Cornelius Van Vorst, ca.1620; 
Jersey City Free Public Library; Grover Cleveland Political Cartoon; 
Grover Cleveland Birthplace Historical Site Collection Peter Lee, former slave, ca.1880; 
Hoboken Historical Photographs Collection; Farm Map of Hillsboro, Somerset County, 1860; 
Historical Maps of New Jersey Collection; Bathing Beauties, 1890-1930; 
American Labor Museum/Botto House National Landmark Collection; Flag Salute, 1950; 
Seabrook Farms Collection;

The majority of Kalmyk people in the United States today live either in the Howell-Jackson area of central New Jersey or in the metropolitan Philadelphia area. These descendants of the Mongolian people who once conquered much of Eurasia speak a dialect of Mongolian, although most Kalmyks also speak Russian. Their religion is Tibetan Buddhism, and the Kalmyks currently maintain three Buddhist temples in New Jersey and one in Philadelphia.

Today's Kalmyk Americans are descendants of two groups that escaped their homeland, the Kalmyk Republic on the northern shore of the Caspian Sea in southeastern Russia. The first group fled to western Europe in 1920, pursued by the Bolshevik Army. A second group escaped during World War II, when Stalin ordered the abolition of the Kalmyk Republic and exiled the Kalmyk people to Siberia. In Europe, the Kalmyks became stateless refugees, living in displaced persons camps in Munich, Germany. Originally refused entry into the United States because of Asian exclusion laws, the Kalmyks were reclassified as Caucasians. With the help of the Tolstoy Foundation, church organizations, and the United Nations, most of the displaced Kalmyks were brought to the United States during 1951 and 1952.

Kalmyk dancers.

The breakup of the Soviet Union at the end of the twentieth century has brought a new wave of Kalmyk immigrants to America. They tend to settle near earlier groups in order to have access to ongoing cultural, religious, and language resources. In 2000, New Jersey's Kalmyk population was estimated to number around three thousand.

by Sagan T. Sanderson
from: "The Encyclopedia of New Jersey"
Rutgers University Press
Photo: David Sanderson

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