INTERVIEWED BY ELEANOR PARK
“[It’s important to share and listen to others’ stories] for people to be more open-minded!!! All of us should listen to what others have to tell before closing ourselves from the topic. Maybe, you never know, It will change your life in a way if you let another person tell their story.”
These inspirational words from half-German, half-Russian Emily Ens all the way from Germany highlight the importance of learning from the experiences of those different from us, including her personal story.
She says she’s heard the myth that “Russians only drink vodka all day” many times, and sharing stories like hers can debunk many of these untrue assumptions.
Emily’s Russian heritage is very prevalent at home, and she mostly spoke Russian growing up. Her mother is from Russia and her father is from Kazakhstan (but only speaks Russian), so her parents were more comfortable with speaking Russian in the household. However, at school, Emily spoke German, and as she put it, “I would say I am equally comfortable [speaking] both but personally think Russian is more beautiful.”
Almost everyone on her mother’s side of my family still lives in Russia-- her grandma, aunt, cousins, etc. On her father’s side, no one currently lives in Kazakhstan but some are in Russia. Having “basically only” Russian family, as well as friends, has helped her stay connected to her cultural community.
Staying connected with her Russian heritage is important to her and influences many aspects of her life. She says, “People are often fascinated and surprised how well I can speak Russian although I lived my whole life here in Germany.” Moreover, she often has heartwarming experiences at the store or at the doctor, when a worker speaks Russian, and she can “immediately connect with them because Russians are just so talkative.” Emily also mentions that she celebrates both Russian and German holidays, for example, during Christmas. According to her, “In Germany, Christmas is on the 24th of December, but in Russia it’s on the 7th of January, so we just celebrate both! We don’t really celebrate the Russian Christmas though. We call our family in Russia to send them well wishes and our Christmas tree stays standing until Russian Christmas is over.”
Growing up, Emily’s childhood was richly infused with Russian fairy tales, stories, and songs. In particular, she mentions the story of Baba Yaga as her all-time favorite fairy tale. This story, well-known in Russia and other areas of Eastern Europe, is of a witch who takes form as an old woman and lures and eats her victims. Additionally, she says the lullaby “Bayu Bayushki Bayu” “will forever stick with me as such a beautiful childhood memory. My parents always sang that to me before bed.” She also grew up surrounded with many Russian movies and TV shows, in particular “Nu Pagadi!”, which she describes as “the Russian version of Tom and Jerry but SO GOOD.”
Though she’s heard stereotypes and myths about her culture, she says she has “luckily never been treated poorly, more the other way around. People know that Russians are very hardworking so others always respect you from my experiences.”
She does note that her parents did not always have the same experiences. She says, “Some people didn’t even want to talk to them or my grandparents (on my father’s side) when they heard their accent. People would also pretend they couldn’t understand them even though my parents and grandparents spoke well enough so it was definitely understandable.
Overall, Emily's story reveals a unique perspective from living among Russian and German culture. She serves as an inspiration for others to embrace their multicultural identities just as she has, and she shows how identifying with multiple cultural heritages can empower someone.