, but we did not have running water or plumbing, but you know it was…the city about the size of Columbus, Ohio, where I later got my undergraduate degree, actually. So it’s about five hundred thousand or so, on the river Volga, about two, two three hours North West of Moscow by train.

CX: Ok. So the city that you were born in wasn’t the city you lived in.

VV: Correct.

CX: You stayed in, ok. Could you tell me a little bit about your childhood?

VV: Um, well…it was very interesting, especially compared to the life that I live now. So we lived in a home, that was built…it was bought by my grandparents twenty or so years prior. Actually in 1980. And the home was large, and we had a large plot of land. We lived on about a quarter acre, maybe half an acre of land, and the home itself had three bedrooms, a kitchen, living room. It had a cellar. It had an attic. My grandfather had done a lot of repair work on it, and he and my grandmother lived there. Later, the two would separate, but they shared custody of the house. So he would come visit occasionally. My grandfather was Lithuanian, and my grandmother was Russian. Well she still is, she’s still around. So I guess we had about half an acre that we lived in. And we had a large plot of land, you know with some sheds and some greenhouses and things like that. So that was our home.

(2:14)

CX: Do you have like a particular experience? Happy moment that happened in your childhood?

VV: So I had a lot of happy memories in Russia. I was born right after the fall of the Soviet Union, and it was a very difficult time to raise a child, for my mother. And we struggled. We definitely struggled a lot of times, especially since our home did not have running water or plumbing. However, it was a very supportive environment, and my mother made the best of it. And you know, the fact that we had a plot of land in which we could raise our own vegetables really is what got us through our crisis. A lot of people struggled in Russia at that time, and the country really had just fallen apart. But I have lots of wonderful memories, you know school, and I had wonderful teachers who made us put on plays and learn how to dance, and do all these other wonderful things. And of course the love of my mother, my grandmother are just founding blocks of my life today.

(3:12)

CX: Awesome. Do you have any siblings?

VV: I do not. Again, because you did not have children in Russia in the ‘90s. And Russia has a population crisis right now because there are just not enough children. Because it’s so expensive and the government has actually resorted to paying women to have children. And it relies on immigrants from other former Soviet Republics to actually replenish the stocks, so to speak.

CX: Ok. So why didn’t they have children? I don’t understand, like you said in the ‘90s…

VV: It was…I mean, everyone was poor. You had no money, I mean the government was non-existent. There were no services. People had no food. They had no…you couldn’t…like if you go to the store, you would go to a store, and all the shelves would be empty. If you had money, you could not use it. So buying things was just out of the question. You had to really rely on your own, your own sort of wits. And people in the cities were hurt the most. People in the villages and other rural areas that sort of rely on old traditions, got through it ok. But it was a very, very difficult time. It was very, very difficult. And it’s really hard to explain. It’s just…it’s just, there was no money, there was nothing.

(4:30)

CX: What made you decide to leave your homeland, and come to America?

VV: Well, I did not have the choice, because my mother made the choice for me. My mother married an American. She was a catalogue bride. She would have not liked saying that I am saying this, but it’s true. She was roped into going to a dating agency by a friend of hers, and the friend wanted to bring a friend with her, so that…’cause you know that girls like to do things in couples. So she went to this dating agency, where they made her fill out …answer questions and take photos and videos. And they put her in a book. So there’s this book, and Americans and other foreigners would come and they would just go look through the book, say, “I like this woman. I like this woman. I like this woman.” And the agency would set up dates, and that’s just how it happened. And my mother met a man, who happened to live in Aurora, Colorado. And after a courtship of three or four months, he left. And he started sending us gifts and money, and several months later he invited us to live in America. And that’s how I came to America.

CX: Was it difficult getting here?

VV: No. Not for me. Because my mother was marrying an American, my experience is actually very easy. And knowing what I know now about the stories of other immigrants, we really had it very lucky. After four years, we were able to apply for citizenship, and because I was not eighteen, my citizenship was given to me automatically, because my mother became a citizen. And so that experience made it easy for us. I mean it was just a matter of getting on a plane, and flying here, and getting off, so…

(6:17)

CX: Do you enjoy it here in America?

VV: Well I have to, it’s my home. I’ve lived here for sixteen years now. So it’s well over half my life has been spent here, I moved here when I was eleven, so…so of course, I love it here! And I love Chicago especially.

CX: Ok, awesome. So when did you move to Edgewater?

VV: Well, that is an interesting story, because… So I lived in Aurora, Colorado for nine years, and then I went to art school in Columbus, Ohio for four and a half years. And then after that I was living there unemployed, and I was like, “What am I going to do with my life? I’m unemployed. I’m working at Home Depot, and it’s awful. I have an art degree.” So on a whim, I moved to Chicago. I had an aunt-in-law who still lives here, although we don’t speak anymore. And I finagled her to allow me to live with her. And so I moved in. I lived with her. However we did not get along, and so…and in the process of me scrambling to find housing, I reached out to some friends in Columbus, and I said, “Oh my G-d, I don’t know what to do! Do you have friends who live here?” And it just so happened that I had a friend of a friend, had bought a condo and was needing to move out that same month. What had happened is she just moved out, I moved in, and her condo just happened to be in Edgewater. So it was very lucky.

