RUSSIAN IMMIGRATION HISTORYRecords not found
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
"The New Colossus" (the Statue of Liberty Song), Emma Lazarus, 1883.
It is immigrants who brought this land the skills of their hands and brains, to make of it a beacon of opportunity and hope for all men.
Herbert Henry Lehman
The enormous Russian Empire and its successor state the Soviet Union were lands of oppression and intolerance that drove out millions of their own people who then streamed westward to America, the fabled land of freedom, in search of protection and happiness. Innumerable waves of “Russians” disembarked on the shores of America to make this great country their destiny. Their tale began almost three centuries ago…
Immigrants make their way to America (Library of Congress)
It was on June 4, 1741, that the renowned explorer and Russian Naval officer Vitus Bering landed in Alaska. The tsars were eager to expand their already vast Russian empire and, as early as 1784, the first Russian permanent settlement, Unalaska, was founded. This was followed by the establishment of several trading posts and settlements in Alaska, Hawaii, and California, including Fort Ross which was established in 1812.
There have been five waves of mass exodus from Russia beginning in the 1860s and continuing into the present day. The first wave consisted predominantly of religious and ethnic minorities who had been discriminated against and persecuted in the Russian Empire. Millions of Jews and thousands of Molokans, Shtundists, and Old Believers sought refuge in the United States. Their impact is still visible in New York, San Francisco, and many other large urban centers and small semi-rural communities. Along with them, a considerable number of Russian peasants and city dwellers left their homeland in search of better opportunities in America, and, of course, there were the revolutionaries, socialists, and Marxists who fled to America to escape persecution under the tsars.
The second wave consisted of those who fled the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921. This wave brought the so-called Whites, who included Russian aristocrats, clergy, intelligentsia and those who just would not and could not live under communist rule.
The third comparatively small wave consisted of people who fled Europe following World War II. Sometimes religious and ethnic communities like the Kalmyks arrived on American shores but, on the whole, these were individuals whom the circumstances of the war had forced out of the Soviet Union and were now justifiably afraid to return and fall into the hands of Josef Stalin’s regime.
The fourth wave began in the 1970s when the Soviet regime permitted large numbers of Jews, Armenians, Baptists, and Pentecostals to leave their homeland. The Russian, Armenian, and Ukrainian tongues were now heard in the towns and cities of the United States. With an interruption in the 1980s, this wave continued until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The fifth and final wave is comprised of those who came to American shores after the demise of the Soviet empire. Russians and Uzbeks, Ukrainians and Georgians, Tatars and Buryats, Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists, in fact individuals from all ethnic and religious groups, destitute and persecuted, found their new homeland in America, the land of freedom.
Since the original settlements were set up by the first wave of immigrants until today, the “Russians” and their descendants have praised, developed, strengthened, fought for, and died for their new Motherland. Their names have enriched American culture, arts, politics, business and science. Their contributions have been invaluable and they have become an inseparable part of American society.
Now, welcome to the story of “Russians” in America…
Author: Igor Kotler