Opening a fresh container of sour cream for her stack of pancakes, senior Ekaterina Cherneva glances around the room, looking at her happy family. She remembers when they would eat these pancakes back in her home country of Russia, a place that she had to leave behind to escape a devastating financial crisis that has swept through the country since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Russian expats are few and far between in America, and especially in Southern California, where Latino and Asian cultures thrive in the many exclaves around the state. Russian culture, however, is almost nowhere to be found. This fact, however, has not kept Cherneva from discovering her own Russian bubble when she immigrated to the U.S. in 2016.
“Although it is a great experience to be a part of American culture, I spend more time with Russians than with Americans,” Cherneva said. “I’m more used to being immersed in Russian culture.”
Cherneva’s family attempts to replicate the Russian life they had before being forced to leave. The most meaningful aspect of Russian culture she still holds dearest to her heart is her homeland’s cuisine.
“My family and I still cook Russian food every day,” Cherneva said. “More people should try Russian food, especially Solyanka, which is a soup, or Pelmeni. You won’t regret it.”
One of the most important cultural events for her strict Russian Orthodox family is the celebration of “Maslenica,” or what Americans would call “Mardi Gras.” “Maslenica” is sometimes known as “Pancake week” because it is the last chance for Christians to eat dairy before Lent starts. During Lent, Christians are not allowed to consume dairy, listen to secular music, or hold parties.
“We cook a lot of pancakes with butter or sour cream as the topping and eat them,” Cherneva said. “My family just eliminates all of the pancakes in a couple of days and everyone is happy.”
However, this celebration is not only a chance for her family to indulge in activities they would not be able to do during Lent, but it is also a holy ritual that has deep cultural roots in the Russian Orthodox Church.
“It is about burning an effigy as the symbol of leaving the past season behind and starting a new one,” Cherneva said. “You ask God for forgiveness for all your friends and relatives.”
With the ability to move to and from Russia, Cherneva hopes to come back to her homeland to live with her family and friends for a few years after graduating college in California. Although she enjoys how the U.S. is more lively, Russia’s culture will always play an immense role in her identity.