(7:40)

CX: And, umm…let me see…do you feel at home here, in Edgewater?

VV: Of course. I actually really like Edgewater, just because it’s such a wonderful community. It’s close to the lake. It has a lot of pretty buildings. It’s very urban, and it’s very diverse, and…you know myself being gay there’s a lot of gay men here. So I feel very included in the community in that. But there’s also just a sense of community here that I think is lacking in a lot of communities. It’s just a very interesting place. And I have made my home here, I live in Andersonville now, just a block away. It’s just wonderful. The strip on Clark Street is very vibrant. It’s thriving, and it’s really just like a place that other places wish they were. I feel like that’s very fortunate, for me being here.

(8:32)

CX: Can you tell me a little bit more about when you said you feel a sense of community here that you feel other communities are lacking? Could give you give me examples? Can you think of anything?

VV: Well, just the fact that this neighborhood has a historical society, and not only one but two. There’s the Edgewater Historical Society, and then there’s the Swedish Museum, and just the amount of…so I feel like that shows…and then the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce is very active. There are three historic districts here, organized by people. The fact that Edgewater is its own neighborhood, actually, is thanks to work done by a single man. So I think that a lot of it speaks to people really caring about this community and it just… The richness of history that is here. People really treasure it. And just the level of success that it enjoys, within the city, out of all the North Side communities, I feel like it’s very well to do, it’s very…kinda upper crust, but it’s still very approachable because it’s far enough from downtown, and all the high rise apartments are studios, so there’s a very different mix. I myself lived in a studio that was very inexpensive. Now I live with my boyfriend in an apartment that is very expensive, but luckily between the two of us we can make it work.

I feel like that difference is really what makes it work. There’s neighborhoods like Hilson, or Humboldt Park, people…areas that have gentrified like Lincoln Park or Wicker Park, Logan Square, all these places that have, that were very similar, but have…where they have gentrified to the point of pushing out all the other people. People like the immigrants, who come and they don’t really have the means to pay fifteen hundred dollars for an apartment. But here, you can have an apartment for five hundred, seven hundred dollars, where…and they used to have apartments that were fifteen hundred dollars. That difference is what makes it work.

(10:26)

CX: What is your favorite experience here in Edgewater?

VV: I have so many! One of my favorite experience of course have been all the many and wonderful festivals. Midsommarfest is really just delightful, and just throngs of people partying in the street until, like six in the morning, and just…really, really, really lovely. And the diversity here. Just a lot of experiences really. It’s where I met my boyfriend, so of course all my experiences and all my wonderful happy memories are here with him…and the lake… It’s hard to pick one.

CX: What has been the biggest change for you since you moved to Edgewater?

VV: In what way?

CX: In any way. In any way.

VV: Well, you know, I mean Columbus, Ohio was really where I grew up as a person, but Edgewater really sort of began my professional life. So I’m starting a new career, and it’s very exciting. And so perhaps that has been the biggest change, sort of feeling like this is where kind of where my grown up life has started. And just of course going from single and dating, to committed and being in a committed relationship has been a really big change for me. And it’s just at every point, it feels like Edgewater helps. It’s like just the perfect place to make it all happen. I’m kind of a fan [laughs]. I’m a big nerd about it.

(12:01)

CX: And how do you see people in Edgewater? How do they treat you, generally?

VV: Fine. Everyone here is lovely. People are chatty on the street, I talk to my neighbors. Iit has a very small town feel, which I think is also lacking in sort of this urban setting. But it’s like we’re friends with… I’m friends with the Starbucks baristas. I know the man down… I’m friends with the Baha’i man who runs the Persian store down the street. I’ve gone to every restaurant, I have friends who live in the neighborhood. So we’ll just meet for coffee and it’s just very…what was the question? Oh people…

CX: Yeah how do…how do you feel people treat you here in Edgewater.

VV: Fine, yeah. Everyone’s awesome. Sorry I just get…rambling.

CX: No, you’re fine. You’re good. So you feel like you get along with other people at your work, or…you know…?

VV: Well my work is not in Edgewater. My work is very, sort of strange…

CX: Well, here in Edgewater, maybe the place that you’re at, you feel like you get along with the people here?

VV: Oh sure, of course. People here are just… Just the fact that you can go down the street, and strike up a random conversation with someone. It’s very easy to do here, and it makes you feel like you talk to someone for thirty seconds on the street, and it just sort of brightens your day. So it’s nice. The neighborhood is just really bizarre. I mean there’s a food truck for dogs, which I think is…not common. And there’s a man whose whole livelihood is based on doing the puppet show on a bicycle. So things like that really create a sense of community also. Makes it very vibrant.

(13:44)

CX: Was it hard learning English?

