See you in St. Petersburg, Russia
Written by University of the Pacific Student Alexandria Solari for Lodi News Sentinel
Of all the places in the world, I chose St. Petersburg, Russia. While many of my peers chose places like Costa Rica and Italy, my first choice was Russia. In a matter of a few short weeks, I will be sitting in my classroom at Vladimir Putin’s alma mater, St. Petersburg State University as a student of University of the Pacific. University of the Pacific’s School of International Studies has presented me with opportunities that have expanded my horizons in the Russian-speaking world including an internship with the Lodi Chamber of Commerce.
The Lodi Chamber has immersed me in international trade and introduced me to unique people who have been able to help blossom my love for the Russian-speaking world. The importance of international relations is constantly growing in cities like Lodi, as Lodi has many bargaining chips at the international table, so to speak. It is exciting to see Lodi grow and share with the world, our wines and produce, not to mention our small town charm. Many of us are aware of Lodi’s connection with China; however, our deep rooted history with Russia has somehow been forgotten.
My connection with the Russian-speaking region of the world was mysterious even to me. My paternal grandmother, or should I say baboshka passed away when I was in elementary school, leaving me with a void in my life. Unbenounced to me, there was an Eastern European piece of my life that had been swept away. My grandmother’s ethnic background had always been classified as German but my family had very little in common with other German families; this is probably because my grandmother’s family immigrated from a village just north of Odessa, Ukraine.
I am not entirely unique in finding Eastern European culture in my family. Many Lodians are unaware of their connection with Eastern Europe. According to History by Walter Kiesz “While about 25 percent of the population in North Dakota were of German-Russian descent, the estimate of the Lodi-area population in 1933 was 50 percent.” Many of those prominent Lodi names we hear in local news are descendants of Germans from Russia. Most of my life I had been told that my grandmother was German, neglecting to mention the Ukrainian culture that had shaped much of my family.
It wasn’t until I stumbled upon birth certificates written in Russian that I realized my family, like so many other Lodi families, had immigrated to the United States from what is now modern-day Ukraine. The pieces of the puzzle all came together when my family and I stumbled upon Firebird, a Russian restaurant in Carmichael; Firebird is an excellent restaurant that boasts piroshki, borscht and golubtsi. Since my grandmother’s passing, my father has been searching every German restaurant that we came across for those exact dishes; of course instead of borscht he was asking for a red vegetable soup, instead of piroshki he was looking for fried dough and instead of golbusti he was requesting cabbage rolls.
Life in Ukraine greatly shaped cultural norms and behaviors for many of Lodi’s Germans from Russia. We are a unique fusion culture and although many of us have moved away from those nightly feasts prepared by our grandmother’s and baboshka’s, we must remember that our ancestors journey was a brave one.
German-Russians lead a cross-cultural life and created fusion foods and traditions that could only be a product of international circumstances. Today as Northern Californians, we all have an opportunity to grow with the increase of globalization and chances are, German-Russian or not, your ancestors adjusted to cultural changes. We are all capable of impacting the world in some way; let’s show the world how much small farming communities like Lodi have to offer.
While I am in St. Petersburg I will be promoting my beautiful Northern Californian home wherever I can and I will try to bring the true spirit of this great region with me to St. Petersburg State University. I will also invite new experiences and perspectives into my life. Writing while abroad will offer the extraordinary opportunity of sharing the beauty and story of one truly great Russian City.
So, as I begin my journey to a distant city with very limited Russian, I ask you to begin your journey. Explore something that has long intrigued you or simply open your heart to change. It can be difficult to opt for change, believe me, I struggle with voluntarily leaving behind my family and pets; I recently adopted two kittens from the front of a Santa Cruz grocery store and now I must leave them at with my parents until my return.
As Northern Californians we are very privileged to have an amazing Russian-speaking community with restaurants like Firebird, sprawled out across the Sacramento area. The beauty of these ethnic groups from Russia, as well as the fifteen former Soviet Republics, can be enjoyed by all of us. We are also very fortunate to be hosting an international circus star on October 24th at Hutchins Street Square. Gregory Popovich is bringing his world famous Popovich Comedy Pet Theater to Lodi and collaborating with local shelters to help save shelter animals.
Hutchins Street Square is an excellent venture for the show because as Gregory says “It is more important how my pets feel, it doesn’t matter how I feel. They felt very comfortable in Lodi, last time we were there.” Gregory was excited to hear about the Russian-speaking community and would love to see some faces from the Sacramento area. This show is a wonderful opportunity to bring people together and promote both awareness for shelter animals and cross-cultural communication; I urge you to come out and participate.
Until next time.. (in Russia!)