It's Complicated

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Vlada Teper is an immigrant to America. That may sound simple, but in reality it’s anything but simple.

In 1989 I was 10. I was 10 and I had lost my home and my friends and a common language.

I was in Buffalo, New York instead of Kishinev, Moldova. Ethnically Jewish in a family that was neither culturally nor religiously so, I had lost my home because people didn’t want us there. Because suddenly, again, it was dangerous to be Jewish. Evreikoi.

At the moment, I self‐identify as Russian‐Jewish‐American born in Moldova who lives in the Bay Area. A typical immigrant, perhaps. A typical refugee. A typical American? All parts of my identity tell different stories about my traumas and joys, about what makes me come alive. And they tell the story of survival.

I survived by feeling my way through foreignness. As a teen, I saw our move to the US as completely permanent. At the same time, I also believed it was temporary. It was only a matter of time before I would be getting into snowball fights with my two best friends.


Some psychologists call this “ambiguous loss.” This is a loss that occurs without closure. There is no closure because seemingly nothing is gone. Moldova is still there. Kishinev is still there. And yet the loss is tangible and visceral – my ecosystem, my second womb disappeared from my life at age 10.

For me, being an immigrant carries multiple realities. It is being someone who will always grieve losses – ambiguous or complete – separation from family or from language or from customs that just make sense. And it is being someone with multiple vantage points, forging a new path forward and understanding that walls, built or imagined, further imprisonment and injustice for all.

With a Perspective, I’m Vlada Teper.

Vlada Teper is a teacher at San Francisco International High School.