Eastern European Immigration

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Eastern European Immigration

I n just two decades between 1891 and 1910, about 12.5 million people immigrated to the United States. The majority of these immigrants came from the countries and states that composed Eastern Europe, among them Austria-Hungary, Poland, and Russia. But the people leaving these countries did not necessarily claim ancestry in them. The borders of nations during the nineteenth century in Eastern Europe changed so frequently that immigration from eastern and central Europe cannot be accurately divided up into nationality counts. As Russia and Austria-Hungary expanded their empires, taking over many smaller countries, countries like Poland that had existed for centuries disappeared as sovereign (self-ruling) nations. Many ethnic groups besides the Poles found themselves without a state: the Lithuanians, the Czechs and Slovaks, the Croatians, and the Slovenians were all displaced (involuntarily removed from their home) at one time or another. In the twentieth century, the Russian Revolution (1917–21), World War I (1914–18), and World War II (1939–45) changed the national borders drastically again, displacing millions of Eastern Europeans. Like other immigrants, the Eastern European immigrants arrived in the United States to escape oppression, violence, or political upheaval, but also to try to improve their economic circumstances or to earn some money for their family in the old country. Because of the turmoil, some came to the United States with a plan of action to restore or rebuild their homelands.

According to Roger Daniels, in Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life, among the peoples who immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe in the late nineteenth and twentieth century were: Albanians, Byelorussians, Bosnian Muslims, Bulgarians, Carpatho-Rusyns, Cossacks, Croats, Czechs, Estonians, Finns, Georgians, Gypsies, Hungarians, Jews, Latvians, Lithuanians, Macedonians, North Caucasians, Poles, Romanians, Russians, Serbs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Wends, and Ukrainians.


Historical background

The Austro-Hungarian Empire originated with the unusually long-lasting rule of a royal Austrian family, the Habsburgs, whose dynasty (a series of leaders from the same family line that rule over many generations) originated in 1282. From their Austrian kingdom, the line of Habsburg rulers expanded their holdings throughout Europe. By 1526 the central components of the kingdom were Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia (present-day Czech Republic), but at various times the empire included Spain, Italy, Belgium, the Balkans, and more. From 1815 to 1848, Austria dominated European politics as the leading power of both the German Confederation and the Holy Alliance (Austria, Russia, and Prussia).

In 1867 the Austrian Empire became the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. (The two states had long been joined under Habsburg rule, but the Magyar people of Hungary insisted on this arrangement in order to obtain equal rights with Austria.) At this time Austria-Hungary included the present-day countries of Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, as well as parts of present-day Poland, Romania, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia and Montenegro. It comprised an area about the size of Texas and was inhabited by approximately fifty-two million people. The population was remarkably diverse. The two largest ethnic groups were the Germans, at about ten million, and the Hungarians, at about nine million. There were also Poles, Croats, Bosnians, Serbians, Italians, Czechs, Ruthenes (Ukrainians), Slovenes, Slovaks, and Romanians. At least fifteen languages were regularly spoken, and there was a wide range of social, economic, and cultural systems.

Eastern European Immigration: Fact Focus

  • Between 1820 and 1920, somewhere between 3.7 and 5 million people emigrated from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the United States. The emigrants were Czechs, Slavs, Slovaks, Ukrainians, Poles, Magyars, Austrians, and others.
  • Between 1867 and 1914 some 1,815,117 Hungarians immigrated to the United States, making up nearly half of all the emigrants from Austria-Hungary. About four hundred thousand Czechs arrived during that time, making up about 10 percent of the Austria-Hungary immigrants.
  • After Poland was divided between Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Prussia, so many Poles came to the United States that Polish America became known as the "Fourth Province" of Poland—the other three being those areas controlled by Russia, Austria, and Prussia.
  • In the nineteenth century, Russia had expanded its empire to the point that it held about one-sixth of Earth's land surface at that time.
  • In the 1930s many Russians who had gone into exile in other European cities after the Russian Revolution felt the need to leave Europe altogether in the wake of the rising Nazi movement. More than one million people born in Russia but living elsewhere in Europe immigrated to the United States at that time.
  • The second wave of Russian immigrants who arrived in the United States in the years after World War II (1939–45) were confronted by the Red Scare. This wave of anticommunism became a witch-hunt in which many innocent people were harassed and lost their jobs. Russian Americans felt driven to hide their ethnicity and tried to appear as much like other Americans as possible to avoid trouble, even though many of them had left their home to escape from the communist regime.

The German Austrians and the Hungarian Magyars maintained most of the power within Austria-Hungary although

Eastern European Immigration: Words to Know

A person who is not a citizen of the United States.
The ruling class; or a government by a small privileged class.
The way that someone who comes from a foreign land or culture becomes absorbed into a culture and learns to blend into the ways of its predominant, or main, society.
Someone who lives in and participates in a political community or country, who has fulfilled the requirements for citizenship as set out by the government. Citizens can expect certain rights and privileges from their government, such as voting or military defense, and at the same time the government has a right to expect its citizens to obey its laws.
An economic theory that does not include the concept of private property. Instead, the public (usually represented by the government) owns the goods and the means to produce them in common.
(also spelled tsar) The emperor or ruler of Russia.
To illegally renounce one's citizenship and request residency in another country.
Unfair treatment based on racism or other prejudices.
Involuntarily removal from one's home or nation.
A series of leaders who are from the same family line and rule over a long period of time.
Leaving one's country to go to another country with the intention of living there. "Emigrant" is used to describe departing from one's country—for example, "she emigrated from Ireland."
Relating to a group of people who are not from the majority culture in the country in which they live, and who keep their own culture, language, and institutions.
Being sent away from one's homeland.
To travel to a country of which one is not a native with the intention of settling there as a permanent resident. "Immigrant" is used to describe coming to a new country—for example, "she immigrated to the United States."
The historic change from a farm-based economy to an economic system based on the manufacturing of goods and distribution of services on an organized and mass-produced basis.
Labor unions:
Organizations that bring workers together to advance their interests in terms of getting better wages and working conditions.
To move from one place to another, not necessarily across national borders.
Abusive and oppressive treatment.
The laboring class.
The Refugee Act of 1980 defines a refugee as a person who has left the country in which he or she last lived and is unable to return to that country "because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." Once a person is determined to be a refugee in the United States, he or she is entitled to federal assistance in settling into a home and finding a job and in getting English-language training, temporary cash loans, and necessary medical services.
A country ruled by the people, rather than a king.
A system of servitude in which a peasant is bound to the soil he tills and is subject to the authority of his lord.

