2 – Migrant Culture

These new subjectivities will take their own metaleptic leap and, while retaining their discursive constructivity, may take their existence in the reality of our spatial-temporal world. Enikö Bollobás, They Aren’t, Until I Call Them: Performing the Subject in American Literature

After reading the introduction to They Aren’t, Until I Call Them: Performing the Subject in American Literature, watch “Hungarian Americans” – and consider what it would be like to speak Hungarian in the United States. What new (or additional) meanings would the words evoke?


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11 thoughts on “2 – Migrant Culture

  1. I do not speak Hungarian, but I can tell that Hungarian is much more difficult than English. The structure of the language, distinctive alphabets and the pronunciation as well as the change of word forms—based on a very slight difference of action—make it so complicated to learn. Therefore, I believe that Hungarians can speak English effortlessly. Learning English would be a-piece-of-cake for Hungarians. However, strong emphasis on the first syllable of every Hungarian word would probably make English spoken by some Hungarians a little bit unusual and distinguishable or noticeable—that the speakers are not natives. In addition, Hungarian language’s lacks of gender-specific pronouns and grammatical gender would possibly result in more gender neutral English words.

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  2. I must admit that, at first, it was hard to find the connections between the Bollobás text and the video; however, after reading and thinking them both through, the possibility of a comparative critical reflection did present itself. In simplest terms, Bollobás talks about “performative constructionism,” which is really nothing more than terming the phenomenon of the discursive positionality of “the thing,” be it an object, a subject, or whole “worlds” and cultures, differently. In other words, Bollobás points out the discursive nature of “nature”: of society at large, of the living space itself, or of Lebensräum, if you will, to employ an ideologically detested word. Bollobás’s aim is to make it very clear that the self and its context (if we can naively assume that it has some sort of agency or power over the textual network of being and knowing, i.e., discourse) do not simply pre-exist their being-there-ness and are just “there” with an assumed essence and origin, i.e., with a metaphysical self-presence that serves as an ultimate point of reference and authority. No, rather: both subjectivity and “reality” are things that need to be brought about—they are events and actions that happen. And the thing that makes them happen, that writes and calls them into existence, is language.
    Although in very subtle and implicit ways, these predicates of the postmodern episteme and the poststructuralist framework are addressed in the video. When one of the interviewees says that, and I am paraphrasing here, you need to speak and write the language of a culture to actually maintain and be part of that culture, they (just to avoid gender-normative pronouns) mean that language and culture presuppose each other, the One does not exist without the Other (to employ hermeneutic terms, and kind of refer back to our previous text by Culler). In fact, this “strange complicity,” as Derrida would say, is not really a binary relation; i.e., they cannot be separated because they are two overlapping elements. No, they cannot be separated because they are one and the same—they are always already within the Other. In pragmatic terms, it translates as follows: an American individual has an American subjectivity and an American culture because of (American) language. That person is (i.e., exists) because they (see, I am already doing it: not saying an objectified “it” but a humanized “they”) can say “I”; similarly, their whole culture and its traditions (which, by the way, are nothing else but normative scripts and codes of hegemonic behavior) exist because words allow them to be called into existence. It becomes almost transparent and is beautifully rendered metaphorical when one of the Hungarian–American children says that they speak Hungarian “in the house” because they “gotta keep the culture.” What that child actually tires to articulate is that Hungarian language and culture in America function as a “clean room” in which all the “folk art” of a national identity is preserved or, better put, called into existence. If we do not stick to the Hungarian example, we can simply say that language in general works precisely the same way: it is a room that is closed onto itself in which everything—the self, the world—exist by being named but from which there is no exit toward “an outside.” That outside is “reality” which does not exist as a thing-in-itself, only (and always!) in the room of discourse.
    As a last remark, I would say that arguing, as the interviewee does toward the end of the video, that things such as “good spirit,” “love of life,” and “hospitality” are specific to Hungarian culture is not only naïve and idealistic, but it is also theoretically unfounded. The very same goes for that other interviewee who claimed that “dance is not language-related.” I do not even have time to explicate the extent to which a statement like that is laughable; I would just say that there is nothing (nothing!) that is not under the performative power of language and discursive constructivism—it is enough to think about how certain physicalities and movements of the human body are rendered non-normative or even stigmatized (e.g., “walking gay”). So, no—but good luck moving away from language because that is straight-up walking out of existence. And we want to keep things “real,” right? Just call it, then. Language will answer. Nothing else. Always.

