Sitting at the kitchen counter, five years old, staring down into my red beet soup, I wonder, why can’t I have pea soup? I look up at my grandmother, she with her large round glasses and her bun all in tangles, holding a dollop of sour cream which plops into my soup as if that makes it taste any better.
At the age of five, I had already met my lifelong best friend, Emily. We were inseparable. I was always at her house, but she was never at mine because I was ashamed and felt that she would ridicule my family’s traditions. Emily loved pea soup, ate pizza, sandwiches and hot dogs. I ate beet soup, Russian cabbage meat rolls, and caviar. My life was different, and I pushed my family aside to fit in with my friends.
My grandfather did not speak any English, and my grandmother spoke it with a thick accent. I spoke Russian at home, but was embarrassed to show my language proficiency to any of my friends. What I did not realize was that I was more privileged than any of them.
As much as I resented being seen with my Russian-speaking family at a young age, they were my best friends. I am probably one of the few who is very close with her grandparents. I spent more time with them than I spent with anyone else. They deeply impacted my growing up, and yet I was embarrassed. Every night my grandmother put on her long soft fur coat and tucked her scarf neatly into her sweater I would grip onto her sleeve and let her pull down the dim corridor to the front door. My grandfather would just be coming in with his leather coat that always smelled that wonderful ineffable smell of him. When my grandmother would finally conjure up the strength to give me a kiss and place me aside I would claw onto my grandpa’s coat and just cry until my throat was dry and my eyes stung. I hated when they left, because they were apart of me, but I seemed to rip that part out when I was with my friends.
When I was eleven, I had a History project where I was supposed to explore my heritage. At first, I was mortified, I did not want to be looked at as “different.” Despite my fears I put it together in hopes of a good grade. During class, I sat through about four presentations before getting the courage to volunteer. I looked across the class and at my teacher, she fixed her glasses and folded up her red velour sleeve to check the time. I could feel the sweat collect in the palms of my hands and the feeling of ants crawling in my throat. As I started reading, I saw no whispering, no laughing, and no narrowing eyes. I felt more and more confident and eventually recited a Russian poem that I had memorized with my grandmother.
I walked home that day, with my best friend Emily. She invited me over for a dinner of pea soup and sandwiches. I declined and told her my grandmother was waiting with Borscht, my favorite.
“What’s that?” She asked.
“Beet soup” I replied. She asked if she could come and I was proud to respond, “Yes, of course, my Babushka will love you.”
From that day on, I have not been embarrassed about my heritage. My family will always come first and I will always share every bit of my life with them, never will I ever rip them out for any kind of acceptance because they are what make me the person that I am.
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