September 01, 2001

Bringing up Vanya Smith

“Mom, what are we having tonight, pelmeni or pizza?” asks Misha, a 13-year-old boy from St. Petersburg, known to his schoolmates in Minneapolis as Mike.

Mike’s Mom, or Mama—depending which language, English or Russian, her son is in the mood for that day—is Irina, an electrical engineer from St. Petersburg. She and her American husband, Rob, together with their two children from her first marriage in Russia, Misha and 9-year-old Sasha, are a microcosm of a phenomenon that grew unexpectedly out of perestroika. As hundreds of Russians traveled to the US for business and pleasure, as Americans went to work in firms and organizations in Russia, and as Russian women, many of them with small children, sought a better future with an American husband, there has been an upsurge in Russian-American marriages.

It is difficult enough to make a go of a marriage across the deep American-Russian/Soviet cultural divide. But the difficulties are compounded when children enter the picture. For where children are concerned, passions run high.

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