Born in the USSR, Raised in California: Video Recording

Thanks to everyone who could attend our event on Saturday, December 4th, and thank you all for your engagement and for your wonderful questions. For those of you who couldn’t make it, here’s the video recording from the event and links to our work.

Seven immigrant writers read their fiction and nonfiction related to immigration, identity, family history and the mother tongue(s). Let’s talk about buckwheat and pickled herring with beets. What do you do if your children refuse to eat traditional foods? Or when your dying grandmother forgets English and Russian and begins speaking to you in Yiddish? Does a Soviet-era secret still matter when the country no longer exists? We explore love, life, loss and the nuances of living with a hybrid identity.

Masha Rumer’s nonfiction book, Parenting with an Accent: How Immigrants Honor Their Heritage, Navigate Setbacks, and Chart New Paths for Their Children, is forthcoming from Beacon Press in November 2021. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Moscow Times, Scary Mommy, and Parents, winning awards from the New York Press Association. She was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. You can connect with her on Twitter @mashaDC and on her website and order her book here.

Sasha Vasilyuk is a Russian-American writer who grew up between Moscow and San Francisco. With a MA in Journalism from New York University, she has written for Harper’s Bazaar, The Telegraph, Narrative, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Newsweek, and Reed. She has won the Solas Award for Best Travel Writing and a NATJA award. Sasha lives in San Francisco where she is working on a novel. You can connect with her on social @sashavasilyuk and find her work highlights here.

Tatyana Sundeyeva is a Russian-Jewish writer and novelist originally from Kishinev, Moldova. She writes short fiction, travel writing, and Young Adult novels and has been published in Cleaver and Hadassah Magazine. She is also on the Executive Committee of San Francisco’s Litquake Festival. You can find her at or @TeaOnSundey

Yelena Furman was born in Kiev and lives in Los Angeles, where she teaches Russian literature at UCLA. Her fiction has appeared in Narrative, book reviews in the Los Angeles Review of Books and The Baffler, and articles on Russian-American fiction, contemporary Russian women writers, and Virginia Woolf’s translation of Dostoevsky in various academic venues. With Olga Zilberbourg she co-runs Punctured Lines, a feminist blog on post-Soviet and diaspora literatures. You can connect with her on Twitter at @YelenaFurman.

Maggie Levantovskaya emigrated from Kiev, Ukraine, to San Francisco at the age of ten. She’s a nonfiction writer whose work has appeared in The Rumpus, Michigan Quarterly Review, Catapult, and Lithub. She teaches in the English department at Santa Clara University. You can find her work on her website and connect on Twitter @MLevantovskaya.

Vlada Teper’s essays have been featured in “Perspectives” on KQED. Her poetry has appeared in the Oberon Poetry Magazine and TulipTree Review, among others. A writer, teacher, and entrepreneur, Vlada is the recipient of the 826 Valencia Teacher of the Month Award, and the founder of I M U. She is currently completing her debut novel about
being a substitute teacher in a Sex Ed high school class. You can find her on Twitter at @VladaTeper.

Olga Zilberbourg is the author of LIKE WATER AND OTHER STORIES (WTAW Press) and three Russian-language story collections. She has published fiction and essays in Electric Literature, Lit Hub, Alaska Quarterly Review, Confrontation, Scoundrel Time, and elsewhere. She writes book reviews for The Common, co-edits Punctured Lines, and co-hosts the San Francisco Writers Workshop. You can find her work on her website, connect on Twitter @bowlga, and order her book here.

9 thoughts on “Born in the USSR, Raised in California: Video Recording

  1. The conversation was unexpected. I happened upon it via Twitter and clicked on the video more out of curiosity on who these people are that I follow on Twitter.

    The above perambulation hopefully gives some context to why I found the whole experience pleasantly surreal.

    I have experienced and identify with much of what was described by each participant. The thing is that I am neither a woman nor an immigrant to the U.S.

    I left for Russia the first year after the fall of the Soviet Union and spent 5 years there, studying language on my own with tutors at first, then in a formal program at THE university. I almost never hung out with Americans. I was there to learn what it was to be Russian.

    I married there, went to school, and worked a bit. Then, my wife and I left for the U.S. It was just too hard to get by in St. Petersburg, and I was worn out. I did come back with non-native fluency (with gaps) and a first edition of Петербург.

    We ended up raising two children in the U.S. to be bilingual. I have always spoken in Russian with my wife. We took the kids to Russian school on Saturdays at the local Orthodox church, then switched to Sundays as my being an American who speaks Russian did not fit in well with church politics (the parishioners were great, though).

    Sundays at Russian school were better. It was more “Soviet” with my wife being the oddball actual real live Russian. We were still a bit outsiders even there, though. I was not accepted as a teacher there as a “non-native” Russian speaker (certified to teach ESL/Russian/Social Studies in two states) by the old power structure. Hard to get mad at the matronly proper old lady in charge with the tattoo from Auschwitz, though. Our children were learning there, so I could shrug off my ego.

    I closely identify with all of the traditions, food, and the rest of it. I am looking in, though. Sometimes in mixed groups at parties the Russian speakers will suddenly listen to me interacting with one of those non-Russian speakers and think, “huh, another person.” I am very insistent on Russian with Russian speakers unless I know the person quite well (I don’t like speaking in English for free:).

    What was my impression of your event? It felt like a well worn book that I enjoy opening again and again. Culturally and professionally I could identify so closely and warmly with seven women living thousands of miles away from me.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you so much for listening and for your thoughtful response. So glad we were able to provide a sense of community.


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