As I walk down crowded streets of a familiar neighborhood
known as Brighton Beach, I notice how atmosphere around me changes with a rapid
pace. Billboards covered in Russian advertisements, store shelves stocked with
imported products, people with no expressions on their easily-distinguishable
faces. For a moment I get lost in an unstoppable wave of “culture”, moving
similar to lines of a reckless red army, devastating everything on its way,
leaving those who dare to oppose – dead in the ground. The spirit of
Post-Soviet influence can be seen throughout the streets of this small
community, built by immigrants from the former USSR and Russian Empire. People
on the street give an accurate representation of what it feels like to walk in
a major Russian metropolitan. “courtesy counts”, a sign posted by local
MTA seems to be ignored completely as people chaotically move through
intersections, walking in front of traffic, cursing at passersby and leaving no
room for kindness in their everyday lives. Although it is entertaining to see
how Brighton Beach holds strong Russian values, I always wondered how after so
many years it remains unchanged, promoting similar values to the ones held by
immigrants in late 1900’s.
Brighton Beach was purchased by Dutch settlers from Native
Americans in 1645. Area was used mostly for farming until late 1800’s.1 Development
of Brighton Beach began in 1868’s, when British businessman built a resort in
that area. In 1878 group of businessmen chose to name that area Brighton Beach,
as an homage to the English resort of Brighton.2 After several decades,
area became a popular resort for New Yorkers, providing rooms for up to five
thousand people and serving meals to over twenty thousand visitors daily.
Russian emigration to the United States began in 1880’s as
Russian Jews escaped persecution during pogroms.3 Pogroms were a series of
riots that were targeting Jewish population of the Russian Empire. Jewish
people were blamed for an assassination of Alexander II, leading to massive
outrage and violent acts against Jewish population.4 As Jewish emigrants
escaped the Russian Empire, they settled in coastal cities throughout the
United States, such as New York City. Picture of New York Russian Emigrants.
Just like any other group, Jewish emigrants were not welcomed in the New York
City at first. Russian Empire limited Jewish population from several job
fields, restricting them from such trades as farming, forcing many Jewish
emigrants to work in garment industry.5 With bigotry being a prevalent
part of the society, many Jewish emigrants were also restricted from industrial
jobs, leaving them outside of the established trades.6
In 1917 Russian Empire collapsed, leading to five years of
internal military conflicts. With public running the government, many wealthier
people were “raskulachiny”. As people revolted against noble families, serves
ran through towns, killing those who had better life than them, stealing
livestock and destroying property. As people revolted against their government,
a socialistic party was formed. Members of the party, also known as Bolsheviks
formed groups to revolt against their noble landowners. Red Army was formed,
supported by the public. Volunteers of the red army were viewed as heroes,
fighting against previous government supporters known as White Army.7 Conflicts
lead to the October Revolution and establishment of the Russian Soviet
Federative Socialistic Republic.
October Revolution lead to the emigration of White Emigres
to the United States. Supporters of the old regime, white emigres were forced
to flee their country, seeking refuge somewhere else.8 Emigrants were of the
higher classes of Russian Empire, which gave them an advantage over other
emigrants, leading to major contributions to American science field as well as
the United States military. Army benefited greatly from Russian scientists,
leading to the development of early versions of helicopter and two winged
Russian emigration slowed down in early 1920’s. With the
formation of Soviet Union in 1922, emigration became illegal in the USSR. Any
individual that expressed a desire to leave was labeled as an enemy of the
party and was either executed or sent to work camps. With harsh
anti-immigration policies, Russian emigration from the Soviet Union slowed
down. Although people could not leave the country, internal policies played a
major role in the future development of Brighton Beach. With close to no import
in the country and limited supply of agricultural goods, scarcity was a
prevalent part of the society. Such items as bread, milk and eggs were
extremely scarce, forming lines in front of stores, forcing people to wait
several hours for a loaf of bread. People were forced to work for the
government. All factories and productions were owned by the political party.
With limited supply and high demand, people were ready to pay extremely high
prices for luxury items. Although people had freedom to purchase anything they
wanted, people were reported for having too many possessions. Neighbors spied
on each other, creating a society where no one could be trusted.
Russian culture was slowly shaping as Soviet regime was
making its way through the world. Russian political system, known as
totalitarianism created several issues in the society. Scarcity was still
prevalent throughout the Soviet Union.9 Kids were encouraged to join political
parties, promoting ideas of socialist society. From an early age, individuals
were taught they should preserve their ideology and heritage. Those ideas
can be later seen throughout developments of Russian communities in the United
States as well as modern culture of Brighton Beach.
