Eva Birkholz ‘22

Saint Paul, Minn — Among the rich diversity of cultures and emigre communities that call the Twin Cities metro area home, the Russian-speaking community rarely gets a mention. It’s not even entirely clear how many Russian-speakers live in the region, as estimates vary widely from as few as 14,000 to as many as 60,000. 

“It’s tricky to count people because we’re not just counting people from Russia, but we’re counting people who came from other Russian-speaking countries,” said Prof. Julia Chadaga, chair of the Russian Studies department. 

And the Russian-speaking world is quite large and diverse. In addition to the 145 million people that call Russia home, there’s Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Religious affiliations vary widely. Some are Jewish, some are Orthodox Christian, others are Muslim, Buddhist or Zoroastrian, for example.

“So they’re not united by religion, and they’re not united by geographic location,” said Dr. Chadaga. ”But they are united by language and by certain cultural touchstones that they all react to and hold dear.” 

There also isn’t a centralized hub, or “Little Moscow,” in the Twin Cities, so the community’s presence can be hard for many to see. That invisibility was part of the motivation for Prof. Chadaga and the students in her Fall 2020 Advanced Russian class when they set out to produce the first-ever bilingual online guide for Russian-speakers in the Twin Cities. 

Working in collaboration with the Civic Engagement Center and Digital Resource Center at Macalester, as well as the Russian-American Business and Culture Council, the students conducted research, interviewed community members, compiled information, and wrote entries—in both English and Russian—about five local sites of particular interest to Russian speakers: the Museum of Russian Art, the restaurant Moscow on the Hill, Minsk Market, the Cathedral of St. Panteleimon, and the charter school Nasha Shkola. Then the challenge was to present this information in a way that would be useful for the Russian-speaking community and for those who are interested in learning more about it. One of the students, Eva Birkholz ’22, had the idea to turn the class’s work into a StoryMap.

“The one thing that stood out to me was how everyone I spoke with kept talking about how the Russian speaking community in the Twin Cities is very spread out and disconnected,” said Birkholz, a rising senior from Plymouth, Minn. who is majoring in Russian studies, music, and geography. “So from this wide net that doesn’t seem to be connected, we tried to draw these people together and put them in one spot and make it kind of more of a network than it was before.”

The other student authors of the guide are: Sophia Holland ’22, Eli Ivanov ’23, David Katz ’22, Scotland Kraker ’21, Rachel Liebherr ’21, Samantha Nordmark (University of St. Thomas ’21), Lucien O’Brien ’22, Sophia Sahm ’22, and Nur Shan ’21

For these authors and their professor, the five sites they highlighted are only just the beginning. 

“I think it would be really cool if this guide continued to be a tool for Macalester’s Russian-language students to learn about the local scene and the local Russian-speaking community, as well as for the guide itself to function as a tool for people who are curious about Russian culture and for emigres who want to know more about where they can find Russian cuisine, for example,” said Birkholz. 

Prof. Chadaga added that there are plenty more cultural sites to highlight in the Twin Cities, which means more opportunities for students to hone their Russian-language skills. But that’s not all she hopes this guide accomplishes. As a Russian-speaking emigre herself whose family came to the United States from Belarus, Dr. Chadaga sees an opportunity to showcase how emigres positively shape the places they call home in the United States.  

“I think it’s healthy for us to hear more stories about emigres putting down roots, starting new businesses, and making the local culture more vibrant,” she said. “These stories are often overlooked, and it’s important for people to know how much emigres contribute to our communities.”

Learn more about Macalester at macalester.edu.

July 12 2021

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