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This Is America, Where Women Play Cards
Salenna Weiner
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When I was 14, I was having dinner with my family at a Russian restaurant. Everyone was eating and talking and I got bored. I roamed around the open space until I discovered a deck of cards on an empty table.

Everyone in my family knows how to play cards. We had grown up playing games against each other. Recently, my familiarity with cards had increased when I became interested in magic. I’d watch magic card trick videos on YouTube and practice them on my friends and siblings. I could already do a good riffle shuffle followed by a bridge along with several magic tricks.

I picked the cards up. I shuffled the deck as I walked, looking for someone to play with. My grandfather saw me and rushed over. “Girls should not be playing with cards!” he scolded in a low voice. “It’s unladylike and people will judge you.”

This baffled me. “I was unaware that cards were only for men,” I told him in a sarcastic tone. Was it that women’s hands are too small to hold the cards? That females back in his country couldn’t count up to 10? If a woman beat a man in a card game, would it hurt his fragile masculinity?

image by YC-Art Dept

He responded by simply repeating that cards are for men and that women shouldn’t be using them. I guess card games were a serious macho thing back in Russia.

Freedom and Power

A few years later, I now have a collection of cards. To be an American is to discard the bizarre traditions of my older relatives. The country I live in now has more rights for women than the old country. The roles for women are much different there. After dinners at my grandfather’s house, he excuses my brothers but tells my sister and me to stay and clean the table.

My brother is going away to college, and I told my mom I plan to do the same. She moved here from Russia when she was in her 20s, but she still holds on to some of the old gender stereotypes. She told me, “Boys move away for college, but girls stay at home with their parents.” My dad came here when he was still a young kid so he is OK with me going away. We’re working toward showing her that the culture is different here and that I’m independent.

When my family holds me back, my cards remind me that as an American, I am free to do things that would be considered uncivil for a woman back in Russia. They also give me power to fool anyone with my magic tricks and beat my guy friends in durak or blackjack.

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(NYC-2017-09-16)

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