Steven Béla Várdy and Thomas Szendrey
Hungarian Americans are immigrants or descendants of people from Hungary, a small, landlocked country in the Carpathian Basin of Central Europe. Hungary is bounded by Slovakia in the north, Ukraine in the northeast, Romania in the east, the former Yugoslavia (Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia) in the south, and Austria in the west. Hungary's strategic location—along main land routes between western Europe and the Balkan Peninsula, as well as between the Ukraine and Mediterranean basin—has greatly influenced its history. Budapest is the country's largest city and also its capital. The total area of Hungary is 35,919 square miles (93,030 square kilometers).
According to 2011 census data from the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, Hungary had a population of 9,982,000, and Hungarians (Magyars) constituted 96.1 percent of its population. The remaining 3.9 percent was made up of Germans, Slovaks, South Slavs, Roma (Gypsies), and Romanians. The census indicated that 67.8 percent of Hungarians were Catholic, 20.9 percent Calvinist (Reformed), and 4.2 percent Lutheran (Evangelical). Of the remaining population, 2.3 percent belonged to minor denominations (Greek or Byzantine Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Baptist, and Adventist), while 4.8 percent claimed no religious affiliation. Jews—who in 1941 had constituted 6.2 percent of Hungary's population—numbered only 12,800 (0.1 percent of the population) in the 2011 Hungarian census. Other estimates place the number at around 100,000, or about 1 percent of the Hungarian population, making it the largest Jewish community in east-central Europe. This discrepancy stems in part from the reluctance of many Jews to identify themselves as such in the census. After World War II, many Hungarian Jews who survived the Holocaust taught their children to downplay their Jewish heritage. It should also be noted that, like the Jews, the Roma population has been heavily persecuted in Hungary, and its numbers are thought to be potentially much greater than the 2 percent indicated in the 2011 census, perhaps as high as 10 percent. Hungary, which joined the European Union in 2004, was hit hard by the recession of the late 2000s due to its heavy dependence on foreign capital.
The first large wave of Hungarian immigration to the United States occurred in 1849 and 1850, when many people fled from Austrian authorities after the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1848. During World War II, Hungarian immigrants were mainly Jews fleeing the horrific circumstances of the Holocaust. Some 40,000 immigrants came to the United States in 1956 and 1957 after a failed Hungarian revolution against the Soviet Union, which governed Hungary at the time. Like the groups that had fled Hungary a century earlier, these people, sometimes referred to as “Fifty-sixers,” were motivated by fear of political persecution.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, there were an estimated 1,415,187 people of Hungarian descent living in the United States in 2011. States with significant Hungarian American populations at that time included Ohio, New York, California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, and Florida.
HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE
Early History In the year 896 CE, under the leadership of Prince Arpád, seven Hungarian/Magyar tribes conquered and settled the geographic area that now makes up modern Hungary, gradually extending their rule over the entire Carpathian Basin. One of Arpád's successors, Stephen I, king of Hungary from 1000 to 1038 (and referred to as Saint Stephen because he was canonized in 1083), Christianized his people and made the country part of the Western Christian world.
During the next four centuries, the Hungarians continued to expand beyond the Carpathian Basin, especially into the northern Balkans. At the end of the eleventh century, they conquered and annexed Croatia as an autonomous kingdom, while in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries they extended their influence over Bosnia, Dalmatia, and northern Serbia, largely at the expense of the declining Byzantine Empire. Moreover, in the fourteenth century, under the Angevin rulers Charles Robert (reigned 1308–1342) and Louis the Great (reigned 1342–1382), the Hungarians expanded their control over the newly formed Vlach (Romanian) principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia and, for a brief period (1370–1382), even over Poland.
With the expansion of the Ottoman Turkish Empire into the Balkans in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Hungarian influence over the northern Balkans declined and was usurped by that of the Turks. Even so, Hungary still experienced
moments of greatness, particularly under Regent John Hunyadi (ruled 1444–1456) and his son King Matthias Corvinus (ruled 1458–1490). Matthias even conquered Moravia and eastern Austria and also established a Renaissance royal court at Buda (now part of Budapest).
Medieval Hungary's greatness ended with its defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Mohács in 1526. Turkish conquest was followed by the country's trisection, which lasted for nearly two centuries. Western and northwestern Hungary (“Royal Hungary”) became part of the Habsburg Empire, which ruled from Vienna; central Hungary was integrated into the Ottoman Turkish Empire; and eastern Hungary evolved into the autonomous principality of Transylvania, whose semi-independence under Turkish suzerainty ended with the country's reconquest and reunification by the Hapsburgs in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
Hungary retained considerable autonomy within the Hapsburg Empire. In the mid-nineteenth century the Habsburgs and the Hungarians clashed in the Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence (1848–1849), and two decades later they united in the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867. This compromise—engineered by Francis Deák (1803–1876) and Emperor Franz Joseph (reigned 1848–1916)—resulted in the dual state of Austria-Hungary, which played a significant role in European politics until nationality problems and involvement in World War I on the German side resulted in its dissolution in 1918–1919.