they were not a majority of the population. From 1870 to 1914, Austria-Hungary experienced increasing domestic difficulties. Having many nationalities under one central rule was a serious problem. The Czechs and South Slavs demanded to govern themselves, and the Magyars severely restricted the rights of the Slavs, Slovaks, and Croats. Besides, new political movements had grown with the rise of industrialism (the change from a farm-based economy to an economic system based on the manufacturing of goods and distribution of services on an organized and mass-produced basis). By the end of the nineteenth century the new middle class and the working class were finding voice; many were advocating some form of socialism, a political and economic system that does away with private property, placing the nation's manufacture and distribution of goods into the hands of all the people, or the state as their representative. The Habsburgs responded by granting universal suffrage (right to vote) in 1907, but then took to ruling by decree, thereby choking off further reforms.

Immigration from the empire begins

After the dual monarchy was established, Austria-Hungary permitted anyone in its realm who wished to leave to do so, setting off a mass migration to the United States. The Czechs in Bohemia and the Slovaks from Hungary began to migrate in large numbers to the United States. The Poles who were living under Austria-Hungary in 1870 also began to emigrate by the thousands. (See section on Poland later in this chapter.)

By the early twentieth century, Austria-Hungary was losing its struggle to remain a world power. In 1908 Austria annexed the heavily Serbian area of Bosnia-Herzegovina, infuriating the new kingdom of Serbia. On June 18, 1914, at Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbian patriots assassinated the Habsburg Archduke Francis Ferdinand (1863–1914), nephew of the emperor and heir to the Austrian throne. Their act set off World War I. Austria-Hungary was joined by Germany, Italy (though Italy would soon defect to the other side), and Turkey to form the Central Powers, which fought against the Allies—France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and (from 1917) the United States. After the defeat of the Central Powers and the collapse of their empires at the war's end in 1918, Austria was reduced to its German-speaking sections and proclaimed a republic.

The mass migration

In the turmoil of the last century of the Habsburg rule between 1820 and 1920, somewhere between 3.7 and 5 million people emigrated from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the United States. The emigrants were Czechs, Slavs, Slovaks, Ukrainians, Poles, Magyars, Austrians, and others, and they left for reasons ranging from persecution or bad crops at home to hopes of a better life in America. Since they were not one national group but many, they scattered, establishing communities within the United States by national groups.

Czechs and Slovaks

The Czechs, whose kingdom of Bohemia had been taken over by the Austrian Empire hundreds of years before, had long been dissatisfied with the Habsburg rule. The Czechs were a Slavic people from Bohemia, Moravia, and parts of Silesia, and the majority were Catholics, though there were Protestants and Jews among them. When World War I began, thousands of Czech soldiers immediately surrendered to the Russians rather than fight for Austria-Hungary. They were reorganized as the Czech Legion, which fought on the Russian side. During the war, the Czechs joined with the Slovaks and other suppressed nationalities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in pushing for their own state. The Czechoslovak Republic was established in 1918. Within the new nation were at least five nationalities—Czechs, Germans, Slovaks, Moravians, and Ruthenians (Ukrainians).

An estimated four hundred thousand Czechs arrived in the United States between 1848 and 1914. The Czechs set up urban communities in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and St. Louis. Many Czechs headed west to establish farming communities in Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Texas. In 1847 Czech immigrants established their first settlement in Texas at Catspring in Austin County. The next year, major Czech settlements were established in Wisconsin, especially in and around the city of Racine. By 1855 Czech communities had been established in Chicago, St. Louis, and New York. In 1856 New York became the home of the first U.S. school teaching the Czech language and history. Czech newspapers were established in several of the new communities. The Czechs generally strove to preserve their culture and language. In many of the towns where they settled, little English was spoken.

The Slovaks in Hungary immigrated to the United States in large numbers. They had been oppressed by the Magyars in Hungary and most wished to escape from the tyranny. They also migrated to improve their circumstances. Most Slovaks who immigrated did not have professional skills appropriate to the U.S. economy and took work in the coal mines and in the steel mills.

After World War II, Czechoslovakia became a Soviet-ruled nation. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the Slovaks and the Czechs decided to separate. In 1993, they became the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. Slovakia has had economic difficulties in connection with modernizing and industrializing since the end of the Soviet rule.

The United States has the largest community of Czechs, outside of their homeland, in the world. In 2000, the U.S. Census reported 1,262,527 persons of Czech ethnicity and 441,403 persons listed as Czechoslovakian living in the United States.

Hungarian Americans

The first small wave of Hungarians arrived in the United States from 1849 to 1851. The incoming immigrants consisted of about four thousand of the rebels who had led a successful revolution in Austria-Hungary in 1848 but were then defeated by Austria in 1849. Although the total Hungarian American population was still only about four thousand by the time of the American Civil War (1861–65), some eight hundred Hungarian Americans served in the Union Army, fighting for the North, and a much smaller number in the Confederate Army, fighting for the South. Of the eight hundred Union soldiers, almost one hundred became high-ranking officers. A few of the Confederate soldiers also became officers. Hungarian Americans thereby had the highest percentage of their total population serving as soldiers and officers in the Civil War services of any ethnic group in America at that time.

The largest wave of Hungarian immigration to America began in 1880 and lasted until 1914. Between 1880 and 1899, about 430,000 Hungarians entered the United States. The number jumped to 1,260,000 for the years of 1899 to 1914, with the peak year in 1907 when 185,000 Hungarians immigrated. Hungarians made up nearly half of all the emigrants from Austria-Hungary, at a total of about 1,815,117 emigrants from 1867 to 1914. Most of the immigrants in this wave were young peasant men who hoped to earn enough money in the United States to return to Hungary and set themselves up in better circumstances there. An estimated 20 percent of the immigrants actually did return to Hungary, but the rest settled permanently in the United States.

Although the majority of Hungarian immigrants had been farmers in Hungary, few took up farming in America. Their goal was to earn money quickly, and the best place to do that was in the industrial centers of the Northeast and Midwest. They took low-paying, menial jobs that no one else wanted. Many of the jobs were dangerous, such as mining or working in iron and steel mills. Serious injuries and deaths were common. Because most of the immigrants were hoping to return to Hungary in the near future, they saved as much of their earnings as possible. They took lodgings in inexpensive, slum boarding-houses that were overcrowded, filthy, and often crawling with rats and other vermin.