VV: No. English was very easy for me to learn. I entered middle school when I came to America. And they made me take ESL [English as a Second Language], but by the end of the first semester they actually kicked me out of ESL, because my English was too good. Which was unfortunate, I loved being in ESL.

CX: Did you have any previous knowledge of the language?

VV: My mother is a teacher. She was a middle school level teacher, so one of her friends was, of course, an English teacher. She herself taught literature, and still does. She still teaches literature. So that woman gave us some lessons. But it was very minimal. Most of my English education came from watching television. I watched the Telly Tubbies, and Power Rangers. The first day, I remember very specifically, the very first day I came in America. My very first full day on a different continent, I spent the day watching Power Rangers marathon on Nickelodeon, just because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. It was all shock. So just, I was also… There’s also a gap, an age range. If you come too soon, you’ll forget your mother telling you. If you come too late, you’ll have an accent. I happened to come just in that window of time where I am still fluent in Russian, and also able to speak with no accent.

15:03

CX: Awesome, awesome. Are you part…are you part of or involved in any organizations here in Edgewater?

VV: Well, I’m involved with the Historical Society. Outside of this video recording it, I’ve done some marketing work for them, but not really, honestly. I’m just getting…that’s one of the things I’m just learning about, the non-profit world and starting to volunteer in some places, so getting involved in that sense. But actually I have not been very involved. Despite my love of the neighborhood and all the exciting vibrancy that happens here, I have not done much to give back.

(15:42)

CX: Maybe later on.

VV: Oh, for sure. But now that I’m toying with the non-profit world, I’ll have to.

CX: Right, right. Do you have any family in your home country?

VV: I do. My mother’s my only family here in the States. I have my grandmother, and my two aunts, two cousins, so very small family. I actually spoke to my grandmother today, I used Skype to call. She’s still bopping around, in her eighties. I used Skype to communicate with her, I call her about three times a week. About thirty minutes at a time.

CX: Did you ever think or plan on bringing them here to the States?

VV: You know, it’s something that we toyed with, but the visa situation with Russia is very difficult because of the endless array of political wrangling that happens between Russia and America. It’s just very difficult to get a visa. We’re interested in sponsoring them, but it’s just very expensive. We didn’t have the means at the time, and now they’re not interested in coming.

(16:49)

CX: Oh, I see. So what culture do you identify with?

VV: Well, I don’t really have an identity as far as culture. I don’t really think of myself as American, and I’m definitely not Russian. So I’m sort of in-between. It’s kind of an odd question. I mean I love America. I love Americans. I’m dating one. But I don’t know…it’s weird. I’m kind of in-between.

CX: Do you feel like you kind of take like a mix from this culture, and this culture?

VV: I mean, I’m definitely Americanized.

CX: So you feel American.

VV: I feel American. I just don’t call myself American. It’s just…I’ve lived here for sixteen years. I have to call myself something. But I mean, I really have assembled sort of…I do have sort of an assemblage. You can take Russia out of the boy…or you can take the boy out of Russia, but not Russia out of the boy. I mean, my favorite foods are still sauerkraut, sour cream, and butter. Cabbage, and sausage, whatever. Poppy seeds and all those wonderful things. But being in America has allowed me to sort of broaden my horizons so to speak. My favorite food to cook is Thai food. I love Ethiopian food. I just love all cultures. And that’s part of the joy of living here especially in this diverse neighborhood. You have Argyle a little bit south of us, Devon north of us, and just all that allows me to identify with much more than just being American, or just being Russian.

(18:21)

CX: Do you ever wish you could go back home?

VV: Oh, G-d no.

CX: No?

VV: Russia does not want gay people right now, so…I could be beaten and murdered. The things that are happening in Russia now are just horrible. Russia is just in a very… It’s a very old country. It’s been growing. It went from being very old and very, very rural to very modern very quickly. It’s just experienced a lot of growing pains, and I feel that it will come through, just like America did in a lot of ways. But you do not want to be a gay person living in Russia right now. There is no question… Actually, I don’t speak to my relatives partly because of that. I speak to my grandmother and she knows that I’m gay and that I’m dating a man, and my relatives do too. I’m connected to them on Facebook, and they can see it all. But it came out at one point that they thought that was not ok, and so I don’t speak to them. So there’s that.

(19:22)

CX: That’s very sad.

VV: But I’m not very heartbroken about it or anything, so I don’t lose sleep over it [laughs].

CX: Good for you. If you had the choice to live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?

VV: I don’t know. I like it here in Chicago. I really, really, really like Chicago. It’s just so wonderful. I do really like it here in Edgewater. It’s hard for me to imagine a different place to live, and especially since we just signed a lease, I’ll be living here for at least another year. The opportunities here in the city are wonderful. There’s such vibrancy, such good emotion and such good feel about it. I really do like the city a lot. The good and the bad. It’s hard for me to imagine that, but there are lots of wonderful places that I don’t even know about, so we’ll see, we’ll see what life brings.

(20:12)

CX: Ok, well I enjoyed hearing your story, thank you for sharing.