The demise of Austria-Hungary was accompanied by the dismemberment of historic Hungary, codified in the Peace Treaty of Trianon in 1920. This treaty turned Hungary into a small truncated country, with only 28.5 percent of its former territory (35,900 square miles versus 125,600 square miles) and 36.5 percent of its former population (7.6 million versus 20.9 million). Trianon Hungary became “a kingdom without a king” under the regency of Admiral Nicholas Horthy, who ruled from 1920 to 1944 and devoted most of the country's resources to regaining at least some of its territorial losses. These efforts did result in temporary territorial gains from 1938 to 1941, but because the expansion was achieved with German and Italian help, Hungary wound up in an unfortunate alliance with Germany during World War II.
Modern Era After World War II, Hungary was again reduced in size and became one of the communist-dominated Soviet satellite states under the leadership of Stalinist dictator Mátyás Rákosi, who ruled from 1948 to 1956. Communist excesses and the relaxation that followed Joseph Stalin's death in 1953 led to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the most significant anti-Soviet uprising of the postwar period. Put down by Soviet military intervention, it was followed by a brief period of retribution and then by a new communist regime under János Kádár, who ruled from 1956 to 1988 and initiated a policy of political liberalization (1962) and economic reform (known as the New Economic Mechanism of 1968). By the 1970s these reforms—supported by generous Western loans—had made Hungary the envy of the communist world.
Even though Hungary experienced some persistent economic changes and a degree of political liberalization throughout the 1980s, its most important development involved the replacement of Kádár in 1988, which signaled the end of communist rule in the People's Republic of Hungary. At this time, the parliament implemented a “democracy package” that incorporated trade union diversity, electoral law, a major revision of the constitution, and freedom of assembly, association, and the press.
On August 19, 1989, a peace demonstration known as the Pan-European Picnic took place near the town of Sopron on the Austrian-Hungarian border. It was an important moment in the political developments that led to the collapse of the Iron Curtain and to Germany's reunification. From October 16 through 20 of that same year, the Communist Party held its final congress and renamed itself the Hungarian Socialist Party. During the session, the parliament approved legislation that paved the way for multiparty parliamentary and presidential elections determined by a majority vote of the citizenry. The new legislation assured human and civil rights, converted the country from the People's Republic of Hungary to the Republic of Hungary, and established an institutional Page 375 | Top of Articleframework that safeguarded a governmental separation of judicial, legislative, and executive powers.
The Hungarian Democratic Forum (HDF), headed initially by József Antall, led the country from 1990 to 1994. The HDF regime immediately began to transform Hungary from a communist to a democratic state, but the economic and social problems it encountered—such as rapid social polarization, the collapse of the protective social welfare system, and the pauperization of a large segment of the society—proved to be too much. Voted out of office in 1994, the HDF was replaced by a coalition of the Hungarian Socialist Party and the Federation of Free Democrats. Former communist Gyula Horn (1932–), who had been Hungary's foreign minister during the peaceful transition from communism to democracy in 1989–1990, became the country's new prime minister in 1994, serving until 1998.
In 2004 Ferenc Gyurcsány succeeded Péter Medgyessy as prime minister. Two years later, antigovernment protests were triggered by the release of a private speech by Gyurcsány in which he confessed that his Hungarian Socialist Party had lied to win the 2006 election. Gyurcsány's lack of accomplishments while in office exacerbated matters. Taking place mostly in Budapest and other major cities between September 17 and October 23, it was the first sustained protest in Hungary since 1989.
SETTLEMENT IN THE UNITED STATES
According to Hungarian tradition, the first Hungarian to reach American shores was a certain Tyrker who arrived with the Viking chief Eric the Red in around 1000 CE. This is said to have happened concurrently with Stephen I's transformation of Hungary into a Christian kingdom. If the Tyrker story is discounted, the first documented Hungarian to land in America was the learned scholar Stephen Parmenius of Buda (c. 1555–1583), who participated in Sir Humphrey Gilbert's expedition in 1583 and later drowned off the coast of Newfoundland.
Over the next two and a half centuries, increasing numbers of Hungarian explorers, missionaries, and adventurers came to North America. The most noted among the latter was Colonel Michael de Kováts (1724–1779), a member of the Pulaski Legion during the Revolutionary War who is generally credited with being one of the founders of the American cavalry. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw the arrival of the first sporadic settlers, most of whom came from the middle and upper classes and often immigrated for personal reasons, usually winding up in coastal cities such as Boston; New York; Philadelphia; Charleston, South Carolina; and New Orleans, Louisiana.
In 1849–1850, the first mass Hungarian immigration to the United States occurred. These immigrants, called “Forty-niners,” came to escape
retribution by Austrian authorities after the defeat of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. Several thousand strong, the wave included mainly educated men, many of whom were from the gentry class (middle nobility). A large number of these immigrants joined the Union Army during the Civil War, and some returned to Hungary during the 1860s and 1870s. Most, however, became part of American society.
The next wave, known as the “Great Economic Immigration,” took place at the turn of the twentieth century and brought some 1.7 million Hungarian citizens, including 650,000 to 700,000 ethnic Hungarians (Magyars), to American shores. These immigrants sought greater prosperity in a new land, and they represented the poorest and least-educated segment of the Hungarian population.