Despite their concentration in selected U.S. cities, Hungarian Americans did not create "Little Hungarys" during this first major wave of immigration. The young men were not interested in settling down, so they did not buy houses or establish neighborhoods. Instead, they moved from job to job, boarding house to boarding house, waiting for the day when they could return to Hungary. They did organize a number of insurance, or "sick-benefit," societies to help care for each other. Other cultural, social, religious, and political Hungarian American societies sprang up in the late 1800s, but they remained fragmented local efforts until 1906 when the American Hungarian Federation (AHF) was founded. A national organization, the AHF still exists today.

With the beginning of World War I in Europe in 1914, Hungarian immigration to the United States halted. As Hungary and the United States were on opposing sides of the war, Hungarian Americans found themselves in a difficult position, caught between their ties to Hungary and loyalty to their new home. At first, they continued to show allegiance to Hungary, but once the United States officially entered the war in 1917, Hungarian Americans felt it necessary to make a show of allegiance to America. Though most Hungarian Americans still sympathized with Hungary, they began to celebrate American holidays and hold "loyalty parades" in order to escape harassment in the United States.

At the end of World War I, Hungary was divided into a number of smaller states, ruled by foreign powers. Hungarian Americans who had intended to return to Hungary suddenly found themselves without a homeland. Many had not yet become American citizens because of their intention to return to Hungary, but the Hungary they had known no longer existed. Many Hungarian Americans shifted from temporary U.S. residency to permanent residency. They moved out of the miserable boarding houses and bought homes. Little Hungarys developed on the outskirts of cities. Immigrants who had clung to their Hungarian ways now began to be assimilated (to become similar enough to be absorbed as one of the predominant society) into mainstream American culture in language, dress, and other customs. The move away from the temporary Hungarian enclaves and, at the same time from homeland ties and loyalties, hastened the assimilation process.

New Brunswick, New Jersey: A Hungarian American Town

New Brunswick, New Jersey, is a small college town (home of Rutgers University) of about fifty thousand people. The town served as a center for people who were emigrating from Eastern Europe at the turn of the century. In 1930 more than one-fifth of New Brunswick's population was Hungarian American. In the 1980s and 1990s, about 40 percent of all the nation's Hungarian Americans lived in or within one hundred miles of the town, making New Brunswick, according to Fred LeBlanc in "The American Hungarians," the "most Hungarian city in the United States."

New Brunswick had been the seat of a great deal of Hungarian American culture. In 1909 the largest Hungarian-language weekly newspaper in the United States, the Magyar Hirnok (Magyar Herald) was established in the city. New Brunswick is home to the Hungarian Heritage Center and to the Csurdöngölo Folk Dance Ensemble of New Brunswick, the leading Hungarian folkdance group on the East Coast of the United States. New Brunswick is also the host of an annual Hungarian Festival, with traditional foods, music, and folk dancing.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Hungarian population of New Brunswick had become secondary to new waves of immigration. New Brunswick now has large Asian and Hispanic populations. The Hungarian Americans in and around the town continue to proudly celebrate their heritage, but, like most American immigrant populations, their numbers are dropping as generations become further removed from the immigrant generation.

After the war, new immigrants from Hungary began to arrive. They were quite different from those who came before. Instead of peasant farmers, most were well-educated professionals who had been displaced by the postwar economic upheaval or who disagreed with the increasing German Nazi influence in Hungary. There were a number of leftists (people believing in reform), as well as Jews. These new immigrants were not interested in joining the peasant-based Hungarian American community. Hungarian Americans became split between the old immigrants and the new. At the same time, second-generation Hungarian Americans began to break out of the tightly knit Hungarian American community. By the start of World War II, the Hungarian American community had become quite divided within itself.

World War II, like World War I, was difficult for many Hungarian Americans, since Hungary again came into the war on the German side, opposing the Americans. Most believed that the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) should be defeated, but they also felt attached to Hungary and could not bring themselves to stand fully against their former homeland. They tried to excuse Hungary's role in the Axis forces by describing Hungary as an "unwilling satellite" of Germany. Despite old loyalties, most Hungarian Americans freely contributed to the Allied war effort. (The Allied forces consisted of the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and other countries and fought against the Axis powers.)

When the war was over Hungary adopted a republican constitution, but in 1948 the Hungarian Workers (Communist) Party seized power. (Communism is a system of government in which the state plans and controls the economy and a single party holds power.) Hungarian foreign trade was oriented toward the Soviet Union, and industry and land were taken over by the government. A popular uprising against the Soviets in October 1956 was put down by Soviet military forces after a few days' success. Many people then fled the country, while others were executed. From 1956, Hungary was a firm ally of the Soviet Union.

The U.S. Congress passed the Displaced Persons Acts of 1948 and 1950 at the end of World War II to assist refugees (people who have left their country and cannot return without fear of persecution). These acts allowed a new wave of Hungarians to immigrate to the United States. Three distinct groups of Hungarians have immigrated to America since World War II. The first, referred to as the "45-ers" and "47-ers," or "DPs (Displaced Persons)," consisted of right-wing intellectuals, high-ranking Hungarian military officers, and members of the Hungarian elite escaping the new communist regime. Then, from 1947 to the mid-1950s, middle-class Hungarians began to flee Soviet oppression. Lastly, between 1956 and 1960, a wave of young people came to America seeking better educational and economic opportunities.

The Hungarian American population

Hungarian immigration to America continues today, though in relatively small numbers. Illegal immigration to the United States from Hungary has been a reality since the nineteenth century, increasing each time either country has placed restrictions on immigration and emigration. Hungarian immigrants are sometimes classified as other nationalities, owing to the multiethnic nature of the Hungarian population and the political division of Hungary into smaller states. Therefore, it is impossible to know the exact number of Hungarian immigrants to the United States. The 2000 Census reports 1,398,724 persons of Hungarian (or Magyar) ancestry. Although Hungarian Americans live throughout the United States, their population is concentrated in the Northeast and the Midwest. The states with the largest Hungarian American populations include Ohio, New York, California, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

Hungarian American culture

The majority of Hungarian Americans are Catholic, but there are also significant numbers of Protestants (particularly Calvinists and Lutherans), Greek Orthodox, and Jews. The first Hungarian worship service in the United States was held in 1852 in New York City. It was an ecumenical service for any and all Hungarian Americans, including Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, and Jews. This ecumenical spirit is still evident in certain Hungarian American churches, while others, such as the Calvinists, have become fractured even among themselves.

