Was the decision my grandparents made to leave their home during the Great Depression unique to their time or did history repeat itself during the Great Recession? With the help of my good friend Mr. Google, I learned that Americans did leave for jobs abroad. A Newsweek article from 2009 stated that “many of the nation’s top business schools report an increase in the number of students who are interested in working overseas in emerging markets such as India, China, Russia, and Brazil.”
This happened to my friend, Jerry, whose father went to work in the Soviet Union for Dutch Boy Paint—formerly known as National Lead. Henry Ford set up a plant to build cars there as well, so families like my dad’s left our country to relocate because of the promises of jobs. Some went with the support of big companies like Ford Motor. Others, like my grandfather, went based upon the trust of articles in local newspapers like “The Daily Worker” and “The New Republic.” I never learned what kind of work he did in Leningrad.
When these Americans moved with their children, there were English-language schools near the factories. My father’s school was called “Anglo-American School Number 7,” so the classes were in English.
My grandparents left a sleepy little town in New Jersey where they owned a three bedroom home to live in a shared apartment in a Soviet city. My grandmother had to stand in lines to buy meat, and within a few years, they were living under widespread surveillance and political oppression. That says to me that they must have been at the end of their rope to make such a life-altering decision.
Were my father and his five siblings aware that the decision to move was a terrible mistake? When they left New Jersey, the children ranged in age between ten and seventeen, so they were old enough to see what was happening. My dad always spoke well of the schools, but he never told me how they all felt about life outside of school. On the other hand, I never asked. That was my big mistake.
It took years of research which lead to my book. Still, there are many unanswered questions.