The outbreak of World War I in 1914 halted this mass migration, while the exclusionary U.S. immigration laws of 1921 and 1924 pushed the Hungarian quota down to under 1,000 per year. This situation did not change until another immigration law, the Hart-Celler Act of 1965, ended the quota system. Yet during the intervening four decades, there were a number of nonquota admissions that brought completely different types of Hungarian immigrants to the United States. These included the refugee intellectuals (2,000 to 3,000) of the 1930s who were fleeing the spread of Nazism; the post–World War II displaced persons, or DPs (17,000), who came under the Displaced Persons Act of 1948; and the “Fifty-sixers,” or Freedom Fighters (38,000), who left Hungary after the failed revolution of 1956. The combined number of these last three groups (60,000) was less than 10 percent of that of the turn-of-the-century economic immigrants, but their impact on American society was much more significant.
Although the turn-of-the-century economic immigrants were from rural areas, almost all of them settled in the industrial cities and mining regions of the northeastern United States. Fewer than 0.2 percent of all the Magyars who lived in the United States in 1920 were engaged in agriculture. Virtually all of these Hungarians worked in mining and industry, most in the unskilled and semiskilled categories. This was primarily because the majority came to the United States not as immigrants but as migrant workers who intended to repatriate to Hungary. Their goal was to return with enough accumulated capital to be able to buy land and become prosperous farmers. To do this, however, they had to work in industry, where work was readily available because the rapidly expanding American industrial establishment of the Gilded Age was in great need of cheap immigrant labor.
Most of the immigrants were never able to fulfill their original goal of repatriation, although up to 25 percent did return to Hungary permanently. Among the factors that kept them in the United States were their inability to accumulate the capital to buy sufficient land; the difficulties they encountered in readjusting to Hungary's class-conscious society; the influence of their American-born children, who viewed Hungary as an alien land; and, most important, Hungary's post–World War I dismemberment, which transferred the homelands of most of the immigrants to such newly created states as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia and to the much-enlarged Romania. They did not wish to join the ranks of Hungarians who had been forcibly transferred to these states.
According to the 1920 U.S. Census, 945,801 persons in the United States either had been born in Hungary or had Hungarian-born parents; slightly more than half of these (495,845) were Magyars. In 1922 the Hungarian-born Magyars numbered 474,000 and were concentrated in ten northeastern states: New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Illinois, Michigan, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Indiana, and West Virginia. They migrated to these regions to work in coal mines, steel mills, textile mills, and machine factories.
This settlement pattern remained unchanged until the 1960s, when many Hungarian Americans began to move to the West and the South, partially because of the arrival of the more mobile political immigrants and also because of a general population shift in previous decades.
Despite renewed contacts with the homeland, Hungarian Americans are losing their struggle to survive as a separate ethnic group in the United States. This is evident both in their declining numbers and in the disappearances of their ethnic institutions, churches, cultural organizations, and fraternal organizations. The 1980 U.S. Census reported that 1.78 million people claimed to be fully or primarily Hungarian; by 2011 that number had dropped to 1.42 million, according to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. In the past thirty years, Greater Pittsburgh alone has lost about a half-dozen Hungarian churches, and those that remain are struggling to survive. The same fate has befallen Hungarian cultural and social organizations in western Pennsylvania, few of which are active today. This trend appears to be equally true in the entire Northeast, though it is not as evident in California and Florida, which experienced rapid growth in their Hungarian populations from the 1960s through the 1990s. However, from the turn of the twenty-first century to 2011, even California experienced a decline in its Hungarian population (from 164,903 to 120,189), whereas Florida saw a marginal increase (from 89,587 to 102,994), largely due to its popularity with retirees. According to the American Community Survey estimates for 2009–2011, Ohio was the state with the highest population of Americans of Hungarian descent. Other states where large numbers of Hungarian Americans reside are Pennsylvania, California, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York.
Hungarian is classified as a Finno-Ugric language and is part of the larger Uralic linguistic family. The most distinctive characteristic of these languages is that they are agglutinative—that is, words are extended into complex expressions through the use of prefixes and suffixes. For example, the meaning of a single word, szent (saint), can be changed by adding numerous prefixes and suffixes as follows (hyphens indicate the additions): szent-ség (sanctity), szent-ség-ed (your sanctity), szent-ség-ed-del (with your sanctity), szent-ség-eid-del (with your sanctities), meg-szent-ségel-és-ed (your sanctification), meg-szent-ség-telenít-hetetlen-ség-ed-del (with your ability to withstand desanctification).
The closest linguistic relatives of the Hungarians are the Voguls from western Siberia. Hungarians are also distantly related to the Turkic peoples, and there is a substratum of Turkish words in the Hungarian language (which is not, however, related to Turkic languages). This is due both to their common roots and to the renewal of contacts through the mixing of Finno-Ugric and Turkic tribes during the first nine centuries of the Common Era.