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  3. First thing I’d like to say is that I don’t speak Hungarian and I’m not really trying to do that, so maybe I’m not authorized enough to discuss about additional or extra word meanings. However, I come from Republic of Mordovia, one of the regions of Russia. And originally, all people there spoke Mordovian language (there are 3 kinds of them, actually), and Mordovian language is one of Finno Ugric languages, as well as Hungarian, that’s why I’m quite aware of all the difficulties which are connected with these languages. Throughout the history, Mordovians assimilated with Russians, and now it’s really difficult to distinguish whether you are Russian or Mordovian. My mother is Russian, and my father is Mordovian, but I’ve always considered myself to be Russian. Nowadays, only people in villages speak Mordovian. My parents don’t know this language, and neither do I. The language is slowly dying, even though the government provides little kids with Mordovian lessons at school, it’s not really working since we don’t speak Mordovian in every day life. What I’m trying to say by mentioning this is that personally I don’t believe that you can preserve your own culture if you’re not connected with it on daily basis. It’s a good thing that Hungarians in the USA have their museums and organize various concerts ( we do too from time to time), but as one girl said in the video “I behave like American and speak English during the week, but on weekends I can speak Hungarian and spend time with our community”. I think that it is really great that Hungarian Americans love their home land (which is actually quite a debatable term for new generations who were born and raised in the US), I also admire the fact that they speak Hungarian at home with their families, but American and Hungarian cultures are so different, their mentalities are very different (I have been to the US before and it’s clearly seen), that I suppose that there is an opportunity that one day all these things can just disappear if new generations of Hungarian Americans refuse to speak Hungarian since it’s a tremendously difficult language, especially in comparison with English which I find very simple. However, I hope it’ll never happen and Hungarians will continue to preserve their culture even outside Hungary.

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  4. The first thing I noticed in the video, that I have really noticed was the way the mother, Gabi spoke Hungarian – it’s the same kind of intonation-pronunciation that my landlady uses, even though she was born in Hungary, but she has been living abroad for more than 10 years now, from which the last 3 was spent in the US (interestingly enough, I don’t hear the same kind of difference in pronunciation from her kids or husband). Gabi and my landlady uses somewhat “flatter” á-s and é-s, but not as flat and English-like as the narrator does. (The narrator has a terrible pronunciation, I had to go back because I could not understand Fazekas (the name of the museum curator).) Hungarian words in the video are still signifiers of Hungarianness in this video, exercising performative power over the identities of these Hungarian-Americans. So are the dances, the waterjugs, the home-video, the music performance (in which they perform the harpsichord part on an acoustic guitar – not a heretical, in my opinion, when there are techno covers of popular Hungarian folk songs (see Holdviola, they are not bad), but when we are looking at a video on immigrant Hungarians trying to keep their traditions, the change of instrument is noticeable, just as the subtle changes to the stereotypical Hungarian identity itself – which is not really soulful, and cheerful, but usually described as rather gloomy and depressed). And while language is important, especially for accessing a different culture, I feel like the linguistic performativity of the language is not enough for Hungarian-Americans, and their ethnic identity needs to be performed though other means as well.
    It is interesting to think about whether we perform our national/ethnic identity the same way. My chicken paprikash is just a simple weekend food – one I don’t call chicken paprikash, but csirkepörkölt (some people do call it csirkepaprikás, somehow it is not the case in my family). It is not even csirkepörkölt, since I went vegetarian a few years ago – although mushroom (and fish and, for some weird reason, pea) paprikash is pretty traditional in my family, so that adaptation was not a drastic one on the original recipe. Stuffed cabbages however… How do I perform the same identity though my cuisine if I cannot eat the traditional recipes? I do not perform my identity through food, I guess, even though it is part of my national consciousness. Do I need to perform it though folk dancing? I feel a lot of pressure for it, since my mother and my two sisters are part of a prestigious amateur folk dancing group, yet I don’t feel compelled to join, and I mostly enjoy Moldovian dances, that are not from my region, but fun to dance and to shout “csujjogatás”-es while one dances. Saying “I’m Hungarian” has enough performative power for me to reassure my national identity (but I guess I do internalize several of these things). On the other hand, while I lived abroad in the Netherlands, pinning on my red-white-green cockade was really important for me in order to feel (and perform) my Hungarianness.
    About speaking Hungarian abroad, I would like to recommend Russel Peter’s standup bit (I hope I can insert links): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4z6rRGPK5T0