Hungarian Americans today remain divided according to generation and time of immigration. Older Hungarian Americans from the first major wave, and some of their children, continue to hold fast to an idealized image of Hungary. The Hungarian Scouts in Exile organization promotes an idealized Hungarian nationalism among younger generations. Founded in 1945 in Germany, the Hungarian Scouts in Exile first functioned in refugee camps in Central Europe to maintain a sense of Hungarian identity and pride after World War II. Around 1950, as Hungarian refugees immigrated to the

United States, the organization's center moved along with them to Garfield, New Jersey. In 1980, there were some six thousand Hungarian Scouts in seventy-nine troops located in about a dozen countries on five continents. Around onethird of those scouts and troops were in the United States.

Hungarian Americans who immigrated between World Wars I and II, and those who immigrated immediately following World War II, were radicals and professionals who were forced to flee Hungary because of political and economic upheavals, the increasing influence of Nazi Germany, and the eventual communist takeover. They therefore have quite a different picture of Hungary than do the older, first-wave immigrants. More recent immigrants have lived in communistdominated Hungary and so have a much less idealized vision of their former homeland that differs from both first- and second-wave Hungarian Americans. Hungarian Americans remain quite divided in their views of Hungary.

Polish Americans

Historical background

The modern Republic of Poland lies in Central Europe. To the north of it is Russia; Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine are at its eastern border; Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic lie to its south; Germany lies to the west. These boundaries have not always been the country's borders; in fact, Poland did not exist as a nation on the map of Europe from 1795 to 1918.

In the sixteenth century, the Polish kingdom was large and powerful and experiencing what is often called its "golden age." Polish artists and scientists were producing great works and the country was enjoying peace and religious toleration while other parts of Europe were experiencing bloody conflicts between the Catholics and the Protestants. Poland and Lithuania had united through a royal marriage in 1386. During the sixteenth century the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth spread out to include Ukraine and parts of Russia.

At that time, Poland's nobles made up about 10 percent of its population. Although Poland was a monarchy, the nobles obtained great powers, severely limiting the king's powers and calling themselves a "noble democracy." They tried to govern by consensus; if everyone in the parliament could not agree on something, it would not be done. Because of this, almost no legislation passed in Poland for quite a few

years. In the meantime, the democratic aspects of the government were reserved only for the gentry. About 90 percent of Poland's people were poor peasants; they had been forced into serfdom (system of servitude in which a peasant is bound to the soil he tills and is subject to the authority of his lord) as the nobility grew stronger. They were compelled to work for a lord, a landowner who could control almost every aspect of their lives, including where they lived, what work they did, and who they married. As the nobles undercut the power of the king and reduced the peasants to a form of slavery, Poland was severely weakened.

Poland's neighbors Russia, Prussia, and Austria took advantage of the internal problems and invaded the region. They began dividing Poland among themselves beginning in 1772 by taking about one-third of its territory. They partitioned it (divided it into parts) a second time in 1793. Upon the third and final partitioning of 1795, the nation of Poland ceased to exist. Austria-Hungary took over Galicia, Prussia got northwestern Poland, and Russia took Ukraine and eastern and central Poland.

Polish immigration to America begins

The Polish nobility were not happy with the partitioning of Poland. Under the new governments, they lost the extensive powers they had enjoyed. Starting in the 1760s, many began to emigrate. They often set up exile communities (groups of people who had fled or been sent away from their home) in European cities, trying to stir up interest in the restoration of their former country. Some of these exiles became ardent proponents of democracy, and when they heard about the American Revolution (1775–83) quite a few of them traveled across the Atlantic to help the American colonists fight the British. Among these adventurous Poles was Polish statesman and military hero Tadeusz Kosciuszko (1746–1817), who later returned to the United States to serve as a link between President Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) and leaders of the French Revolution (1789–99). Count Kazimierz Pulaski (1747–1779), who had distinguished himself defending Poland against the Russians before the partitioning, also came to fight with the rebels in the Revolution. Pulaski formed his own cavalry and earned the title "the father of the American cavalry" before being killed in the battle of Savannah, Georgia.

Kosciuszko and Pulaski were just the beginning of a long period of Polish migration to the United States. The Poles tried repeatedly to rebel against their foreign rulers and restore Poland as a nation, but the Russians and Austrians were too strong for them. After several major uprisings in the nineteenth century, many members of the Polish upper class chose to escape the new oppressive governments. So many came to the United States that Polish America became known as the "Fourth Province" of Poland, the other three being those areas controlled by Russia, Austria, and Prussia, respectively. (Another term for the Polish community outside of Poland is "Polonia.") A few groups of peasant farmers also came to America, looking for better economic opportunities. They set up Polish farming communities in places like Panna Maria, Texas, the first permanent Polish community in America, founded in 1854.

Polish immigration from the 1770s to about 1870 is sometimes referred to as the "first wave," but more often the first wave is considered to have begun in 1870 when Polish serfs were given their freedom and began to emigrate. Just as the serfs were freed, the United States began encouraging immigration to help rebuild the country after the devastation of the American Civil War. Up to two million Poles immigrated to the United States between 1870 and 1914.

Most Polish immigrants in this first large wave of immigration, also called the "old emigration," were single young men looking for the chance to work at wage-earning jobs, save up their money, and return to Poland. Some 30 percent actually did return to Poland, but the rest stayed in the United States. As uneducated (though generally literate) peasant farmers, they were unskilled and unprepared for the industrialized world of America. They took whatever jobs they could find, working in mines, mills, factories, slaughterhouses, refineries, and foundries. Once established in their new home, many sent for their families or returned to Poland to marry, and then brought their wives back to the United States with them. Women and children went to work then to support the family.

With the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the defeat of Austria-Hungary and Germany in World War I, Poland regained its independence, forming its own government in 1918. Nazi Germany invaded Poland at the very beginning of World War II in 1939 and oppressed the country terribly throughout the war. Poland suffered tremendous losses of life and property. An estimated six million Poles were killed, half of them Jews. The remaining population suffered near-starvation throughout the Nazi occupation. In January 1945, Poland was liberated by the Soviet and Polish armies, and it quickly formed a new government. Poland's communist and socialist groups merged in December 1948 to form the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR). The PZPR consistently followed a pro-Soviet policy and renounced all dealings with the Western powers.

