Here and There: Immigrants from Former Soviet Republics in the United States
To what extent does a Soviet legacy shape the experiences of former Soviet (FS) immigrants living in the U.S.? This historically grounded question is relevant in a post-Soviet reality as the number of immigrants from FS republics living in the U.S. has increased by almost 200% since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Using semi-structured interviews, surveys and a snowball/quota sampling technique, I inquired among adults of multiple ethnicities and multiple countries of origin within the former Soviet Union who were living in two communities in the United States: Nashville, Tennessee (survey n=46; interview n=10) and Brooklyn, New York (survey n=131; interview n=16). The main foci of research were hypothesis testing about three organizing categories of immigrant status (refugee, titularity, and ethnicity) and theory exploration (social capital and migration theories). In general, I discovered that titularity (a match between ethnicity and country of origin) matters and should be considered in any migration research. To continue to call all persons from former Soviet republics “Russian” despite their ethnicity and/or country of origin is problematic. More specifically, I found that non-refugees were not likely to engage formal (e.g. government, non-profit) institutions for financial or other forms of help. Non-titular immigrants were more likely than titular immigrants to report experiences of discrimination as a reason for leaving their countries of origin. Titular immigrants were more likely to be temporary immigrants, intending to return home to live. Titular immigrants were more likely to send remittances to their countries of origin and more frequently did so. Central Asian and European non-Jewish ethnic groups were more likely to experience discrimination in Nashville than in Brooklyn. Central Asian and Transcaucasian ethnic groups were more likely to consider their countries of origin as “home.” I offer an ecology of immigration model as a helpful tool to better understand the immigrant experience. Limitations, implications, and future research ideas are also discussed.