Before the conquest of Hungary, Hungarians had their own runic script. After their conversion to Christianity, they borrowed the Latin liturgical language and alphabet and adapted this alphabet to the phonetic properties of the Hungarian dialect. This was done by doubling up letters to represent a single sound—cs (“ch”), gy (“dy”), ly (“y”), ny (soft “n”), sz (“s”), ty (soft “t”), zs (“zh”), dzs (“dzh”)—or by adding diacritical marks (á, é, í, ö, õ, ü, u). In many instances the accent marks not only signify the pronunciation but also alter the meaning of the word, such as with sor (row), sör (beer); bor (wine), bőr (skin); sas (eagle), sás (sedge); szar (excrement), szár (stem). The meaning of a single word can be changed several times simply by adding or subtracting a diacritical mark, such as with kerek (round), kerék (wheel), kérek (I am requesting).
The English language has had an impact on how Hungarian Americans speak Hungarian. This was particularly true for the less-educated immigrants, who readily mixed their simple Hungarian with working-class English. Thus, they developed a language of their own known as “Hunglish” (Hungarian English), which introduced English words into the Hungarian but transformed them to fit Hungarian pronunciation and orthography: trén (train), plész (place), szalon (saloon), bedróm (bedroom), atrec (address), tájm (time), szendsztón (sandstone), gud báj (goodbye), foriner (foreigner), fandri (foundry), fanesz (furnace), bakszi (box), burdos (boarder), burdosház (boarding house), görl (girl), groszeri (grocery).
There was also a reverse version of Hunglish that may be called “Engarian” (English Hungarian), which adjusted the primitive English to the ears of the immigrants. The result was two hodgepodge languages that were barely comprehensible to Hungarians or Americans who did not speak both languages, with phrases such as Szé, miszter, gimi order, maj hen trók brók! (Say, Mister, give me the order. My hand truck broke!) Such usage is no longer common, largely because the Americanized offspring of the turn-of-the-century immigrants have switched to English but also because the more educated post–World War II immigrants never really acquired it.
Greetings and Popular Expressions Common greetings are as follows (all words are pronounced with the accent on the first syllable): Jó reggelt (“yo reggelt”)—Good morning; Jó napot (“yo nahpote”)—Good day; Jó estét (“yo eshtayt”)—Good evening; Jó éjszakát (“yo aysahkaht”)—Good night; Kezitcsókolom (“kezeet choakholohm”)—I kiss your hand; Szervusz or Szerbusz (“servoos, serboos”)—Hello, Hi; Szia (“seeyah”)—Hi, Hello; Viszontlátásra (“veesoant-lahtahshrah”)—Goodbye, See you again; and Isten áldjon meg (“eeshten ahldyoan meg”)—God bless you.
Other popular expressions include: Boldog Új Évet (“bohldogh ooy-ayveth”)—Happy New Year; Kellemes húsvétot (“kellehmesh hooshvaytoth”)—Happy Easter; Kellemes karácsonyi ünnepeket (“kellehmesh karahcho-anyi ünnepeketh”)—Merry Christmas; Boldog ünnepeket (“bohldogh ünnepeketh”)—Happy holidays; and Egészségedre (“eggayshaygedreh”)—To your health (spoken when toasting).
Hungary has been a Roman Catholic country since its conversion to Christianity in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. This religious uniformity was shattered only in the sixteenth century, when Protestantism entered the country and spread, especially in its Calvinist form. After a century of intense struggle, Catholicism remained strong in the country's western and central areas, while Calvinism came to dominate its eastern regions. This Catholic-Calvinist rivalry was complicated somewhat by the presence of a significant minority of Lutherans (Evangelicals), Jews, Greek/Byzantine Catholics, and Unitarians, as well as by a few other small Christian sects. Yet in spite of its losses to rival faiths, Roman Catholicism retained its dominant position as Hungary's only official “state religion” until the communist takeover in 1948.
The religious divisions in Hungary also came to be reflected in Hungarian American society. The Calvinists were the first to establish their pioneer congregations in 1891 in Cleveland and in Pittsburgh, to be followed in 1892 by the Roman Catholics (St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, Cleveland) and in 1907 by the Lutherans (Cleveland). These early congregations soon spawned scores of other Hungarian churches throughout the northeastern United States. Although the Calvinists had the greatest number of churches, their congregations were small, and as such they represented only one-third as many faithful as did the Roman Catholic churches.
Roman Catholics, Calvinists, and Lutherans together constituted slightly over 90 percent of all religious affiliations of Hungarian Americans. The other 8 to 10 percent was made up of smaller denominations, including the Byzantine Catholics, Jews, Baptists, and Adventists. Because of their slight numbers, however, none of the latter had more than a limited and passing influence on Hungarian American life.
The religious practices of Hungarian Roman Catholics and Protestants in the United States are basically identical to those of their coreligionists in Hungary and are also similar to those of their American counterparts. Although religious practices did not change after immigration, the social significance of the congregations and the position and the role of the parish priests and pastors underwent major alterations. In Hungary religious congregations and their priests or ministers were supported by their respective mother churches through an obligatory religious tax. As a result, these congregations were centrally controlled, with little or no input from the congregation members. This was particularly true of the Roman Catholic Church, which had retained its monarchical structure from the Middle Ages. Although Calvinist and Lutheran congregations did elect their pastors even in Hungary, the powers of the presbytery (church council) were much more limited than in the United States. This was true not only because of the somewhat authoritarian nature of traditional Hungarian society but also because the pastors did not depend on the financial support of their parishioners. In Hungary, therefore, it was the priests and the ministers who controlled the congregation, not vice versa.