The second wave, or "new emigration," of Polish Americans came to the United States under the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, which allowed Europeans who had been displaced by the destruction of World War II to enter the country as immigrants. These second-wave Polish Americans tended to be well-educated intellectuals, the writers, artists, and scholars who had been targeted by the Nazis for elimination. A number of them were Jewish. (For more information, see chapter 15 on Jewish immigration.)

Poland did not adjust easily to its new communist government. For years after the communists took over, the mainly Roman Catholic population angrily confronted "no church" Soviet policies. In response to worker riots in 1956, a new Polish government sought improved relations with the Church. After that the government stifled protest. In 1968 there were student demonstrations and further government crackdowns. In 1969 protests over economic conditions led to widespread violence. By 1980, Poland allowed workers the right to form independent trade unions and the right to strike. The independent labor movement was called Solidarity, and headed by Lech Walesa (1943–). It soon claimed a membership of about ten million. When the Solidarity movement took off in Poland, Americans sympathized greatly with the revolutionary Poles. First-generation Polish Americans were allowed to vote in the 1990 Polish presidential elections, and they helped bring Lech Walesa into office.

A third wave of Polish immigration to the United States began in the 1990s and continues today, though it is small in number. Like first-wave immigrants, the immigrants are mostly young men hoping to find better economic opportunities in America so that they can save up their money and return home to Poland.

The Polish American population

The 2000 U.S. Census reported nearly nine million Americans of Polish ancestry. Early immigrants generally settled in the industrial cities of the Northeast and the Midwest, such as Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio; South Bend, Indiana; Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota; Omaha, Nebraska; St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; and Buffalo and New York City, New York. Few of the old purely Polish neighborhoods still exist (excepting Greenpoint, in Brooklyn, New York, which continues to attract new Polish immigrants), but many of the cities of early settlement still host large Polish American populations.

Polish American culture

The Polish American community has been in the United States for several generations, and, as is often the case, traditional Polish ways are being lost by later generations. Polish language proficiency is limited or nonexistent among third- and subsequent-generation Polish Americans. Many Polish Americans chose to shorten or otherwise Americanize their names in order to blend in better with the mainstream society when they first arrived. Immigration officials actually shortened some arriving Poles' names on their entry papers because they either could not understand the actual name or did not care to write it out. Today some young Polish Americans are reclaiming their true Polish names.

Nearly all Polish Americans are either Catholic or Jewish. When Polish Catholics arrived in America, they found the Roman Catholic churches controlled by Irish Catholics who had arrived earlier. The Irish Catholics did not welcome the newcomers, and Polish Americans began establishing their own churches whenever and wherever possible. In 1896 a number of Polish Americans decided to separate from the Roman Catholic Church entirely and formed the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) instead. The PNCC is very similar to the Roman Catholic Church in all but two important ways: PNCC priests are allowed to marry, and church officials are elected, rather than appointed.

Polish Americans celebrate the holidays and rites of passage common to their tradition, be it Catholic or Jewish. Many Polish American Catholics continue to hold the traditional Polish Christmas Eve feast called Wigilia, and sing koledy—Polish Christmas carols. A secular holiday celebrated by Polish Americans is May 3, commemorating the Polish Constitution of 1791, the first democratic constitution in all of Europe.

Polish Americans have contributed a great deal to American culture, including favorite foods. Kielbasa (Polish sausage), pierogi, Polish dill pickles, sauerkraut, Polish ham, and babka (an egg-dough cake) are all fairly common items in the American diet. Polka music may be one of the best-known contributions Polish Americans have made to American culture.

Polish American culture is celebrated at several Polish American festivals, usually held in the summer. The parades, feasts, and polka music are enjoyed by Polish Americans and non-Polish Americans alike. Few Americans are aware that October is Polish American Heritage Month.

Russian Americans

The term "Russian American" is somewhat confusing because it can be used to refer either to ethnic Russian immigrants or to immigrants from any of the former countries of the Soviet Union (such as Ukraine or Latvia). In this chapter, the term is used to refer to ethnic Russian immigrants. (For more information on Russian Jewish immigration to the United States, see chapter 15 on Jewish immigration.)

Most historians count three major waves of immigration from Russia to the United States: The first wave occurred just after the Russian Revolution (1917–21), stretching from the 1920s into the 1930s; the second wave occurred after World War II, from 1945 until the early 1950s; and the third wave began in the 1970s and continues today.

Historical background

Throughout its history, Russia has gone through periods of major expansion that have had a profound impact on all of Europe. Before there was even a nation called Russia, there was a powerful state where Russia is now, called Kievan Rus'. At the height of its power, Kievan Rus' included most of present-day European Russia, Ukraine, and Byelorussia. When that nation declined in the late thirteenth century, the duchy of Muscovy, which included the city of Moscow, came

Colonial Russian America

In 1741 the land now known as Alaska was home to Aleut, Eskimo, and Native American peoples, but it was not yet known to Europeans. That year, two separate Russian parties landed in Alaska—one led by Russian naval captain Aleksei Chirikov (1703–1748) and the other by the renowned Danish commander of the Russian Navy, Vitas Bering (1681–1741). When Russian traders learned of this discovery, a few hearty adventurers began the long and uncharted journey across Siberia to reach the new land, where fur-bearing animals were reported to be very plentiful. Fur-hunting opportunities proved to be excellent in Alaska, and in 1784 the first permanent Russian settlement was established on Kodiak Island. Fifteen years later, the Russian American Company was granted a monopoly (exclusive rights to trade) over the region. The town of Sitka was established as the company's headquarters. At its peak, the Russian American colony in Alaska was probably home to about four hundred Russians.

