Exploring immigrant identity through poetry

As a 2nd year MFA student in the School of Writing, Literature, and Film, Tatiana Dolgushina is writing her history through poetry as a way to understand herself and the country she came from that no longer exists. Born in Soviet Russia, Tatiana and her family fled the country after it collapsed in 1991. Tatiana grew up in South America and came to the US when she was 12, settling in Ohio. She remarks, “so much cultural history of Soviet Russia is influencing who I am today.” Central to her work are ideas of identity formation and childhood displacement. Through writing, she is digging deeper into her experience as an immigrant growing up in multiple countries.

To better understand the root of her identity, Tatiana is reading about the history that led to the dissolution of Soviet Russia. Reading about the history has helped her to understand the events that led to her family’s displacement. She grew up with silence surrounding why they had left, explaining, “Soviet culture is based on a fear of talking about historical events.” She reflects on feeling shame associated with being an immigrant, and in “not belonging to the old place or the new place.” A fractured in-between place. “As a kid, when you’re displaced, you lose so much: language, traditions, and culture.” She further explains, “you seek assimilation as a kid, and either forget these things, or push them away.”

Tatiana explains that poetry is a catalyst for understanding herself and more broadly, for us to understand ourselves as humans. It’s about connecting the dots. Her family doesn’t speak about what transpired. But reading the history, it begins to make sense. “When you’re a kid, you’re focused on survival.” She reflects that she has been trying to compensate for certain things, and is now understanding how and why she is different. She realized, “the older I get, the more I feel it, my immigrant self emerging.” Her experience growing up in multiple countries has contributed to her identity formation, but she admits that she doesn’t have a space to talk about it. “I blend in, but still feel like an outsider. I am not of this culture, and I realize that I really have no home because my home is not a country.”

Tatiana is still trying to figure out what her writing is about, but articulates that writing is a process of not being able to say certain things in the beginning. It’s about writing through the memory and being able to see the things you need to see when you’re ready, peeling away each layer of experience. Approaching the writing process linearly, Tatiana began writing about early memories, then proceeded beyond to older memories, asking, for example, “why did I write about that nightmare I had when I was 4 years old?”

Originally trained as a wildlife biologist, Tatiana decided to change directions after spending time pursuing a Master’s degree. When she initially began the MFA program, she was shocked at the discussion of subjective ideas, which is so different from many areas of scientific discourse. In science, the focus is not so much on identity. But, she explains, “science and art are coming from the same place. It’s about observation, and understanding through observation.”

As a personal goal, Tatiana is working towards publishing a book. It has been something she has wanted to do for many years. “The hope is that a 15 year old immigrant kid in the library will read it and be able to relate to my story.”

Tatiana studies with Dr. Karen Holmberg and will be graduating this Spring. Tune in on Sunday, February 3rd at 7pm on KBVR 88.7 FM to hear more from Tatiana about her thesis work and experience as a graduate student at OSU. You can also stream the show or download our podcast on iTunes!

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