My life can be divided into two parts, the part before I moved to the United States and the part afterwards. After my immigration, I changed so much that I hardly identify myself with whom I was before. I feel that a person I used to be doesn't exist anymore, as I remember everything about her but don’t identify with any of her experiences or values. Yet, ironically, I often find it easier to talk about the past me than about present me. For the sake of my own self-awareness, I am going to try to combine and compare the two of “me”.
I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.
As I grew up, the Ukraine was still the USSR, and religion was restricted. Because of this, my family was not openly very religious. Nevertheless, I was Christianized and baptized according to the traditional canons of the Russian Orthodox Church. My grandmother went to church to celebrate major religious holidays. Despite the risk, she gave my brother and me a prayer book and told us to use it when we really needed God to give us something. As I continued to grow up in the USSR, I was becoming more and more aware of the Divine and found myself respecting the values that religion has to offer. There was a period in my life before immigration when I attended The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, regularly and found a certain conciliation in it. It was very different from the Orthodox Church, but it held an appeal. However, questions regarding the origins of the beliefs that church taught bothered me and held me back from fully dedicating myself to it. With time, I was becoming less and less convinced about the truth of that church. Eventually, I stopped attending the meetings. After I moved to the US, I had moments of nostalgia, and one of the few places that felt like home was church. The people that were coming there reminded me of the Ukraine. Coming there was giving me some sense of identification with this new country, even among people that were strangers to me. These days I go to church to celebrate big religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter, and I pray occasionally. Before I moved to the US, I never thought about other faiths. I certainly knew about Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam, but I never had a practical opportunity to interact with and notice differences between myself and representatives of those other traditions. To me, all people were the same. Here in the US I realized that belonging to a religious group defines a person's background and implies a cultural context. Only after being introduced to what was different when I was here was I able to appreciate my cultural identity and value my roots. I personally never had encounters when I preferred to hide my religious identity. However, my close friend told me a story when he, being Christian Orthodox, preferred to hide his cross from his Hasidic Jew boss. Personally, I think tolerance and respect are the key factors that should bring people together regardless of their religion in the multicultural cities like New York. In any case, in the US I found that my connection with religion was about my family history and my heritage.