After a highly successful start, the colony ran into some problems. In 1802 the Tlingit Indians captured Sitka and held it for two years. The Russians eventually defeated them and regained the town. By the mid-1800s the market for furs was disappearing. The Russians had been such avid hunters of the sea otter, the animal was rapidly disappearing. The people in the Alaskan colony needed supplies in order to survive that were difficult and quite expensive to ship there. Increasingly, the Russian government viewed the colonies as a drain on the treasury. In 1867 as a result of the persistence of Secretary of State William H. Seward (1801–1872), a devoted American expansionist, Russia agreed to sell its American territories to the United States for $7,200,000. When the Americans took over, some of the Russians, many of whom had married native Alaskan women, stayed on there. Some returned to Russia. Earlier in the century the Russians in Alaska had traveled down to northern California where they had founded another colony, Fort Ross. When the colony in Alaska ceased to be, some Russians moved down to California. But after the sale of Alaska, there was no longer much hope for a permanent Russian settlement in North America.

to prominence. It was quickly the aim of the government of Muscovy to restore all the territory that had once belonged to Kievan Rus' under its own rule. By the sixteenth century, the first of the Russian rulers known as czars took his crown. Not until the seventeenth century would Russia begin its expansion across Siberia, a vast, frigid region in north central Asia that is mainly in Russia, extending from the Ural Mountains in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east. Under Czar Peter I (known as Peter the Great; 1672–1725), Russia's power was extended to the Baltic Sea, when it acquired most of what are the present-day nations of Estonia and Latvia. Peter modernized Russia, trying to make it more like the West. He built a new capital city, St. Petersburg, with architectural styles taken from other European cities, hoping to move away from the backward ways of old Russia.

In the reign of Catherine II (often called Catherine the Great; 1729–1796), Russia expanded its territory farther, gaining the Crimean peninsula (in southwestern Russia near Ukraine) and the shores of the Black Sea as well as the city of Odessa. It was during Catherine's rule that Poland was partitioned three times between Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Prussia. By 1795 Russia held more land than any nation in Europe. Like other European nations, it began to seek colonies elsewhere, sending explorers and missionaries into the northern areas of North America, particularly in Alaska.

Russia's expansion was halted when the powerful French emperor Napoleon I (1769–1821) began his campaign to make Europe his empire. In 1807, after having already conquered much of Europe, his army defeated Russia and its allies in battles. Despite significant advances into Russia, though, Russia forced Napoleon's forces to withdraw in 1812. By the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, Russia had acquired Bessarabia (Moldova), Finland, and the rest of Poland. In the nineteenth century, Russia went on to expand into Asia, completing its conquest of the Caucasus (present-day Republic of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and part of Russia), Central Asia, and what became its Maritime Province (Vladivostok). The Russian empire held about one-sixth of Earth's land surface at that time.

The population of Russia's empire was astonishingly diverse, with Finns, Baltic peoples, Asian Muslims, Slavs, Jews, about five million Poles, and many other ethnicities. Despite its military strength and vast holdings, though, the economy of the empire was weak. Many of its people lived in extreme poverty and without the modern comforts or education that were available in other parts of Europe. Russia's czars were known for harsh and sometimes brutal rule. An exception was Alexander II (1818–1881), who ruled from 1855 to 1881. Russia's peasants had been bound into serfdom for centuries until Alexander II emancipated them in 1861, and passed several other social reforms as well. He was assassinated in 1881, and his death ended political reform efforts. By the reign of the last czar, Nicholas II (1868–1918) beginning in 1894, many people in the Russian empire opposed the powerful ruling czars.

A socialist revolutionary movement began in Russia in 1905. The government was weak from its defeat in a 1905 war with Japan. Revolutionary "soviets," or councils, seized power in parts of St. Petersburg and Moscow. The government calmed the rebels by promising to form an elected Duma (parliament). Four Dumas were convened between 1906 and 1917, but the czar and his ministers kept firm control over the government.

Russia's disastrous involvement in World War I led to the end of the monarchy. Five and a half million people from the empire were killed or wounded in the war, which Russia joined on the side of England, France, and, after 1917, the United States. In response to a number of defeats by German forces and continued dictatorship by the czar, riots broke out in the major Russian cities in March 1917. Czar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate (give up his ruling power).

On the night of November 6, 1917, the rebel group called the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924), seized control of St. Petersburg and took over the government. The Bolshevik regime was based on the political philosophy of Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895). Marx and Engels theorized that capitalism would be replaced by socialism in the course of the working-class struggle for justice, basing their views on an analysis of history with its constant political and economic changes. The Bolsheviks sought to overthrow the rule of the aristocracy (ruling class) and the bourgeoisie (middle class) in favor of the proletariat (working class). In their radically transformed society, workers were to control the workplace, the government, and all property. In this way, according to their theory, all Russian people were to achieve equality.

Many people did not go along with the Bolsheviks. After the Bolsheviks grabbed control, Russia was thrown into a four-year civil war pitting the anti-Bolsheviks against the Bolsheviks. When the opposition lost to the Bolsheviks, a migration out of Russia began, consisting of Russia's upper classes, those loyal to the old government, and those who had made enemies among the new leaders. In 1922 the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR or Soviet Union) was formed, consisting of Russia and several of the Soviet republics.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russian Writer (1918–)

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was born on December 11, 1918, a year after the Bolsheviks had stormed to power throughout Russia. As a young man he studied at the University of Rostov, majoring in physics and mathematics, and received a degree in 1941. That year, the Germans attacked the Soviet Union and Solzhenitsyn was drafted into the Red Army. He served throughout World War II (1939–45) with distinction. Wounded several times, he was twice decorated (awarded medals) for bravery. Toward the war's end Solzhenitsyn, now a captain, commented negatively about Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) and his conduct of the war—referring to him as "the whiskered one"—in a letter to a friend. He was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Most of Solzhenitsyn's imprisonment was spent in a labor camp. Following his release, he spent a period in enforced exile before being allowed back in the Soviet society. Solzhenitsyn began to write, drawing on his prison camp experiences. In autumn 1962 he submitted a novella, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich to Novy Mir, the Soviet literary journal. The manuscript went through several hands before making it all the way to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971), who authorized its publication. The novella was a huge success. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was the first published work to describe life in one of Stalin's labor camps in detail. It followed its protagonist, Shukhov, a humble farm laborer serving a ten-year term on false spying charges, through a single day in a bleak Arctic camp, evoking the simple, futile, and monotonous horror of the labor camp system.

Solzhenitsyn published more stories in 1963 and 1964. After Khrushchev's removal from the Soviet premiership in 1964, Solzhenitsyn's works were not readily accepted for publication. A story published in 1966 would be his last in the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn issued a plea to the Fourth National Congress of Soviet Writers calling for an end to the censorship of Soviet writers. He told the Congress that his writings had been confiscated (taken by authorities). The government continued to denounce him and to prohibit publication of his works. Then two of his novels, The First Circle and The Cancer Ward found their way to the West. The books had a sensational impact.

