Recently I read that the population of people speaking Russian at home in the United States has quadrupled over the last thee decades. According to the US Census office, Russians – or rather Russian speakers – are now almost 1 million strong. That’s a lot of post-Soviet immigrants. And yet it seems there is at least one area in America that Russian speakers would rather avoid: my adopted state of Texas.
No, really – it’s official. The census also provides an interactive map showing where the speakers of various languages live and while fiddling about with it a writer at Forbes magazine noticed that although big cities like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago can lay claim to giant blobs of Russianness, in Texas – there’s nothing, just a few tiny spots here and there.
And yet Texas is home to Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin – the 4th, 7th, 9th and 11th biggest cities in the United States respectively. We should have lots of Russians, but we don’t. Well, at least that explains why my local Russian deli is so bad.
Indeed, over the course of 7 years in Austin I’ve met very, very few Russian speakers – a handful of Internet brides, some students, one or two academics and the occasional computer programmer. Houston isn’t much better – the Russians there have a website, but it’s incredibly boring… stuff about puppet shows, tips on where to get your car repaired – that sort of thing.
But why are Russian speakers avoiding Texas so strenuously while (according to the map) they congregate in the Pacific Northwest where it not only rains a lot but they are very close to the chill wind of boredom that blows down from Canada? Here the sun shines every day and we border a drug war. It’s much more interesting.
It’s doubly strange, because Texas has a thriving economy and is home to the type of industries at which Russian speakers traditionally excel, such as oil, space and computer technology. Is it the heat? But Russians abound in Florida: Transaero even flies direct from Moscow to Miami. Besides, the heat is easy to deal with – you just stay indoors for four or five months of the year, as you do in Russia when it’s cold.
In fact, I can think of a whole bunch of things that Texas has in common with Russia, such as:
• It’s big! Not as big as Russia but big enough to swallow you whole and leave you feeling very isolated. Come on: recreate that Siberian experience by moving to a tiny town miles from the nearest major population center!
• The landscape is austere! We have a “steppe” of sorts up in the northern Plains, deserts out West that resemble the USSR’s Central Asian republics, and there’s even a kind of “taiga” in the east, only without birch trees and more armadillos.
• We have a “Moscow”! Admittedly our Moscow is a bit smaller: The population is not quite 200. But in west Texas there’s a town named Marfa after a character in Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov. In fact, nearby there’s a town called Fedor which was named after the great author himself… according to some accounts, anyway.
• We have gruesome crime! I doubt we have the same quantity of cannibals, Satanists and murderous cops as Russia, but in Houston at least criminals display a certain grotesque flair. Hardly a day goes by without somebody doing something horrible to somebody else. A few weeks ago for instance, it was revealed that a Houstonian had been keeping four old guys locked in his garage for years so he could cash their benefit checks!
• We have nukes! In fact, the final assembly point for all of America’s warheads is in Amarillo Texas!
• We have (relatively) unfettered capitalism and hate paying tax! Now it’s not quite as wild as Russian capitalism was in the 90s; you’re not supposed to kill your competitors, but it’s pretty easy to start a business, and there’s no state income tax.
We have… well, I could go on but I’m starting to think that maybe the problem here is that Texas is too much like Russia. After all, you don’t immigrate to the United States unless you want to leave your homeland behind. Maybe I should stress the differences more.
But I don’t know if that would help either. Last time I was in Moscow, my friends were completely baffled as to why I would emigrate to a cultural wasteland populated by gun-toting cowboys, survivalists and self-immolating cultists. I tried explaining that Texas is actually very diverse, culturally rich, that we even have a couple of Zoroastrian fire temples, but to no avail – the clichés were overpowering, just as they are for so many Americans who likewise know nothing about the state.
I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it: Texas isn’t that bad. In fact, it’s a great place. I loved living in Moscow and I love living in Texas. Hey Russian speakers – come on down! You might even like it. At the very least, it’s never boring.
Unless you live in one of those tiny towns, that is.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
What does the world look like to a man stranded deep in the heart of Texas? Each week, Austin- based author Daniel Kalder writes about America, Russia and beyond from his position as an outsider inside the woefully - and willfully - misunderstood state he calls “the third cultural and economic center of the USA.”
Daniel Kalder is a Scotsman who lived in Russia for a decade before moving to Texas in 2006. He is the author of two books, Lost Cosmonaut (2006) and Strange Telescopes (2008), and writes for numerous publications including The Guardian, The Observer, The Times of London and The Spectator.