After immigration, this relationship changed significantly, as much of the control over church affairs fell to the members of the church council. This shift in the power dynamic was due both to the lack of state support for religion and to the fact that now the members of the congregations were paying for the upkeep of their churches and for their pastors.
The function of the church itself has also changed. Traditionally, American churches have always combined religious and social functions, a phenomenon that was largely unknown in Europe. This American practice was accepted by the immigrant churches, which consequently ceased to function solely as houses of prayer. They now also assumed the role of social clubs and thus lost some of the sanctity of their Old World counterparts.
The pinnacle of Hungarian religious life in the United States occurred from the 1920s to the 1960s. By the 1970s, however, a process of slow decay had set in, and it accelerated to a point in the 1980s where several Hungarian ethnic churches were closing their doors every year.
During the past century, all Hungarian American denominations have been plagued by dissension, but none more so than the Hungarian Calvinist (Reformed) Church. Within a quarter-century of taking root in the United States, the church experienced dissension that led to the establishment of several competing Calvinist denominations, a process that resulted in a new sub-denomination as late as 1982. While some of these conflicts and fragmentations were of an ideological and administrative nature (e.g., the relationship with the mother church in Hungary), most were really the result of personal animosity among the clergy. American social practices make it easy for anyone to establish a new church, so personality conflicts and group squabbles have often resulted in institutional divorces. Hungarian Calvinists are still divided into a half-dozen rival and competing churches that are held together only by the awareness of their common roots and by their membership in the Hungarian Reformed Federation (HRF). Founded in 1898 as a fraternal association, the HRF serves as a force of unity among Hungarian Calvinists.
CULTURE AND ASSIMILATION
The Hungarian presence in the United States was established primarily by the large mass of rural immigrants in the three decades before World War I. These immigrants held on to their Hungarian identity and sense of community because of their social, cultural, and psychological needs and also because of Anglo American society's unwillingness to accept them. The same cannot be said of their U.S.-born children, who tended to assimilate at a rapid pace. They were driven Page 379 | Top of Articleby the socioeconomic drawing power of American society, as well as by their own conscious desire to separate themselves from their simpler immigrant parents. Most managed to move up a notch or two in social status, but the result was that many left the ethnic communities founded by their parents. Their efforts to assimilate, however, were not fully successful, for although they were born in the United States, they were still viewed as outsiders by the Anglo American majority.
The situation changed significantly with the second U.S.-born generation, whose maturation into adulthood coincided with the beginning of the “ethnic revolution” in the 1960s. Their embrace of this revolution led to the rediscovery of their ethnic roots. However, it was impeded by their inability to speak Hungarian and by the gradual disintegration of viable Hungarian ethnic communities, a process that began precisely at the start of this ethnic revolution. At present, most self-contained Hungarian American communities are in the process of final dissolution. A few of their cultural and religious institutions still exist, but they serve only the needs of the older generation and, very briefly, some of the new arrivals. An example of this decay can be found at the oldest and largest Hungarian Catholic parish in the United States, St. Elizabeth of Cleveland (founded in 1892), where the ratio of burials to baptisms is nearly twenty-to-one.
Early-twentieth-century immigrants and their descendants provided the foundations of Hungarian American life, but their role and influence were much more limited than those of the later waves, which brought a high level of education and a strong sense of historical and national consciousness. Most first-generation Hungarian Americans retained a large degree of dual identity that they passed on to their second-and third-generation descendants.
American-born offspring of the various immigrant waves still practice some Hungarian folk traditions, sometimes during social events held at their churches and social clubs but mostly during major festivals. One such festival is Hungarian Days, which is celebrated in large centers of Hungarian life, such as New Brunswick, New Jersey; Pittsburgh; and Cleveland.
Misconceptions about Hungarians abound in the United States, although this is much less the case now than in the early part of the twentieth century when they were often misidentified as Mongols or Gypsies. This was due in part to American society's minimal knowledge about central and eastern Europe and also to conscious distortions by politically motivated propagandists. Today, the situation has improved significantly because of the impact of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the greater number and enhanced quality of publications about Hungary, which are produced mostly by the American-educated offspring of political immigrants.
Cuisine Much modern Hungarian cuisine reflects the historically nomadic lifestyle of the Magyar people, Hungary's primary ethnic group. This in part explains the prominence of meat dishes that were once cooked over an open fire in a bogrács (or cauldron), such as goulash (gulyás, literally “herdsman's [meal]”), pörkölt stew, and a spicy fisherman's soup called halászlé. Various kinds of noodles and dumplings,
potatoes, and rice are commonly served as side dishes. Hungarian cuisine employs both spices (especially paprika) and a large variety of cheeses, such as túró, trappista, and pálpusztai. Modern Hungarian cuisine draws from ancient Asiatic—as well as Germanic, Italian, and Slavic—foods. Today in the United States, many Hungarian Americans prepare a variety of traditional Hungarian dishes at home. Additionally, Hungarian restaurants can be found throughout the country, especially in areas with large Hungarian American populations.