In 1970 Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, but he was unable to leave the Soviet Union to accept it. In 1974 he was banished from the USSR because of his controversial writings, most notably The Gulag Archipelago (1973), his most important work of nonfiction. The Gulag Archipelago is a three-volume detailed account of Stalinist repression that reveals arrest and torture as everyday practices in the Soviet Union. The book includes many personal narratives and horrifying detail from other victims of arbitrary violence as well as extensive research. The impact of the book on the West was profound as it revealed—for the first time, to many—the ongoing horrors of the Soviet totalitarian system (authoritarian, and tending to suppress individual interests in favor of those of the government). Solzhenitsyn wrote The Gulag Archipelago between 1964 and 1968. Through intermediaries, he sent the manuscript to Paris, France, where it was published in 1973. A few months later he was expelled from the Soviet Union.

Ultimately, Solzhenitsyn settled in Vermont, where he lived in seclusion for seventeen years until 1994. He returned to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.

In 1924 Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) became the leader of the Soviet Union. Russia had always been considered a country behind others in economic or social progress, and Stalin began a brutal program of modernization and industrialization. He began by taking farmers' land away from them and creating collectivized farms—farms that were operated by the government with many people working on them. Peasants who were prospering in those days were called "kulaks." The kulaks resisted when their land was taken, and Stalin ordered them to be eliminated. Millions were sent to labor camps in Siberia and many died.

Immigration begins

Before the Russian Revolution, there had been several significant waves of immigration to the United States. The first Russians to set foot on the North American continent were fur traders from Siberia who traveled across the Bering Strait (a strait that separates Russia and Alaska) in the 1700s in search of wild animals. They settled in Alaska and maintained a Russian colony there. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Russians from the middle class had fled Russia to escape the oppressive czarist government of that time, many immigrating to the United States. When Alexander II emancipated the Russian serfs in 1861, a host of the freed peasants immigrated to America. Between 1861 and 1914, nine out of ten Russian immigrants to the United States were peasants. Most were single young men, hoping to find employment and a better life in America. A few young women also came to escape arranged marriages in their homeland. During this same time, a number of German Russian Mennonites (a Protestant sect that rejects infant baptism, ritual, and levels of authority within the church, and does not believe in war and violence), Molokans (another dissenting Protestant sect), and Jews fled religious persecution in Russia and settled in America.

An estimated two million people left the Russian empire to settle in the United States by 1914; of those probably only about one hundred thousand were Russian-speaking. Most of the emigrants were Jews and Poles and some were East Slavs from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (designated as Russians because they belonged to the Orthodox Church). Because so many of them were not truly ethnic Russians, the first immigrants from Russia have not been counted in historians' designated waves of Russian immigration to the United States, although many historians today think they should be.

The first major wave of Russian American immigration, according to many scholars and ethnic Russian Americans, did not occur until the Russian Revolution. It consisted largely of members of the Russian middle class and aristocracy who suddenly found it uncomfortable to be in their homeland under the communists. About forty thousand Russians came to the United States in the first few years after the Revolution. In the 1930s, many more Russians who had earlier gone into exile in other European cities felt the need to leave Europe altogether in the wake of the rising Nazi movement. They tended to settle in the large American cities, particularly New York. More than a million people born in Russia but living elsewhere in Europe by 1930 immigrated to the United States at that time. Few of these Russian immigrants were coming from Russia itself. When Stalin took over the Soviet government in 1930, he introduced strict regulations forbidding emigration. For the next fourteen years, only 14,060 Russians managed to escape the Soviet Union and come to America.

Russian Molokan Immigration

The Russian Molokans were a peasant group that did not conform to the Russian Orthodox Church in the seventeenth century. Molokans rejected the highly ritual nature of the Orthodox Church, putting their efforts into individual Bible study. Molokan means "milk drinkers," and one of their practices was to drink milk during Lent, which was strictly prohibited in the Orthodox Church. The Molokans were antiwar, opposed to the exploitation of people for money, and believed that women and men were equal. Partly because they dissented from the Orthodox Church and also because they refused to be drafted into the Russian military, many Molokans were sent into exile in the far reaches of the nation—the Russian Caucasus—by the Russian government in the eighteenth century. There, the movement grew. In the early twentieth century a group of about four thousand Molokans from the Caucasus immigrated to the United States. Most settled in California, and later some moved to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The Molokan community has grown to about twenty thousand people and still prospers in the United States. The Molokan people tend to remain aloof from the rest of the community, placing a high value on work and attending religious services.

Most of these first-wave Russian Americans were well-educated, skilled laborers or professionals. They had a much easier time adapting to life in the industrialized United States than did the peasants of earlier immigrations. However, in 1919, Russian Americans faced a surge of anti-Russian discrimination in the United States. The country was going through a "Red Scare," a period of fear that communists were trying to take over the U.S. government. As the fear became a mass panic, many Russian Americans came under suspicion of being communists (called "reds"). Some three thousand Russian Americans were arrested and jailed as suspected communists and, although most were soon released, a number were deported (sent back) to the Soviet Union. The Red Scare of 1919 to 1920 drove many Russian Americans to hide their ethnicity. In actuality, very few Russian Americans were communist sympathizers. Most in fact had fled the communist government. In their rush to assimilate in order to avoid harassment or worse, Russian Americans would lose much of their Russian culture and heritage. Many Americanized their names, stopped speaking Russian, and adopted American customs.

World War II and Russian immigration

In 1941 the forces of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) invaded the Soviet Union. During World War II the Soviet Union lost more than eleven million soldiers and seven million civilians. When the war was over, Stalin wished to form a buffer zone of friendly countries surrounding the Soviet Union. With the help of the Soviet military, Stalin helped the communist parties in many of these countries gain power. By 1948 Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and other Eastern European countries had communist governments. The United States, an ally of the Soviet Union during the war, looked on with horror and distrust at the tremendous power that the Soviets suddenly wielded. The Soviet Union and the United States had become the two superpowers of the planet, and distrust and hostility between them grew to huge proportions. This was the beginning of the Cold War (1945–91) between the Soviet Union and the United States and other Western powers—a period of strong tensions and constant threat of war, but no actual armed conflict.