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  5. I believe that culture can not be retained by just speaking the language it is linked to, or participate in events related to the culture’s customs. So, retaining Hungarian culture among those who migrated to America is impossible. Culture is very sophisticated, its components are not merely language and customs.
    I found it really interesting, when the narrator of the video said that Hungarians are especially trying to retain their culture. I have many cousins and family friends who, themselves, or whose ancestors migrated to America from Hungary. Most of them try to prove that they speak Hungarian just as those, who live in Hungary, and whose mother tongue is Hungarian. But other than that, they only have some souvenirs from Hungary—or souvenir-like decoration or furniture. However, in most cases, they are only aware of their history—how their ancestors ended up in the US—but there is nothing else that connects them to the Hungarian culture. It is really lovely to see how the Vajtay family tries to preserve the Hungarian culture through language, but I have two observations about it. First, as I argued it before, language is just one element of culture, therefore, it can not sustain culture on its own. Second, even the Vajtay parents (Gabi and Steve) do not speak Hungarian fluently, neither their children. From generation to generation, the effort to teach children to speak Hungarian decreases. However, the children who live in the US and are thought to speak Hungarian as well, might acquire a unique understanding of the world, since they will be able to perceive its surroundings via two different languages.

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  6. At the beginning, I would like to mention that I do not speak Hungarian and I do not really know so much about the Hungarian cultural heritage since I have been living in Budapest for six months only. The video is interesting because it mentions the different events and routine of the Hungarian community who lives in New Jersey. This small community, like any other ethnic group, tries to preserve its origins through speaking their native language (Hungarian) and teach it to the younger generations, who did not migrate from Hungary but were born in the United States, through speaking it at home. Parents also teach their children the Hungarian folk dance and culture. Hungarian Americans identify themselves as Hungarians and Americans equally. They are grateful to what they found in America and they combine their own cultural habits with their new identity.
    According to the introduction to They Aren’t, Until I Call Them: Performing the Subject in American Literature, the writer explains the importance of the perfomatives and how performative acts allow speakers to “construct themselves: subjects are created performatively, in the speaking and in the doing.” I think that if this idea is applied to the video, it will mean the following: for example, The speakers ( Hungarian Americans), through performative acts, try to construct themselves. The process of construction will be done through their speaking and their doings: through speaking the Hungarian language and teaching it to their children, and through doings like teaching them the Hungarian folk dance and eat Hungarian food. Bollobás also stresses the idea of Subjectivities when she says ” Subjectivities, together with their identity inflections, will be structured as discourse… As signifiers structured by difference with relation to other signifiers.” I think that if we consider that Hungarian identity ( signifier) can be structured by difference with relation to other signifiers ( American Identity) would be an appropriate way to consider how Hungarian identity developed inspite of all their differences and identified themselves as American. I hope I did not explain this idea in a wrong way. This theme is really fascinating and I would love to know how to apply Performtive theory to a text.

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  7. I have second and third-generation relatives in the US and Canada, and although we don’t really keep in touch (I have only met some of them, about twice in my life), I know that they don’t speak the language and don’t insist on adhering to Hungarian traditions at all. I’m not really sure of the reason for this, but I suspect it might have to do with the actual immigrants from my family and their reasons for abandoning it. My grandfather’s brother, for example, left Hungary due to the restriction of the number of Jewish students being accepted into Hungarian universities in the interwar period, only to become a very successful physician living in Beverly Hills. I never met him (he died long before I was born), nor his descendants, with whom our family has made contact only a couple of years ago. None of them speak Hungarian. Someone I have met, although nearly two decades ago, is my mother’s brother, who fled socialist Hungary in the early ‘70s. He speaks the language of course, so does his wife (who is not Hungarian), but their children do not. Some of them live in Canada, some in the US, but, as far as I know, they don’t speak the language either, nor are they in active contact with their Hungarian heritage. Naturally, neither them, nor their ascendants are to blame, and the explanation seems quite simple: the first-generation migrants in the families have had very good reason to leave the country and to not have fond memories of it, to put it mildly. Therefore, they did not feel the need to pass too much of their past onto their children.
    I do not think that all this means that they are not performing their Hungarian identities in any form, as they are well aware of their ascendants’ Hungarian heritage and past, and even without speaking the language or participating in Hungary-related activities, perform a Hungarian identity in their own ways, just like Hungarians living in Hungary do. What I might consider as a core part of my Hungarianness can be fundamentally different from that of others’ living here, and vice versa.