Traditional Dress Hungarian folk dress is colorful and often richly embroidered. It may feature sashes, laces, boots, or embroidered shoes. Women's garments are often characterized by puffed sleeves, while a vest and long sleeves are often worn as a part of male attire.
Holidays Hungarian Americans generally celebrate three major national holidays: the Revolution of 1848 (March 15), Saint Stephen's Day (August 20), and the Revolution of 1956 (October 23). These celebrations might combine patriotic and religious elements. There is no specific Hungarian American holiday, perhaps because the attention of most unassimilated Hungarian Americans is focused on the mother country.
Health Care Issues and Practices Hungary has the highest suicide rate in the world (45 to 48 per 100,000). The factors connected with this suicide rate, however, appear to be limited to Hungarian society, and Hungarian Americans are no more prone to mental health issues than are other ethnic groups in the United States.
FAMILY AND COMMUNITY LIFE
After the early and predominantly male phases of economic immigration abated, Hungarian American communities assumed a traditional and stable family structure. By the 1920s most Hungarian immigrants had resolved to stay permanently in the United States. They established families and became intimately involved in the social lives of their churches, fraternal societies, and cultural institutions that served as their extended families. The structure survived almost intact into the 1960s, although with only limited participation by the political immigrants of the interwar and postwar periods. Unable to agree on a common platform with the earlier economic immigrants, the latter group usually founded its own organizations, which were more politically oriented.
With the exception of the relatively few immigrants who came during the 1960s through the 1980s—many of whom were from the Hungarian-inhabited regions surrounding Hungary—Hungarian Americans have generally not relied on public assistance. Traditionally in Hungarian society, accepting “handouts” was perceived as an admission of failure. Recent immigrants, however, became accustomed to state assistance under Hungary's communist system, so this view is less prevalent than it once was.
The immigrant experience transformed basic traditional patterns of family life for Hungarian Americans, resulting in a hybrid set of customs. In terms of everyday existence, Hungarian Americans conform to U.S. patterns, but with a greater emphasis on education. The role of women has been enhanced compared with the male-dominated Hungarian model, largely due to the desire of Hungarian American women to work rather than stay at home. The adoption of American customs is also evident in dating, marriage, and divorce. Until a generation ago, dating practices were very strict and circumscribed, but they have loosened, as has the commitment to marriage. Whereas a generation ago divorce among Hungarian immigrants was rare, today it is almost as common as it is within American society as a whole.
EMPLOYMENT AND ECONOMIC CONDITIONS
Hungarian immigrants have been involved in all facets of American economic life, with their type of employment generally depending on their social backgrounds. Hungarians who came before the mid-nineteenth century were individual adventurers who were well prepared for all eventualities in the New World. Although these immigrants were not great in numbers, most who stayed often proved to be successful. Some became well-known merchants in Philadelphia; Baltimore, Maryland; and New Orleans, Louisiana, while others emerged as well-respected professors at American universities. Whatever their profession, they typically did it well, because they had arrived in the United States equipped with a good education.
To a large degree, this was also true for the 3,000 to 4,000 Forty-niners who immigrated to the United States after the defeat of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. Belonging mostly to the gentry, they had no intention of becoming farmers or laborers in the United States. They easily adjusted to American pioneer society. Some became involved in the establishment of Hungarian colonies in the West, such as László Ujházy (1795–1870), a high-ranking official of the revolutionary government who founded New Buda in Iowa in 1852. One thousand of the Forty-niners joined the Union Army in the Civil War, after which a good number of them went into diplomatic service or into various major business ventures in the West.
The next wave of immigrants, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, came with the intention of repatriating after four or five years with enough capital to become prosperous farmers. Few immigrants achieved this goal, and virtually all of them took jobs as unskilled or semiskilled workers in the United States' bustling industries. They were the peons of America's Gilded Age, contributing their brawn to coal mines and steel mills and creating the mythical Hungarian American hero Joe Magarac, who could bend steel bars with his bare hands.
The next four immigration waves consisted of the interwar “intellectual immigrants”; the post–World War II “political immigrants”; the Fifty-sixers; and finally the political-economic immigrants of the past several decades. Given their achievements in Europe, the
Page 382 | Top of Articleintellectual immigrants moved immediately into the most esteemed American intellectual and scientific circles and almost overnight created the myth of the unique-ness of Hungarian talent. The political immigrants, or DPs, represented the military-legal-administrative leadership of interwar Hungary and had few transferable skills; thus, many were forced to engage in physical labor. Many eventually did manage to transfer to white-collar work, although it was largely their American-educated children who rapidly moved up the professional ladder.
The Fifty-sixers differed from the DPs in their relative youth, orientation toward transferable technical and practical skills, and diminished cultural background (the product of a decade of communist restructuring of Hungarian society). Yet they and the American-educated children of the DPs produced a class of professionals that permeated all aspects of American scientific, scholarly, artistic, literary, and business life.
The final immigration wave began during the 1960s and is still going on today. It is characterized by a slow but gradual influx of professionally oriented individuals. During the 1960s through the 1980s, political persecution was the ostensible motive for immigration. Since the collapse of communism, however, they have come as needed professionals.
