1991 | Kiev, Ukraine | Age: 10
We immigrated from Kiev in 1991 when I was 10. My dad’s sister literally gave him a list of things to bring. People did their best to maximize capacity. We were allowed 2 suitcases per person, plus one carry-on. My dad was literally yelling at the scale, “48 kilos! We have room for 2 more kilos!” We were told to bring khokhloma as gifts for people. Everyone from Russia/Ukraine had these wooden, hand painted plates and spoons. You can see the label still says “Souvenir. Kiev. 1990.” We were told that if we wanted to form good relationships to bring something that Americans don’t have. And it’s true, they are unique; you don’t see crafts like these here. So these relics were meant to make a good first impression. We have a few here, but my dad has a whole suitcase full of them.
Here’s an immigration joke: A man emigrating is stopped at customs, and the Soviet officials going through his things, find a portrait of Lenin. “What is this?” they ask. “It’s not what it is; it’s who - this is Comrade Lenin, and I am proudly taking him to Israel,” the man responds. The officials allow him though. In Israel, the immigration officials find the same portrait and ask him, “Who is this?” He responds, “It’s not about who it is; it’s about what - it’s the gold frame!” People would say anything to try to get their things out with them.
This is cobalt tea service from a factory that was famous for making these. It’s very special to my mother-in-law because she’s from the nearby town. They were incredibly expensive - about a month’s salary. People would get them only for very special occasions. When Russia was transitioning to capitalism, factories didn’t have the money to pay workers, so they were paid in wares.