Did I Win?

I was going to post that I think I won the Americanization challenge but then I talked about it with my BFF who is a real American and said, “I even had my very first PB&J and I liked it even though I’m not into desserts.”

The BFF looked appalled.

“PB&J is not dessert!” she exclaimed.

“What is it then?” I wondered.

“It’s lunch,” she explained.

This sounded so weird to me that I realized I wasn’t yet nearly as Americanized as I thought.

I miss my BFF!

A Great Patriotic War

My parents are getting their Ukrainian passports back and will vote in the upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine. My Jewish father was always a passionate Ukrainian nationalist and speaks the best Ukrainian in the family. My Ukrainian mother, however, used to be a great Russophile and routinely drove us all to distraction with her, “We are Russian people” and “Russia is our country.”

In the light of the recent events, even my mother lost her desire to identify with Russia and is considering switching to Ukrainian full time.

The other day, my mother was at a hardware store back in Montreal and was trying to explain, in her broken English, what she needed to the store assistant.

“Do you speak any other language?” the store assistant finally asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Ukrainian.”

“Oh, then I’m sure you speak Russian, too!” the assistant said, switching to Russian.

“No,” my mother said. “Just Ukrainian.”

The fighting is now taking place around Gorlovka and Kramatorsk, and that’s where my mother is from. The Russian culture was all good until Russian troops started killing people in Ukraine and Russian media began to ramp up egregious lies against Ukraine.

For the first time ever, my mother, a daughter of a WWII veteran, will not be celebrating the victory in the war on May 9. Somebody recently wrote that the victory in the war was used to legitimate the existence of the USSR. That is a ridiculous thing to say. At the beginning of the war in 1941, Stalin realized that if he wanted people to fight, he needed to give them something to fight for. He allowed the previously forbidden word “Motherland” to be brought back from oblivion. And of course every soldier had his or her own Motherland in mind during battle. We didn’t even know the words “World War II” back in the USSR. Our war was called The Great Patriotic War.

The genie of nationalism can’t be stuffed back into the bottle once you let it emerge, and there was an intense revival of nationalist feelings after the war. WWII signalled the rebirth of nationalism even for the Jewish people who had been the most reliable supporters of the Soviet authorities before the war. Stalin is said to have been absolutely horrified at the crowds of Jews who came out to great Golda Meyer during her visit to Moscow.

War brought out patriotic feelings then and it does so now. Many people who were completely indifferent to Ukraine are now learning the language and exploring the culture. There are even quite a few “ethnic Russians” in Ukraine who are trying to renounce Russian and switch to Ukrainian.

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Soon, however, an issue arose: as hard as I fought this realization, it was becoming pretty clear to me that I didn’t like reading Latin American literature.

I felt like there was an enormous wall standing between me and the world, and every new thing I read and learned was drilling holes in that wall. Eventually, I thought, the wall would disappear and I’d understand how things – all things, together and separately – worked. I felt an overwhelming longing for the moment when the wall would fall down and I’d know. Just know.

So everything that helped me chip at the wall was sacred, although some parts of the experience were more pleasant than others. I still had a great intellectual curiosity for Latin America but I was not enjoying reading its literature. The entirety of Latin American literature revolves, in my opinion, around the endless and robotic insistence on the inferiority of women.

Dreiser and the rest of realists I gulped down in my childhood and youth spoiled me: as much as I appreciate the form, I always read for content. And all of the beauty of the Latin American writing can’t compensate for my contempt for its content. Fate smiled on me and by the time I entered my Senior year in college and had to choose a specialization, our only real Latin Americanist left, so I was forced to make the choice that was undoubtedly the best for me and concentrate on Spain.

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At first, I thought I would be a Latin Americanist. I only got interested in Spanish because of Latin American soap operas, and Spain wasn’t even on my radar. I vaguely knew it existed, just as I vaguely knew Latin America did but it never occurred to me I could dedicate my whole life to a small and pretty insignificant country in Europe. If I were to go that way, then why not just choose my own, much bigger and obviously more meaningful (to me) country?

Curiously, the very first essay in Hispanic Studies I ever wrote (in English) was on the Spanish Civil War. The professor passed around a list of topics, and you couldn’t choose what anybody else has chosen. This was back in the times where I’d sit at the back of the class, so when the list if topics reached me, all the exciting Latin American topics had been taken. I tried hard but ended up with a pretty sucky essay because even today the subject seems too enormous.

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Of all the students in my courses in Hispanic Studies and English (my Minor) at McGill University in Quebec, I was, without doubt, the most ignorant. I knew absolutely nothing about anything we learned and was shocked at how much more sophisticated everybody else was intellectually (as well as on every other level).

The professors, of course, seemed like indisputable geniuses to such a silly country bumpkin, and I was mesmerized by their enormous stock of knowledge. I also really envied their lives, or what was available of their lives for an undergrad to see.

Professors seemed to live absolutely charmed lives that consisted of going to endless expensive restaurants, constant traveling, and very little of what seemed like work. My favorite thing to do has always been to snooze on the couch with a novel, and it seemed like academia was the perfect place to offer this kind of lifestyle.

So the translator dream was canned, and I developed a new vision where I would arrive on campus, dressed very elegantly and carrying a leather briefcase, wave away students who’d be impatient to get access to my wisdom with a tired, “Yes, yes, just let me get a cup of coffee,” and enter a book-filled office where every book would mean something to me. The dream also included a beautiful gentleman waiting for me outside in a chic car to take me to a fancy restaurant, but that’s a topic for a different series of posts.