From the Soviet Union to the U.S.:
A Journey to Independence


Old Documents Reflect Journey from the Soviet Union to the American Dream

Yefim Somin rummages through wrinkled visas and stateless refugee travel documents, caressing the fragile paper edges of what were his family’s tickets to the United States 36 years ago. To some, these papers are nothing but tattered documentations of just another immigrant’s journey to America. To Somin, these were part of the foundation of his American Dream.

Somin’s journey to America began as it did for most immigrants – as a dream. For years, the Somin family envisioned the possibilities of escaping the totalitarian regime in the Soviet Union. By the late 1970’s, the Somins made a momentous decision to apply for an exit visa, knowing all too well that being issued one was never a guarantee.

“In our case it was a risk,” says Somin. “For many people, the Soviets refused their exit visa presumably for security clearance for their work, and in our case, we expected that would happen to us. But we were lucky, and in 1978 we got permission to emigrate.”

With the permissions to leave in hand, Somin, his wife and young son drove through the desolate city early one morning, never to call the Soviet Union home again.

“We didn’t tell our son we were leaving forever, we told him we were just going on vacation,” Somin explains. “Later on he wrote a composition in the second grade, and he kind of felt that it was not just a simple trip. He felt that something was changing.”

After spending time in Italy waiting for American immigration permissions and papers, on June 6, 1979, the Somins finally arrived in Fairfield County, Conn. One year later, Somin’s career in computer science brought the family to Lexington, Mass., a town he has called home ever since.

Soon, Somin and his wife welcomed another son, and the family of four began adjusting to a more permanent life in Lexington. While Somin insists that his family had it pretty easy, he struggled to grasp the concepts of opening a checking account and free political elections, as well as the mere idea of independence.

“It was hard to be independent and even live separately because of the living conditions in the Soviet Union” says Somin. “Here, we could live life and become people on our own.”

Thirty-six years later, Somin is transitioning into retirement, and his sons have left home to chase American dreams of their own. Somin’s dream has several layers, but perhaps the most important one is his actualization of freedom to have an American dream in the first place.

“We know there’s freedom of speech here unequaled in the world, we know there’s an economic opportunity also unequaled. For me, my dream was to have the freedom to see the world, to learn languages, meet people from different parts of the world and use languages with them.”

A lover of culture, literature and languages, Somin is proud of a bucket list he keeps to track his interests on the journey towards his American Dream.

“Every time I cross something off I add five more items,” Somin laughs. “But yes, I guess I could say my American Dream has come.”

Somin’s immigration stories are published in the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society’s (HIAS) book, “HIAS@130: 1+30, the Best of my Story”

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