By the 1920s most Hungarian immigrants had resolved to stay permanently in the United States. They established families, had children, and became intimately involved in the social lives of their churches, fraternal societies, and cultural institutions that served as their extended families.
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Hungarian Americans established several mutual aid societies in the second half of the nineteenth century, but it was not until 1906 that they created the first successful political organization, the American Hungarian Federation (AHF), which is still in existence. The mission of the AHF was to protect the interests of the Hungarian immigrants and to promote the cause of Hungary in the United States. During its first decade of existence, the AHF worked toward these goals in close cooperation with Hungary. During World War I, particularly after the United States entered the war on the opposite side, this task became impossible.
The darkest and most difficult period in Hungarian political activism came during World War II, when the AHF and the major fraternal organizations were forced to defend Hungary's territorial gains while maintaining their support for the U.S. war effort. To prove their loyalty to the United States, more than 50,000 Hungarian Americans served in the U.S. armed forces, and all Hungarian American organizations bought U.S. defense bonds and made repeated declarations of allegiance. Toward the end of the war, they organized the American-Hungarian Relief Committee, whose members undertook a major effort to send aid to their devastated homeland, as well as to hundreds of thousands of Hungarians who had been trapped in German and Austrian refugee camps. Moreover, the AHF and the major Hungarian fraternal societies supported the Displaced Persons Act (passed in 1948, amended in 1950), which brought almost 18,000 Hungarian political refugees to the United States.
The appearance of the post–World War II political immigrants—the DPs during the early 1950s and the Fifty-sixers after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956—created a completely new situation. Much better educated and more involved politically than most of their predecessors, the newcomers devoted themselves to their own organizations.
From the late 1950s through the early 1980s, most of the nonminority-oriented organizations were concerned primarily with the liberation of Hungary and then with soliciting U.S. government help to undermine the nation's communist regime. Throughout this period the politically active new immigrants had little concern for American domestic politics; their attention was focused on Hungary. Thus, after becoming citizens, they usually voted with the Republican Party, which they perceived to be tougher on communism. On the other hand, the turn-of-the-century economic immigrants and their American-born descendants paid only lip service to Hungary. They were much more concerned with domestic politics than with the problems of communism. These people voted mostly Democratic.
The rise of a new generation among the political immigrants during the 1970s and 1980s produced notable changes. On the one hand, the American-born or American-educated members of the younger generations became involved in U.S. domestic politics in both political parties. On the other hand, they began to assume a much more realistic approach toward Hungary and its “goulash communism.” Some of these people assumed positions of leadership in the AHF and carried their pragmatism into its politics. This approach split the AHF and brought about the foundation of the National Federation of Hungarian Americans (NFHA) in 1984 and then several rival organizations, including the very active and influential Hungarian American Coalition (HAC) in 1992.
The collapse of communism and the rise of a nationalist government in Hungary under the Hungarian Democratic Forum (1989–1990) produced a general euphoria among Hungarian Americans and also a surge in their desire to help their homeland. This coincided with Hungary's unprecedented popularity internationally for its role in undermining communism. However, the positive feelings did not last. The country's social and economic problems produced general disillusionment that extended to Hungarian Americans.
At present, most Hungarian Americans are heavily involved in both U.S. political parties while still displaying considerable interest in the goings-on in Hungary. Despite their disillusionment with the situation in Hungary, they continue to pursue pro-Hungarian lobbying efforts through several umbrella organizations as well as through their presence in the U.S. Congress. The most visible and active among the Hungarian congressional representatives was Fifty-sixer Tom Lantos (1928–2008) from California, who became increasingly involved in Hungarian-related political activities after taking office in 1981.
Military Relative to their size as an ethnic group, more Hungarian Americans served in the Civil War than any other nationality. Of the approximately 4,000 Hungarians in the United States (including women and children) at the outbreak of the war in 1861, more than 800—at least three-fourths of the adult male population—were in the Union Army. Among them were two major generals, five brigadier generals, fifteen colonels and lieutenant colonels, thirteen majors, twelve captains, about four dozen first and second lieutenants, and scores of noncommis-sioned officers.
The most prominent of the officers was Major General Julius H. Stahel (1825–1912), who was known in Hungary as Gyula Számvald before his emigration. General Stahel became a confidant of President Abraham Lincoln and the first Hungarian recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Among the nearly 1,000 Hungarians in the Union Army was the young Joseph Pulitzer (1817–1911), who subsequently became a titan in American journalism and the founder of the famous literary prize that bears his name.
Academia George Pólya (1887–1985) and Gábor Szegõ (1895–1985) were responsible for making Stanford University one of the world's leading mathematics institutions. Another Hungarian American exponent of finite mathematics and its applications, John George Kemény (1926–1992), served as president of Dartmouth College from 1970 to 1981.
Nicholas Nagy-Talavera (1929–2000) survived the Holocaust in World War II and immigrated to the United States, where he taught Russian and Eastern European history at California State University, Chico, from 1967 to 1991. He also wrote prolifically, including the book The Green Shirts and Others: A History of Fascism in Hungary and Romania (1970).
