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Born&Raised: Why Am I Proud To Be Hungarian?

2016.05.30.

A typical American teenager would not really care about their heritage, nor know much about it. But I am different, and that changes my perspective on the world, and the world’s perspective on me.

I was born to Hungarian parents in America, and grew up speaking the language, and travelling back to our home country every summer to visit grandparents. I always saw myself as being different from the other kids, who may have known they had a little German or some other roots to their family. When I introduce myself to somebody nowadays, it is as an American-Hungarian. It means something to me. I am not your average American kid who only speaks English. No, I speak Hungarian too, and intend to my entire life. This has shaped the way I live, the way I learn, and my morals.

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Friends of mine get used to me being bilingual, and sometimes have me teach them how to say simple things, for example, the most common request I receive, “I like cheese!” which is “Szeretem a sajtot!” I enjoy this because the more I can spread my culture, the more people know how amazing it is, despite the bad news that it gets in the media. The problem is that people believe all of that bad news, which, obviously, they should not. No, we are not building a wall to keep people out; it is to let them in in an orderly manner and to be able to register everyone. This is the main reason people judge me for being of Hungarian descent, and this bothers me. Why someone would judge me for something I have no hand in, I have no clue. In reality, the country has no bad intentions; you just have to overlook the bad aura presenting this news.

If after school I talk to my mother on the phone, in Hungarian of course, I will get strange glances across the cafeteria, almost as if asking, “What is wrong with you?” But then there is the alternate person who will walk up to me after putting down the phone and ask, “Whoa! What language is that? That’s so cool!” Then it will take a little bit to explain how I am descended from a different country, and am keeping the language. What I find hilarious is that some friends of mine enjoy attempting to read Hungarian text messages on my phone and have me teach them correct pronunciations – and they try really hard, which I love because this shows interest. Occasionally, I will be speaking Hungarian and someone will come up to me and recognize the language, claiming his or her parent or grandparent speaks it. I will ask how come they do not speak it as well, and they might say something along the lines of, “Oh, I don’t know, never had the time.” Classic answer. But if I could do it, why can you not?

Being Hungarian means that I have a country to go back to whenever I need it. It is a place I love with the same equality as I love the United States, possibly even more. Every summer I go back to Budapest and visit my grandparents, cousins, and family friends. This life experience is like no other. My grandparents tell me stories of what it was like to live back in the forties, fifties, or later, and I cannot get enough of the history. This little country holds so much in it, and it is never told in books in America. Small things like knowing only two languages pertain to the linguistic family called Finno-Ugric (and this is only Finnish and Hungarian). Or maybe some more cool facts: that a Hungarian invented the Rubik’s Cube, or Hungarians helped with the Manhattan Project. It startled me when I asked classmates of mine if they knew who invented the Rubik’s Cube, and almost nobody knew (except the girl who was a self-proclaimed “cuber”, but does that really count?). Hungary, and Hungarians, have been involved and influenced many other countries and industries. For example, Hungarians created both Paramount and Fox Studios, and multiple famous actors have Hungarian roots. Not to mention the influence that Liszt Ferenc and Bartók Béla left on the music world. Even the famous magician Harry Houdini was of Hungarian descent. There are so many things that Hungarians are related to, and I embrace this and hope that one day this country will get recognition for it.

The next generation of Hungarian-Americans should, in my opinion, be taught about their heritage and at least know some of their native language. Embracing your culture and family history is important. Recently I read about some summer camps in Hungary where kids from all over the world with Hungarian roots go and learn about the history of their home country. It sounds like a great idea, so that maybe they can know that little bit of information when a person in school asks about their heritage. Take, for example, one of my few-times-removed cousins. She does not speak Hungarian, nor do her parents, but her grandfather retains bits and pieces. She cannot say a word in this beautiful language, and does not know anything about the country. I think that this should not happen, and other people of Hungarian descent should have some familiarity with their ancestry. Then there are the people who want to know more, but have no connections or ways to. A friend of mine in school has a mix of Central European ancestry, including Hungarian, as his grandmother moved from Hungary to the United States. He will ask me questions, and at one point told me that he bought a book about Hungary just because he was so fascinated. I would love to see more people like this.

When I was a little kid, I always imagined teaching my future children to speak Hungarian, to be able to speak to their grandparents, and travel back. Just like I did. And I intend to keep that wish up. Sometimes I will compare Budapest to New York City when describing it to someone who has never heard of the beautiful city, but honestly, there is no way to present the city than the Heart of Europe. Hungary is a home I hold close to my heart, and I will pass on the culture to anyone who is willing to hear me.

Helen Sajó
Massachusetts, United States