Some of you may be aware that I am a first generation American. My parents are immigrants from Hungary. They arrived in the USA around 1951, before the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. I recently went to Budapest with my daughter. Although I had been there before for a long weekend, going with my daughter was quite poignant. Here we were both looking at a part of our heritage and both of us looking at it from completely different perspectives.
I grew up with the Hungarian language, food and music. I knew many Hungarians from church and family. I had seen photos of Budapest in family albums. For awhile, I was fluent in the language. My daughter never experienced these things, except for the occasional Hungarian meal I would make. I don’t think she was a big fan. The two times I have been to Budapest I have had deja-vu. I feel like I belong there. There is a familiarity that goes beyond anything I have ever experienced in other cities and cultures. Yet, I know the whole while that I am just a visitor. I barely speak the language and I have never experienced anything close to what Hungarians my age have been exposed to. I am embarrassed to say that I really don’t know much about the history of the country. Since my last visit, I have ordered many books in order to learn about my cultural past. I think it is going to take me awhile to get through them.
While I was growing up, my parents never really talked about the past. After all, they were just children when they left Hungary to live in Germany. They saw some awful things and went through some difficult times. Coming to America gave them a new start and they embraced their new culture and lifestyle wholeheartedly. There is no point dwelling on the past. This is true for many immigrants wanting to make a new start. Even so, there are many who are proud of their heritage through the generations. It is not uncommon for a third or fourth generation descendent to proudly say that they are Italian, Hungarian, German, etc. – even if they have never even been to the land of their forefathers or speak the language.
In a manner of speaking, I am also an immigrant. It may not be so obvious to some people until I speak and people hear my American accent. Eventually, others get used to it and probably don’t give it too much thought, like an Irish, Scottish or Welsh accent. It’s relatively the same language. I have lived in the UK for over 20 years and my accent is the obvious thing that makes me different. Some things you just have to keep.
As I am getting older and my children are becoming independent, and the fact that I live far away from family members, there is this urge for me to connect with what is left of the family and get back to my roots. Finding out about the death of my Aunt two years ago made me realise how distanced I was from my relations, when we used to be so close. My father’s side of the family has been easier to keep track of as it was smaller than my mother’s side. Still, relatives were scattered all over the USA. Looking back, I realise that it had been my grandmothers that kept the families reasonably close together while they were alive. No one liked either of my grandfathers and as soon as the grandmothers had gone, the families dispersed.
This sense of family nostalgia has urged me to try to find cousins and Aunts and Uncles. The internet has made it easier to find people. Thank goodness for Facebook! I have been able to reconnect with relatives that mean the world to me and have even discovered new ones! By rediscovering family, I have been able to help build bridges between some of us. Though some bridges have been re-built, it may take a bit more time before some are willing to walk or drive over them. However, adding someone back to the Christmas card list is a start. Now, if they would just pick up the phone and talk to each other I would consider that a minor miracle. I live in hope.
My daughter is writing her dissertation on immigrants and part of it will include information about our family. My cousin’s wife had started a family tree a few years ago. I decided to branch off and focus on my mother’s and father’s side of the family. This meant that I had to ask questions and search for people I had lost contact with. This all started before I went to Budapest with my daughter. We were hoping that we would be able to expand on what we had learned while we were there, but there really wasn’t a lot of time to do that as sightseeing took priority.
This paper has been a catalyst for me delving deeper for information and continuing the search for family. A whole generation of those with the most information have gone, apart from one person. There are so many questions to ask, but I wonder if I should be asking them or let sleeping dogs lie. I am grateful to my new-found second cousin for sending me photos and documents. I am learning things about the family I never knew before. There are intrigues and secrets. Should they be told or should they stay buried?