I had my annual mammogram today. I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but in New York almost every mammogram technician is from eastern Europe. I always ask where east Europeans are from, since, back in 1991, I co-founded a nonprofit, the Network of East-West Women, supporting women activists in the post-communist countries, and still co-moderate a workshop on their issues.
Today’s tech was a late-middle-aged woman with short dark hair. When I asked where she was from, she answered by asking me to guess. Hmm, I thought, is she Russian? Polish? Serbian? Croatian? Not Bulgarian, I thought. “Russia?” I guessed. Yes, she replied. I said I’d traveled in eastern Europe, but wasn’t good at distinguishing accents. She said their languages were all Slavic, so they mostly sounded the same. I said, not really, Czech sounded quite different from Polish.
When I asked where in Russia she was from (maybe I’d met someone from there?), she confessed that actually she was from Tajikistan, near Afghanistan, in what they called Middle Asia, but she’d stopped saying that when most Americans had never heard of Tajikistan. (My workshop has had a couple of speakers from Tajikistan.) I asked if she spoke Tajik. She said, the Tajik speak Farsi, but it’s written in Cyrillic. She still speaks it, but not so well, and her children, born here, don’t speak it at all and aren’t interested in Tajikistan.One hundred years ago, there were massive numbers of immigrants into the United States — including all my grandparents. It feels like we’ve having another wave now, and I welcome them.