“I played professional soccer in Russia for ten years . . . they pay you, but there is no contract. If you win they pay you, if you tie they pay you bonuses, if you lose, nothing.”
Misha Azizov works in construction and is a former professional soccer player.
I came here in 1993 from Armenia. My sister invited us. She came in 1987. There were ten of us, two other sisters and their families, and my mother and me. We came as refugees. We passed the interview in Moscow and were accepted as refugees. Many of the small nationalities move from Armenia to the US. After some time they gave us a green card. After five years I became a citizen, in 1999. I never think I’ll go back.
Armenia was very bad economically, no electricity, no nothing. I worked in Russia doing construction. We paved roads, blacktop. I worked with my brother and we would go back to Armenia in the wintertime when we didn’t have much work in Russia. Many people move from Armenia to Russia and to Europe for jobs. The economy was so bad in 1991.
My brother-in-law had a big barbecue party when we arrived. I had been here once before as a tourist for three months to visit my sister, so I was not surprised at life in the US. When we came here I lived in Upper Darby—my sister has an apartment building there.
My older sister still lives in Armenia and I have gone back to visit two times. Most of my family moved to Russia—my cousins, all my relatives live in the southern part of Russia, and I have gone there to visit in the summer a few times. One sister lives in LA now.
I do miss the culture, the food, and the language. But there was a big difference between Russia and Armenia too, and I was used to going back and forth. I miss the mountains of Armenia, but not the people. The food we can get here too. There are many Armenians in LA—not as many here. When I go to California I bring back Armenian food. Smoked beef, lavash bread, shish kabob, kielbasa.
It was worth it, but in the beginning it was very difficult. You change your culture and your language. It was very difficult for me to learn English. I was twenty-seven years old. I went to school for six months to learn. I lived in Russia and all the time go back and forth, but there I speak Russian so language was no problem. We learn Russian in school; I grew up speaking Armenian and Russian. But learning a new language was really hard.
I played professional soccer in Russia for ten years from the 1970s to 1980s until I got injured and had to stop playing. They pay you, but there is no contract. If you win they pay you, if you tie they pay you bonuses, if you lose, nothing. Not professional, but like professional. Some factory, they have my name, I go there and they gave me my salary. I played soccer but got paid as if I worked in the factory—that was my job. The system is different here. My mother didn’t want me playing soccer, and would not come to watch. I started when I was six or seven. My father died early when I was nine years old. She never washed my jerseys; but she knew she couldn’t stop me. In Europe everyone plays soccer.
I married a woman from Russia whom I met here. My son was born here, he is American. My ex-wife and son live with my mother-in-law who speaks Russian. He speaks only a little Russian, but understands more. If he didn’t live with my mother-in-law he wouldn’t speak Russian at all. He does not speak Armenian. He is eighteen and goes to Boston University, studying marketing and business. My son plays soccer in high school, now in college.
I work construction, paving roads. I’d like to move to California, but for now I stay here to be near my son.
Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.