When people come to America, they integrate into their ethnic community at first. In time, though, many immigrants leave all that behind. When they get older, however, many want to come back and live among their compatriots, according to Mikhail Zaytsev, the editor of Contact, a Russian publication based in Boston.
The Russian community in Massachusetts is formed by immigrants from the USSR who arrived here mostly in the ‘70s, and who kept immigrating during the ‘90s from the ex-Soviet Republics. Russian immigration is now slowing down, but there are many first-generation Americans of Russian heritage who still live in Russian communities. According to unofficial statistics, there are 90,000 to 150,000 Russian speakers in Massachusetts. There are 3 million Russian speakers throughout the United States, said Dr. Eugene Vaninov, a cardiologist who works with Russian speaking patients in Boston.
The Russian community is spread all around Massachusetts, in places like Newton, Brighton, Brookline, Allston, Chestnut Hill, Lynn, Springfield, Cape Cod and Sharon. The community is so developed that you can find anything that you need even if you do not speak English. You can enter a grocery shop to buy Russian products and you will be greeted in Russian. If you want to buy a book in Russian, you can go to a special bookstore. If you need a lawyer, a doctor or a travel agent, you can find any kind of service with the help of an ex-compatriot.
You can learn about these services in Russian-language publications, most of which are free. I had a chance to talk to the editors of two of these publications, the Russian Bulletin and Contact.
The Russian Bulletin was established in 1988 by Evgenia Pavlovskaya, an immigrant from Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia. Back in the ’80s it was only a piece of paper on which she would type advertisements for Russian-speaking businesses. The piece of paper would be spread into places where Russian-speaking citizens lived.
Leonid Komarovsky, the current editor of the bulletin, bough it from Pavlovskaya in 2003. Now the publication is 80 pages, and has 15,000 readers. It is a free monthly publication that circulates in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire. The bulletin still has the same concept but contains much more information and has an online version.
Aside from the ads, you can also find detective stories that Russian-Americans write. Sometimes there are literary competitions among the Russian-speaking writers in Boston who are published in the bulletin, but the writers do not work for Komarovsky.
Komarovsky also has his own radio station, Radio Lenya, that airs in four cities: Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago. He is on air during morning drive time, from 7 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, and gets a lot of calls from his listeners.
“All my radio shows are interactive so anyone can call me. People call me, but not everyone compliments me. There are some citizens who do not like what I say,” Komarovsky said, during our conversation in Russian. “I am journalist so I have a completely different attitude towards other’s opinions. What matters to me is that I know what I am doing.”
The only people who help him write the bulletin and the radio are his wife and his secretary. In Boston alone he has 100,000 listeners. The radio can be listened online as well as on the radio at 1420 AM.
The other publication, Contact (Контакт), is a local magazine and does not get distributed outside Massachusetts. It is a similar publication, where you can find information about different businesses. There you can also read some written works of the members of the community. They are mostly stories written in Russian with some English inserts that reflect the struggles and the everyday life of the new Russian Americans.
The current editor, Mikhail Zaytsev, who has been living in Boston for the past 24 years, first published the magazine in 1997. Russian Bostonians send letters to the publication asking for help to find services. Contact as well as the Russian Bulletin are very useful publications for those who come here without knowing the language of the country.
“It is hard to live in a community when you suddenly lose your friends, your language and the environment you were used to,” said Zaytsev. “Now, the community has grown. Those who yesterday were immigrant have become experts: doctors, lawyers, and we publish their contact information in our magazine. The time has passed and people learned. They become part of the American community and some even forget their language.”
Zaytsev has many Russian-speaking freelancers working for him.
Both publications can be picked up anywhere Russian Bostonians go, at the groceries stores, doctor’s waiting rooms, restaurants.
Dr. Eugene Vaninov is one of the people who you can find in Contact, and one of those people who had established his career and has grown as a doctor in Boston. Now, Dr. Vaninov works at St. Elizabeth’s Professional Building. He came to the United States in 1988. Since his Soviet medical degree was not recognized in the U.S., he had to retake the exams to prove that he was a doctor. It took him eight years in order to become a licensed cardiologist.
“Coming from Russia, and being a Russian speaker, I became very popular,” said Vaninov. “In general I always had Russian-speaking patients. In Brookline, Brighton and Allston there are about 20 000 Russian speakers. I was busy from the first day also because a lot of Russians suffer from cardiovascular diseases.”
Dr. Vaninov is also one of the founders of the Russian-American Medical Institute, whose missions are to give medical help to the Russian-speaking population in Boston and to exchange medical knowledge with Russian doctors living in Russia. He is also known in Russia and has been featured in one of the Russian newspapers, Moskovskiy Komsomolets.
The Russian community has evolved and one does not even have to know English in order to survive in Boston. There is a joke in Russia about immigrants in America:
“A man calls his friend that has just immigrated to the United States:
“-How is it in America?’
“-I don’t know. We don’t go there.’”