As I’ve watched the news footage coming from Ukraine the past two weeks, I’ve been taken back in time, bombarded by memories that aren’t actually mine. I watch videos of the bombs falling from the sky and I can almost visualize what my Opaps (dad’s dad) went through 80 years ago. Just a teenager then, he found himself hiding and struggling to breathe in a smoke-filled basement in Germany after having escaped from his homeland of Latvia in search of safety. I always thought I understood all of the other family and cultural stories of intergenerational trauma I grew up hearing, but everything has been brought to a new light in this modern context.
I’m a proud Latvian American, a dual citizen and fluent in Latvian. Three of my grandparents escaped Latvia during the Soviet Union’s occupation and made a home in the United States as part of the Latvian Diaspora. My heritage is ingrained in every piece of who I am, from the spelling of my name to the ring I wear every day to the way I communicate with my family. That connection to my culture is why I feel so much empathy for those in Ukraine. My Baltic homeland and Ukraine have a shared history — two countries that have been occupied by different regimes and not allowed to openly rejoice in their traditions. This all feels like a story that I’ve heard before, because I have.