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  8. Budapest The City Of Lights

    The video that I will discuss is entitled to „Budapest The City Of Lights”. This video was published in 6th.march.2014. although this video shows the beauty of Budapest, we can not say that it tells what is enough about this majestic city. It excluded the well known Hungarian food, such as kürtőskalács, Lángos, and the Goulas. Furthermore, it did not mention any piece of information about Hungarian culture and language. For example, to mention some of the traditions and habits in Hungary will be a good addition to the video. In addition, to mention the repeated words in Hungarian is a perfect addition, such as, a good morning which means jó reggelt in Hungarian and so many other words. Finally, the Hungarian people have to be mentioned because they are nice unlike what it seems.

    Photo from above. “Budapest-a city of light.” Online Video Clip. You Tube. You Tube 6 march. 2014. Web. 19 February .2019

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  9. As for a Hungarian coming from Ukraine, this video was thought-provoking on many levels. Living as a minority and speaking a minority language is never easy. However, assessing this situation as combining the best attributes of both nations really puts things into perspective. I was surprised that even second and third generation Hungarian-Americans speak Hungarian fluently. Furthermore, I was not aware that Hungarians have such a rich cultural life in the United States. In many ways I feel like the Hungarians who live in Ukraine (Transcarpathia) and the Hungarian-Americans share several attributes. We also feel a strong cultural tie to Hungary and all generations are fond of Hungarian festivals, folk dance, cuisine etc. I think those who live as a minority often have a stronger sense of national identity, for they feel that their cultural heritage is what distinguishes them from the majority. Furthermore, as a minority, people always face the fear of assimilation and losing their real identity, therefore they value and cherish this culture. I highly agree with the statement that minorities can contribute greatly to the majority culture in terms of food, music, sense of community and hospitality.

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  10. The video that I have watched about Hungarian Americans is questioning the issue of identity. Hungarians in America do not try to deny their belonging to Hungary but at the same time they love, and they appreciate the opportunities that were offered by the USA by the efforts of their ancestors in the USA at the beginning of the 19th century. What proves their belonging and their loyalty to the motherland is their attempts to teach the upcoming generations the Hungarian language, their regular visits to Hungary, and their effort to keep on the Hungarian heritage that includes the Hungarian dancing, singing, and the Hungarian food. Furthermore, the Hungarian American foundation is preserving the Hungarian arts in order not to forget all about the origin of the Hungarians in the USA. Also, Hungarians have established their communities in the USA since the first wave of migration in the 19th century, which proves their loyalty to their origins. In conclusion, America is the land of golden opportunities for most of the people, but in the present time, it is not as good as it was in the past.

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  11. In connection with this topic, I would like to share a short personal story.

    While I was on my exchange program in Grand Rapids, for the longest time I was sure that the closest place where I would run into Hungarians was Chicago. I was the only Hungarian on the campus (thank God, but that’s another story), and Grand Rapids is relatively small. One weekend, however, I went to the farmers’ market, and I saw a booth that said “Hungarian Pastries & Sweets”. The seller was a lady around the age of 70, and she was serving customers speaking perfect English. I was, of course, curious, so I went over and asked her if she could speak Hungarian – she did, so we started to chat in Hungarian.

    I found out that she and her family moved to the States around 30 years ago. She had grandchildren, but didn’t speak Hungarian any more. However, she also said that she and her husband go back to Hungary a lot. I asked her why she was selling Hungarian sweets, and she said that even though she loved baking and it was a good business opportunity, she also wanted to share a bit of our culture with the Americans.

    I think it is not impossible to retain one’s cultural identity in a foreign environment. It is just there is no foolproof way to do it, as every migrant experience is different. There is obviously going to be some level of Americanization (if we think about pastries, you are not going to get the same kind of flour in the States as in Hungary), but if something is so rooted in our identity as culture, it is very hard to get rid of it.

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