Fading Cultures

“We are no longer an age of nations, we must build the earth, or we shall perish” Pere Teilhard de Chardin said, in the early part of the twentieth century. While globalization charges forward encompassing more and more of the world as we know it, and slowly we are even homogenizing the human elements taking away the individual “look” of different nationalities.

When I was in my early twenties and a friend and I sat at dinner in a Hungarian Restaurant called Settler’s Tavern over in the Buckeye area of Cleveland, he sighed and said it was a shame how quickly all of this (ethnic neighborhood) was disappearing. I remember being stunned by that statement. It was the neighborhood where my maternal grandparents built their one and only house and raised their three children and where my grandfather died.  I could not see it then, but it was not long before the reality became clear. My maternal grandmother spoke enough English to get by, but was able to conduct her life speaking Slovak, and my mother learned the language so proficiently that when she went to Europe as an adult, people there asked her when she left Europe, though she was born in Cleveland.

By the time I was 28 and that grandmother 82, she was mugged on her routine walk to morning Mass at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church, and her three grown children and their spouses saw to it she was pulled out of her beloved home.

My sister and I were not taught the language of our heritage; instead it was used as a language in which our parents discussed what they did not want us to know, or in which they talked with their parents.

There are remnants of the old country traditions and languages – I can clearly see the Hungarian features in a friend I socialize with now. In surprising ways the bits and pieces show up, but one would have to have the background and some history to recognize them. I worked for a software house in California when a customer called one day, saying his name was Anton Polivka. Anton is a very Slovak first name and his last name means soup in Slovak. Since it was a business call, I managed to carry on without expressing my surprise or delight in his name.

It is sad to have lost so much culture while technology screams into the future. I lament that my children do not know the children of my first cousins and that even thinking of how different my childhood was from theirs, I am overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to explain much of it to them in case they were ever interested.

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