by Staten Island Advance Friday June 20, 2008
Many Russians immigrated to the United States at a time when Cold War tensions between the two countries were still fresh, leading many natives to be hesitant to promote their culture in their new homeland.
But with more than a half-million Russians in the five boroughs -- about 70,000 on Staten Island -- and an estimated 5 million nationwide, it is crucial for Russians in the U.S. to band together, show Americans what they're about and integrate better into the community, said organizers of a day-long forum held at the St. George Theatre today.
About 50 Russian-Americans from across the country and Russian government officials attended the Forum of Russian Compatriots in the USA. More than a dozen speakers discussed a range of topics, including media, business and economy, culture and youth work. The forum was held in Russian.
"We'd like to know how the Russian community living in different communities, different cities, how they're living, what they're doing and how we can help each other," said Igor Baboshkin, president of the Russian American's Council of Staten Island and organizer of the event. "This is not a political action."
Speakers ranged from university professors and Russian government officials to business owners and representatives of youth organizations here. They spoke about how the need to introduce American culture in Russia and Russian culture in the U.S.
Many Russians still believe Americans are FBI spies and many Americans feel that Russian people are KGB spies, said Vladimir Kvint, a professor and economist at LaSalle University in Philadelphia. The key is to break the stereotype and get residents in the two countries to respect each other more by introducing each other to different forms of art, sports and culture, he said.
"Our goal is to change this notion," said Kvint, who also pointed out that the great diversity among Russians themselves when it comes to religion and culture can make it even harder to bring people together. "It's not easy, but people can overcome it. [The forum] is development of Russian-American culture and diplomacy."