<p>Here's my essay:</p>
<pre><code>There is a cliche, American as Manifest Destiny, associated with immigration. It comes in a neat little package: images of huddled masses pouring into Ellis Island, adorably quaint sounds of Eastern European speech, and, as a firm ideological foundation, the idea of leaving behind the darkness, poverty, and ignorance of the Old Country for the shining streets of America, land of opportunity. And even though today the crammed steamships have been replaced by crammed Boeings, the cliche is still expected to reflect reality.
It doesn't--at least, not to my experience. The eleven-hour Moscow - D.C. flight did little to impress upon my eight-year-old self the magnitude and wondrousness of this life-change; instead, it unobtrusively marked all of my pieces of emotional baggage with a brightly colored sticker reading "CONFLICTED SENSE OF CULTURAL IDENTITY."
Growing up both American and Russian has given me a unique perspective on life in both places. Ideas that many Americans take for granted, such as success for its own sake, are alien and meaningless to me. Likewise, I can no longer understand the (stereo-)typically Russian predilection for using drink as a self-justifying means of escape.
I have tried to keep the best elements of both my backgrounds. Being Russian helps me maintain a healthy cynicism (though I take that too far at times). Being American-raised helps me to thrive in a country that baffles foreigners (a country where, for example, 'classical liberal', 'neoliberal', and 'neoconservative' often mean the same thing). It has also, loath though I may be to admit it, given me many opportunities I would not otherwise have had.
However, I often feel that the American cultural narrative, while nominally embracing the idea of a melting pot, in reality only offers foreigners a stereotyped, My Big Fat Greek Wedding-esque version of their culture, while ultimately demanding that they conform to a typically American set of values. It seems to have defined my Russianness as a hodgepodge of ethnic cuisine, nineteenth-century authors, and Marxist politics. Although this amuses me more than it offends, I nevertheless struggle daily to reaffirm that being Russian is not just vodka and Tolstoy.
I cannot, though, imagine myself without either of my backgrounds. My experience as a first-generation immigrant is doubtless far from a unique one; still, it has given me a chance to fill a nontraditional role. I am both skeptical observer and involved participant.