TO SOME NEW ARRIVALS, U.S. IS AN OTHER WORLD.
After growing up with religious persecution under a repressive Soviet regime, Gregory Wain said he felt as if he had landed on another planet when he arrived in the United States in 1978.
Suddenly, Wain said, he was surrounded by people who could express any opinion they liked - without fear of reprisal or incarceration. So foreign was this rampant freedom of speech and expression that Wain initially thought it was some kind of trap.
``It was shocking at first, and I thought maybe they were just trying to catch me doing something wrong,'' he recalled. ``No country projects as much freedom as the United States, and at first I didn't believe it was true.''
Since then, Wain and his wife, Larisa, who followed her husband here one year later, have grown accustomed to American freedom and say they wouldn't want to live anywhere else in the world.
``There are a lot of possibilities here, and people are free to do almost everything they want,'' said Larisa Wain, a former screen actress who is now an anchor on the Russian language variety program Orbit.
``But the down side is you can spread yourself too thin, and there's a lot of stress and pressure here. Everyone's always pushing to get further ahead.''
By any measure, the couple have achieved success since arriving with virtually nothing more than two decades ago.
``I came here with $300 and a violin, but somehow we survived,'' he said.
Today they live in a Beverly Hills apartment since moving from the San Fernando Valley several years ago.
But the hectic pace of American life sometimes gets in the way of enjoyment of such simple pleasures as music, going to a play or socializing with friends, Wain said.
The middle-age couple also said the high crime rate in the United States is the country's biggest threat to personal freedom, and that they worry about the safety of their children, Alan, 21, and Mary Ann, 12.
``There is a balance between the freedom we have here and the stress and crime,'' said Wain, who runs the Russian Cultural and Trade Association in Van Nuys, a consulting firm aimed at enhancing cultural understanding. ``Our children can't play in the streets here because crime is so high.''
While they aren't happy about all aspects of American life, they say their lives in the former Soviet Union were miserable.
Both faced religious persecution - including verbal taunts and physical attacks - because of their Jewish faith, and both felt stifled by the restrictions on expression imposed by the government.
A classically trained violinist, Wain said he was not allowed to play many of his favorite songs, such as ``Porgy and Bess,'' because they were considered western propaganda.
``You had to watch what you said all the time because the guy next to you could be an informer,'' Wain recalled. ``There wasn't any freedom at all.''
Larisa Wain recalled how quotas were placed on acting roles held by Jewish people so she frequently displaced other talented Jewish people when she won theater roles.
``It could be very unpleasant,'' she said. ``We had no religious freedom, and a lot of Jews were sent to Siberia.''
At the age of 25, Wain spent 500 rubles - the equivalent of four months' wages - to win his right to leave his native land. One year later, Larisa Wain left the country with her family and two dogs.
``We sold all our possessions so we could pay for the dogs to come with us,'' she recalled. ``They were like our family members.''
Wain survived his first few years in the United States by playing the violin while he took classes at the United College of Business, which has since closed.
He then went to work for Allstate Insurance and is now pursuing a license to be a certified financial planner.
Larisa Wain received a master's degree in Slavic language and literature from the University of Southern California and was an acting teacher at the University of California, Los Angeles.
She also has won numerous roles in commercials and televisions shows, including ``The Scarecrow and Mrs. King'' and a Disney channel movie, ``The Emerald Princess.''
The couple lived in Van Nuys and Panorama City before moving to Beverly Hills, primarily so their children could attend school there.
``My family is the most important thing in my life, and it has been like a fairy tale for us to come here,'' said Larisa Wain. ``It's a different lifestyle, and there's a lot of pressure and a lot of stress, but there's nothing else to compare it to for freedom.''
(1 -- color) Gregory Wain fled religious persecution in Russia 24 years ago, arriving in the U.S. with $300 and a violin. He and his family now live in Beverly Hills.
(2) Russian emigres Gregory and Larisa Wain and their daughter, Mary Ann, lived in Van Nuys and Panorama City before moving to Beverly Hills - a relocation they did primarily so Mary Ann and her older brother could attend school there.
Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2002|
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