Waves of immigration
According to the 1990 US. Census, 2.95 million Americans are claiming Russian ancestry, but a more realistic view suggests that there are only 750,000 Americans of ethnic Russian descent, which means that they were either born in Russia or have at least one parent or grandparent of ethnic Russian heritage.
44 percent of this number reside in the Northeast, (40-50,000 Russians in Boston area)
16 percent in the Midwest
18 percent in the South
22 percent in the West Areas
Interesting fact: Only 242,000 people have command of Russian.
This indicates the degree to which assimilation has progressed, which usually takes its toll in the third generation Russian immigrant communities in the USA are generally clustered around major Eastern Orthodox or Russian churches, like in Alaska, or in and around major US cities like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, and Boston where newly arrived immigrants have a better chance of getting a job.
Waves of Immigration
The First Wave: Freedom from religious persecution.
The first wave of mass immigration from Russia and Eastern Europe took place in the second half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century before World War I.
Many of the first immigrants were peasants seeking seasonal work and money. Tens of thousands of them came to America a and worked there for a period varing from 2 to 6 years. They sent quite impressive sums bsck to their families in Russia. Up to 40% returned to Russia. But many prefered to stay in the USA and take their families with them.
Some of those arriving were Jews escaping pogroms. Many Russian Jews settled in New York and other large American coastal cities. Like previous Jewish immigrants, many of them went into business, and the children of the Russian Jews attended universities in increasing numbers. Russian and other East European Jews differed from American Jews, in that they were maintained a highly orthodox religious practice. Marriage between Jews and non-Jews amongst the immigrants was a very unusual event.
Other immigrants included Russian religious pacifist groups that were in conflict with the Russian Orthodox church. Among them were Russian Molokans and the Russian Old Believers (Starovery).
Russian Molokans. The name "Molokan" originates from the Russian word for milk (moloko) since the members of this group do not refrain from milk and other products during Orthodox fasts. It has another meaning, though, as they consider themselves to fed on “spiritual milk”. It refers to those who suffered persecution from both the Russian Orthodox Church and the government for their non-traditional beliefs and practices.
Russian Molokans settled primarily in Los Angeles area and later in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Good labor skills were valued more than formal education. The Molokan community is characterized by isolation from the outside world, strong emphasis on agricultural work, and attendance of frequent religious services called sobraniye.
The Russian Old Believers (Starovery). This name refers to the descendants of Orthodox Russians whose ancestors refused to accept the modern church reforms of the mid-seventeenth century. Many of the Russian Old Believers settled in Oregon and Alaska. Members of the community tend to speak Russian and are normally dressed in clothes reminiscent of the eighteenth and nineteenth century peasantry. In keeping with the Old Rite, three elements given at baptism—the shirt, belt, and cross—must be worn at all times by the faithful. Hence men and boys are seen in the long Russian shirt, or rubashka, girded with a belt. Women and girls lengthen the shirt to form a blouse/slip combination and wear over it a jumper, or sarafan, sometimes with a peasant apron. The Old Believers adhere strictly to the church rituals of prolong fasting periods, long church ceremonies, and do not allow outsiders or those not "in union" to eat with them in their homes or attend church services. In Oregon they have established a primarily agricultural economic base, acquiring land to raise berries and fruit, as well as grain for cattle. In Alaska, Old Believers are successful commercial fishermen and builders of commercial fishing boats.
The Second Wave: Escape from Revolution
Many researchers call this wave the first wave of immigration, as compared to the latter ones. But here we presume it is better to stick to the more recent approach, which is described in the work of E.L. Nitoburg “The Russians in the USA. History and fates. 1870-1970”.
The second wave of immigration from Russia began after the Russian Revolution and Civil War of 1917-1921. Violent insurgencies, property destruction, and political radicalism erupted throughout the new Soviet states, forcing almost 2 million to flee. 30,000 came directly to the United States, others settled in France and Germany. Most were former czarist government officials, aristocrats, industrialists, shopkeepers, teachers, lawyers, military personnel, and members of the clergy. Because many of these immigrants came from wealthy ruling class of czarist Russia, they tended to find jobs similar to their former professions, which could be found in the large urban areas like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco.
The Third Wave: The Promise of America
The third wave came in the aftermath of World War II, during which millions of Europeans, including Russians, were displaced from their homes. This wave brought about 50,000 people from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to the United States. Most did not come directly from the Soviet Union. Some had been transported to camps in Nazi Germany during the war; others had fled westward to escape the advancing Soviet Red Army in 1944 and 1945. Others were "White" (anti-Bolshevik) Russians who in the1920s had settled in East European countries (Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, and the Baltic States) that came under Soviet domination after World War II.
After the conclusion of WWII, Western powers, including the United States, were obligated to repatriate (send back) all persons living in Western Europe who had been born in Soviet territory. Initially the United States military authorities in Europe cooperated in the repatriation program, and between 1945 and 1948 2 million Russian refugees were returned to the Soviet Union. There they faced exactly what they feared: many were imprisoned, exiled to Siberia, or even executed. To escape this fate, many Russians claimed they belonged to different Slavic nationalities-anything but Russian.
Many Russian immigrants, who arrived in the third wave and settled in the United States after World War II became the victims of the widespread suspicion that they were Soviet agents and spies, who had infiltrated the Russian йmigrй community in the United States. Anti-Soviet feelings were on the rise. Congressional investigations, spurred by Senator Joseph McCarthy, on Communist infiltration reached their peak in the early 1950s, and many Russians were wrongly accused of communist activity or sympathies. Whether in Europe or North America, it was not a good time for an immigrant to admit Russian ancestry.
The third immigration wave included Russians from all classes, particularly farm laborers and industrial workers. Most of them, as many other East European immigrants, settled in large American industrial areas like New York and Chicago becoming engineers, educators, government employees, and factory workers.
The Fourth Wave: A Second Exodus
The fourth immigration wave of 60-80es from the Soviet Union represented the struggle of conflicting ideologies and political systems. The main reasons for immigration from the Soviet Union and other East European countries included widespread anti-semitism, tight government control of the lives of ordinary citizens, a difficult economic situation, and the violation of basic rights such as freedom of speech and religious practice.
The Fifth Wave:
began in the 90’s and is still going until present time. This wave is often called "Professional", because most of the incoming immigrants are highly qualified specialists who were successful in Russia and are looking for a job in Canada or the USA to apply their skills and knowledge.