Jeanie Mordukhay


When did your family immigrate to the US and where exactly did they move? What made them come?

My parents and (at the time) 6 year old brother moved from Azerbaijan to the US as Jewish refugees in 1991. 

What is the first language you learned? Do you speak any other languages?

My first language is Russian, and I didn't learn to speak English until I was about 6 years old. Growing up, I also learned Hebrew and Spanish in school.

There was a point in my life where I had English, Spanish, and Hebrew all as separate classes during the same day in school, and then I would go home and speak Russian for the rest of the day!  

What language do you primarily speak when with your family?

Usually a mixture of both Russian and English. My grandmother lives with my parents and only speaks Russian, so whenever we're around her we all stick to Russian. During bigger family events (which is pretty often), the main language spoken is Russian. 

Have you ever visited or been back to your family's native country? If so, how often do you visit and for how long? What is that experience like? Do you have relatives there?

No, but we all just booked tickets for this summer to finally go back! It will be my family's first time since they left over 26 years ago. My grandfather passed away in Azerbaijan not long after my parents left the country, so it will also be my moms first time being able to visit her dad at his resting place. 

I've been imagining this trip my entire life, and am so excited to take it all in. It's my chance to be in the country with my family and for the first time, physically learn about the place from people who actually lived most of their lives there. I'll get to see where some of the most important people in my life where born, where everyone got married, what their walk home from school was like, where my parent's had their first date, etc. I've heard every story from their lives, and now, even though much has changed there over the years, I'll be able to see with my own eyes.

Describe your experience growing up in America as someone who is so closely tied to another culture. How did you feel? What things were easy? What did you find difficult?

As much as I cherish and embrace my culture today, I grew up feeling torn about my identity. I never fully felt part of one culture, and I would envy people who so seamlessly could go between their home life and their immediate surroundings.

What type of food do you eat at home? What are some of your favorite dishes?

My grandmother is the main cook of the house, and most of the food we eat is traditional Azeri food, as well as some Jewish and Russian dishes.

We eat a lot of lamb, which I love. Whenever eating meat or fish, we typically pair it with narsharab, a tangy and sour pomegranate sauce which is incredible. Another staple is red caviar with toasted bread and butter. One of my favorite dishes is shuba (a pickled herring salad cake). When most of my American friends hear about it, they usually think is very unappealing, but I'm super into it.

Describe your experience making friends as a kid growing up in the UNITED STATES.

I've always been a very social person, so growing up I found it easy to make friends. My differences became more apparent when I would get close with people and it came time to invite them over. I would feel embarrassed about the types of foods we had at home, the fact that my family had accents, the russian tv that would be on, and the rules my parents had for me. Looking back now it's funny, because those are the things I'm most proud of.

Do you consider yourself as more of an American or that of your parents' native country?

This is something I think about on a regular basis, and I honestly have a hard time coming to a decision. There are days when I feel so much more one way than the other, and then other days where it's completely flipped. The more I age, the more I really just feel both parts of my culture, and am able to accept them as equal parts of who I am. 

Are you proud to be American? 

Though I'm not very proud of a lot of the decisions the government within my country is making right now, I am still proud to be American. Because I've heard so many stories of what life was like in another country, the privilege I have as a citizen of the United States is something I never want to take for granted. My parent's fought for us to be part of this country, and for that I will be forever grateful.

For a while I rejected the thought of being "American" because I felt that saying that took so much away from the Azeri culture that I have. Today I see being American as a good thing. This country is filled with immigrants from around the world, and I view all of us as American. 

Do you plan to pass along aspects of your parents native culture to your children (if you choose to have them)? What parts of the culture do you want to keep if any? If yes, how important is that to you, and how do you plan on doing so?

Absolutely, without a doubt. One of the things that gives me the most anxiety is just that. I want so badly to do a good job at passing my culture to future generations. I feel so much pressure (only given to me from myself) as the closest link to both of these cultures. One of my biggest fears is that my grandchildren, or their children will have little connection or understanding of the hundreds of years of history and culture before them. 

Are there aspects of your culture that you don't enjoy, parts that you know you don't want to pass on?

I definitely want to create closer to an equal household relationship between men and women than is traditional in my culture. 

What's one thing you wish people knew about your culture? 

The way we care for and respect each other, it's truly out of this world. Family has such a strong foundation in our culture. We really hold each other up through anything life offers, be it new chapters in our lives, unexpected pains, tiny victories, joyous events, etc. 

There's no family dinner without a separate toast for each person at the table, always calling out what we love about the person / group of people and what we wish for their futures. When it's someone's birthday, we make sure to call their parents / text their siblings and congratulate them as well. 

I have cousins living in other countries who I have never met and even some I see very rarely, yet I feel so close to them. If I were to be sitting next to them right now, I would feel the same as I would if I were sitting next to someone I've spent time with my entire life. 

Are there any specific thoughts / inspiration behind the way you took your photos and what you took photos of? Feel free to use this space to express your photographic inspiration for this project. 

Most of my photos are from time with my family, as this is such a huge part of who I am. Regardless of where we are from or where we live today, they are the ones I think of when I think about who I am at my core.

The rest of my images are from time with my boyfriend, my dog, and my friends, all who come from different cultures and backgrounds. They are the "American" part of my lives that truly make me feel at home.