letter to the editor

First Russian immigrants

Mon, 01/21/2019 - 4:00pm

Dear Editor:

In 1953, I met a village of Russian immigrants in California. Our Whittier Quaker Church had organized a youth mission project to tear down a YMCA camp site and bring the wood to the Russian families so they could build a village of family homes.

At age 13 I had little knowledge or understanding of politics, country enemies, or what it meant for anyone to move, and build their own homes. I did know the commandment to love your neighbor, no exceptions.

On our way up the mountain, we stopped to meet the families we would be helping. There were tents soon to be replaced with the homes they would be building. They played beautiful music and were anxious to speak to young Americans. They had cake and ice cream waiting, which we ate before taking off to our mountain mission by the lake.

There were no signs of unkindness in these new immigrants even though one of my classmates said they were our enemy. Later I learned that some were from pacifist sects, such as the Dukhobors and Molokans, who settled in California and Oregon, where they maintained their traditional practices—and distinctive music—well into the 21st century. It made sense that pacifist Quakers would be helping pacifist families to settle into our country.

This was my first experience in the work of a carpenter-builder as we had to learn how cabins were built so that we could remove post and beams without damage for the intended reuse. It was a beautiful site where we had time to swim a bit in-between hard labor. We were so happy to see our Russian families again as we brought all the wood they needed to build homes.

Quakers believe that the light of God shines in every human born. It was our duty to seek that light in each new person we met. Hence when I wrote about seeking to improve our relationship with Russia, I was shocked to hear the teacher say these Quaker views could be treasonous. Still, after fellow-traveler Sputnik, it wasn’t long before our government relationships improved.

Jarryl Larson