The Cold War set the atmosphere the second wave of Russian immigrants would encounter after they settled. Most had entered the United States under the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, which relaxed the ongoing immigration laws so that Europeans whose lives and homes had been disrupted by the destruction of World War II could immigrate to the United States. Those Russians who immigrated encountered a second surge of anticommunism in America, this time led by Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908–1957), who claimed to have proof that communists had infiltrated the government and even the military. This second Red Scare became a witch-hunt, during which many innocent people were harassed and lost their jobs. Russian Americans again felt driven to hide their ethnicity and tried to appear as much like other Americans as possible to avoid trouble.

No one was allowed legally to leave the Soviet Union again until the 1960s and 1970s, when Russian Jews were permitted to immigrate to Israel. Some then moved to the United States shortly after arriving in Israel. A handful of elite Russians, such as artists, scientists, and athletes, defected—illegally renounced their Soviet citizenship and requested residency in the United States—while visiting America on Soviet-sponsored tours or exchanges. Stalin's own daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva (1926–), defected to the United States. Other defectors include ballet artist Rudolf Nureyev (1938–1993); poet Joseph Brodsky (1940–1996); cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich (1927–); and scientist Valery Chalidze (1938–). However, the number of Russian immigrants, legal or illegal, was very small during these decades.

The third wave of Russian immigration to the United States, beginning with Russian Jews in the early 1970s, picked up speed with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, almost one million Russians have immigrated to the United States. A majority of them are Russian Jews and most have settled in New York City. Ethnic Russians have been arriving steadily since the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, perhaps driven by the unstable economy in Russia.

The Russian American population

The 2000 U.S. Census lists 2,980,776 persons with Russian ancestry, but this figure includes many who are not ethnic Russians. The census reports about 128,000 foreign-born Russian Americans, but some sources suggest that this number is actually far higher and rapidly growing. According to market surveys, Russian-born people in the United States represent the second largest group (after the Mexican-born) of the nation's foreign-born population. In 1990, 44 percent of Russian Americans lived in Northeastern states. The five states with the highest numbers of Russian Americans, in descending order, are New York, California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In the early twenty-first century, Minnesota's Russian-born population has been growing quickly as well.

Most of the Russian immigrants who have arrived since the 1960s and 1970s have settled in and around New York City. Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, New York, is one of the few Russian neighborhoods left in America. There the Russian language is spoken regularly, shop signs are in Russian, and people can easily buy Russian goods. Some 110,000 Russian Americans lived in the Outer Richmond district of San Francisco in 1990, the largest collection of Russian Americans in a single neighborhood in the United States. Russian Americans have been moving to Portland, Oregon, since the 1990s, creating a Russian American population of about forty thousand there in the early 2000s. Other small Russian American neighborhoods exist, but there are no real "Russiantowns" to speak of today, excepting Brighton Beach and the San Francisco Russian American community.

Russian American culture

Many first-generation Russian Americans strive to learn English as quickly as possible in order to blend in with their American environment and enable themselves to get better jobs. Their children grow up speaking both English and Russian, but when they establish homes of their own, they usually speak only English. Therefore, by the third generation, most Russian Americans no longer speak Russian.

Most ethnic Russians who immigrated to the United States were members of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is one of several branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which separated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1054. It is called "orthodox" because it follows the original Christian writings, using the same prayers today that were used in the early days of Christianity. The Russian Orthodox Church is very similar to the Greek Orthodox Church. Many Russian Americans belong to the Orthodox Church in North America (OCNA), which was founded in Alaska in 1792. The OCNA today uses English in its services. The more conservative Russian Orthodox Church in Exile (ROCE), which started in the former Yugoslavia in 1922 and spread to the United States after World War II, uses only Russian in its services. The OCNA has about one million members. The much smaller ROCE has only one hundred thousand members.

About half of the Russian American population is Jewish; a minority belong to a variety of Protestant denominations. A very small group of Russian Americans belongs to the Old Believers sect of the Russian Orthodox Church, following the teachings of the Church prior to changes that were made in 1654. These Old Believers live in intentionally isolated communities in Alaska and Oregon, speak only Russian, wear seventeenth-century clothing, and keep themselves separate from the rest of society.

Russian Americans celebrate the rites of passage and holidays common to their particular religious tradition, be it Jewish, Orthodox, Protestant, or Mennonite. They have also adopted traditional American holidays such as Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. Most were not supporters of the Soviet government and so do not celebrate any Soviet holidays. Russian Americans are generally a festive people. Births, weddings, holy days, graduations, the purchase of a new home, new jobs, even funerals are all reasons to gather together and eat, talk, and celebrate. Hospitality and generosity are highly valued by Russian Americans, and old-time traditions such as welcoming guests with a loaf of bread are still honored.

Most Russian Americans are closely tied to their families, particularly first- and second-generation immigrants. Elderly relatives are cared for at home, and women often give birth at home. Young women often live with their parents until they marry, and sons tend to settle near their parents after marriage. Later-generation Russian Americans are more Americanized, with a greater focus on individual nuclear family units (including only the parents and their children).

Many traditional Russian foods have become common among the general American population. Mennonite farmers introduced hard wheat to American farmers, and it is now grown on many farms across the United States. Chicken Kiev (batter-fried chicken breasts stuffed with butter and herbs), beef stroganoff (thinly sliced beef in sour cream sauce), and borscht (beet soup) are well known to most Americans. Bagels, pumpernickel bread, sour cream, vodka, and lemon in tea are even better-known Russian additions to the American menu.

Russian folk music, played on the balalaika (a triangular guitar with a flat back, usually with three strings), and Russian folk dances are appreciated as entertainment by the general American population.

For the most part, Russian Americans have successfully adapted to American life, suffering little open discrimination excepting the two Red Scare eras. Perhaps the greatest problem Russian Americans face in the early twenty-first century is the rapid loss of their traditional culture as the later generations become Americanized. Some see this as a good development; others grieve the loss.

For More Information


Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.

Dolan, Sean. The Polish Americans. New York: Chelsea House, 1997.

Ferry, Steve. Russian Americans. Tarrytown, NY: Benchmark Books, 1996.

Kraut, Alan M. The Huddled Masses: The Immigrant in American Society, 1880–1921. 2nd ed. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 2001.

Magocsi, Paul R. The Russian Americans. New York: Chelsea House, 1996.

Web Sites

"Austrian-Hungarian Immigrants: Immigrants to the USA." Spartacus Educational.http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAEah.htm (accessed on March 1, 2004).

LeBlanc, Fred."The American Hungarians." (accessed on March 1, 2004).

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Eastern European Immigration

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Eastern European Immigration