Last weekend I visited my grandparents in Brighton Beach in New York. For the uninitiated, Brighton Beach is like Russiatown, a Russian/Ukranian/Soviet immigrant mecca settled by Russians in the 70s/80s. In Brighton business and daily life are conducted entirely in Russian and the Cyrillic alphabet is a must-know. (Here is a good primer on the sights and sounds of Brighton Beach).
Since we first immigrated to the States in 1989, I’ve visited my grandparents in Brighton often, and never missed an opportunity to buy Russian goodies, i.e. black bread, Russian chocolates, buckwheat, eggplant spread, and caviar for special occasions (yum!).
I started noticing that Brighton was not entirely Russian about two years ago. Living in Costa Rica and then in Mexico, I became attuned to Spanish and started noticing that some of the stores employed Central Americans. It was just this weekend though that I really tuned in to the fact that my “Russian” enclave is attracting immigrants from all over and especially from Latin America.
When I arrived to my grandparents’ house, they introduced me to their temporary home attendant (their normal home attendant, Valentina, had fallen and sprained something). This replacement home attendant was not Russian, but Cuban according to them, and on future investigation, actually Nicaraguan. She told my grandparents she was Cuban because as former Soviets, they knew Fidel and were more likely to recognize Cuba than Nica..what…!
My grandpa, proud and mystified that I speak Spanish (sometimes better than I speak Russian), told this lady that I speak Spanish and was really amused when we began to converse en español. The home attendant told me much about her life, including that she had lived in Brighton for 36 years and raised her kids here with many other Spanish speakers. She’d been working as a home attendant for a while and since most of the senior citizens in the area are Russian, she’d learned “the important” Russian words: towel, spoon, fork, eat, etc. I loved it!
When I went for a stroll with my mom and boyfriend, it was confirmed. The phone card store advertised cheap calling rates to Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, El Salvador and Mexico! Uncanny and interesting, but I guess not that surprising. When I did some online research, I found that Brighton is also experiencing a lot of immigration from China and the Middle East.
I’m down with all of it, as long as I can keep getting my Russian candy 🙂