In 1980’s USSR’s leader Mikhail Gorbachev created new
policies which lead to the political movement known as Perestroika.10 With
changes in the government, Jewish emigration to the United States restarted in
1987. As emigration continued, United States restricted access to the country
of owners of Israeli visas. This lead to illegal emigration practices from
Russian emigrants, making them a notable part of the unlawful emigration to the
US. With over three hundred thousand Jewish emigrants entering the United
States, Brighton Beach with its low property prices quickly became known as
Little Odessa. With access to free market, emigrants were rapidly building
stores and restaurants that were not allowed in the Soviet Union. Modern
landscape of Brighton Beach is still defined by that practice. With stores
located next to each other, every block has two three grocery stores, several
restaurants and book stores. With scarcity no longer being a controlling
factor, modern Russian stores are filled with thousands of items, providing
unbelievable amount of every kind of products. From imported food stores to
illegal movie resellers, Russian establishments are often easily identifiable
by bright signs, written in Russian. With hundreds of choices of candy, it
seems as store owners are trying to compensate for what they never had in the
Soviet Union. With hundreds of stores and restaurants located in a small
neighborhood of Brooklyn, Russian emigrant are trying to create something they
never had, a choice. Ideology of heritage preservation can still be seen
throughout culture of Little Odessa. With over thirty point one percent of
people having little to zero knowledge of English, Brighton Beach holds values
that are similar to those of a large Russian metropolitan city.
Russian emigrant, unlike Irish immigrants and other groups,
has a different way of looking at the United States. While Irish
immigrants came to the America to seek new opportunities, create new connection
and “Americanize”, Russian emigrants preferred to not assimilate. With over
thirty percent of population not speaking any English, New York City government
was forced to rename streets in Brighton Beach, changing them into numbered
system. Russians are known for being proud of their culture, children of emigrants
are taught from an early age to stay true to their believes, to be near their
parents at all stages of life and to never forget where they came from. Ideas
of equality and political correctness are often ignored by most members of the
community. While walking down the street it is not uncommon to hear a racist
remarks and employers, similar to American elementary school students won’t
hesitate to make fun of someone’s last name. Brighton Beach is a unique area
with hundreds of Russian stores, restaurants and dozens of work places that
will take any worker with no social security or knowledge of English. Unlike
other immigrant groups, Russians often exploit newly arriving people, selling
them expensive insurance, paying less than minimum wages and not paying taxes
for their workers.
Brighton Beach is a unique area of the New York City that
allows visitors to experience Russian culture without having to travel across
the world. Although it is easy to get lost in myriads of restaurants and stores
on Brighton Beach, that narrow street carries a lot more that is shown to the
general public. Hundreds of years of cultural changes are concealed in those
red brick walls, remaining true to their heritage. Little Odessa, developed in
1970’s remains the same to this day. Street vendors with fresh pastries,
suspicious DVD re-sellers and countless number of job opportunities that are
ready to exploit naïve workers. Brighton Beach is a place that has experience
many changes and remained unchanged at the same time.
??????????? ???????? ? ????????? ? ???. ????? ? ????????
??????? (in Russian) (3): 34–51.
Stephen “Brighton Beach”. In Jackson, Kenneth T.;
Keller, Lisa; Flood, Nancy. The Encyclopedia of New York City (2nd
ed.). New York, NY, and New Haven, CT, USA: The New York Historical Society and
Yale University Press. pp. 139–140
E. (1999). ???????
??????????? ???????? ? ????????? ? ???. ????? ? ????????
??????? (in Russian) (3): 34–51.
John Klier Russians,
Jews, and the Pogroms of 1881–1882. Cambridge University Press. p. 58.
– The Lower East Side – Immigration…- Classroom Presentation | Teacher
Resources – Library of Congress. Accessed May 26, 2017.
Beach History”. Our Brooklyn. 1936-08-30.
??????: ????? ???????? ???????? ???? – ??????? ?????”.(in Russian)
Beyda, «’Iron Cross of the Wrangel’s Army’: Russian Emigrants as Interpreters
in the Wehrmacht.» Journal of Slavic Military Studies 27, no. 3 (2014): 433.
Sikorsky.” Sikorsky Archives | History. Accessed May 26, 2017.
Gerhard Rempel, Department of History, Western New England College,
(1996-02-02). “Gorbachev and Perestroika”. Mars.wnec.edu