Commerce and Industry Since the late nineteenth century, Hungarians have made important contributions to U.S. industry and finance. Two of the earliest entrepreneurs were the Black (Schwartz) and Kundtz families. The Black family founded a series of garment factories and department stores, while Tivador Kundtz (1852–1937) established the White
Machine factory. These two families employed and aided thousands of fellow immigrant Hungarians.
Modern entrepreneurs include the billionaire financier George Soros (1930–), who has played a significant role in the transformation of the former Soviet world through philanthropic efforts such as the establishment of the Budapest- and Prague-based Central European University; and Andrew Grove (born András Gróf; 1936–), who, as the founder and president of Intel Corporation, created the world's largest manufacturer of computer chips.
Film Two Hungarians were influential in the development of the Hollywood film industry: Adolph Zukor (1873–1976), the founder of Paramount Pictures, and William Fox (1879–1952), the founder of Twentieth Century-Fox. Zukor and Fox transformed the stylish Biedermeier culture of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into the glamorous society portrayed in Hollywood film.
Other film pioneers of Hungarian descent include directors/producers Michael Curtiz (born Kertész; 1888–1962), Sir Alexander Korda (1893–1956), George Cukor (1899–1983), and Joseph Pasternak (1901–1991); screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (1944–); art director William S. Darling (1882–1964); and directors Sam Raimi (1959–) and Steven Spielberg (1946–).
Music By the time internationally known composers Béla Bartók (1881–1945) and Ernõ Dohnányi (1877–1960) immigrated to the United States in the 1940s, the American cultural scene already featured a number of prominent Hungarian composers, including Fritz Reiner (1888–1963), George Szell (1897–1970), Eugene Ormandy (1899–1985), Antal Dorati (1906–1988), and Sir Georg Solti (1912–1997). Hungarians were also present on Broadway in popular American musicals. The best-loved among them was Sigmund Romberg (1887–1951), who was perhaps Page 384 | Top of Articlethe most successful transplanter of the Viennese and the Budapest operetta. Also significant were the contributions of Miklós Rózsa (1907–1995), who worked with Sir Alexander Korda and wrote the music for classic American films such as Spellbound (1945) and Ben-Hur (1959).
More recently, Paul Simon (1941–) is an American singer and songwriter who first earned fame in the 1960s as part of the duo Simon & Garfunkel and went on to a successful career as a solo artist; Gene Simmons (1949–) was the bassist and a vocalist for the popular rock band Kiss; and Michael Peter Balzary (1962–), commonly known as Flea, was the bassist for the rock band the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.
Science and Medicine Three Hungarians assisted Enrico Fermi with the breakthroughs in atomic fission that resulted in the development of the atomic bomb in the 1940s: Leo Szilard (1898–1964); Eugene Wigner (1902–1995), a quantum physicist who won a Nobel Prize in 1963; and Edward Teller (1908–). Other Hungarian contributors were Theodore von Kármán (1881–1963), father of the heat and quantum theory; Johann von Neumann (1903–1957), father of the computer; and Zoltán Bay (1900–1992), a pioneer in radar astronomy.
A number of other Hungarian American scientists achieved prominence, including Nobel laureates Georg Karl Hevesy (1855–1966), Albert Szent-Györgyi (1893–1986), Georg von Békésy (1899–1972), and Dennis Gabor (1900–1979). The list also includes several members of the Polányi family: social philosopher Karl Polányi (1886–1964), physicist-philosopher Michael Polányi (1891–1976), and the latter's son, John Charles Polányi (1926–), who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1986. In addition, George Andrew Olah (1927–) received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1994.
Sports Larry Csonka (1946–), a running back for the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants from 1968 to 1979, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987. George Halas (1895–1983) was a founder of the National Football League and the longtime owner and coach of the Chicago Bears. He was also a generous philanthropist. Don Shula (1930–) was head coach of the Baltimore Colts (1963–1969) and the Miami Dolphins (1970–1995). He led the Dolphins to Super Bowl titles in the 1972 and 1973 seasons. Joe Namath (1943–), a quarterback for the New York Jets (1965–1976) and Los Angeles Rams (1977), is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Monica Seles (1973–), once the top-ranked female tennis player in the world, won nine Grand Slam singles titles.
Rebecca Soni (1987–), Olympic swimmer, set world records in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke.
Stage and Screen Film and television stars of Hungarian descent include Leslie Howard (born Arpád Steiner; 1893–1943), Bela Lugosi (1883–1956), Tony Curtis (born Bernard Schwartz; 1925–2010), Adrien Brody (1973–), Goldie Hawn (1945–), Jerry Seinfeld (1954–), Joaquin Phoenix (1974–), Freddie Prinze (born Freddie Preutzel; 1954–1977), and the Gabor sisters, Zsa Zsa (1917–), Eva (1919–1995), and Magda (1915–1997). Magician Harry Houdini (born Erich Weisz; 1874–1926) was also of Hungarian descent.
Amerikai Magyar Népszava & Szabadság (The Hungarian American People's Voice & Liberty)
Amerikai Magyar Népszava & Szabadság is the oldest and largest Hungarian weekly newspaper printed in the United States. Established in 1891, it is headquartered in New York City.
192 Lexington Avenue
New York, New York 10016
Phone: (443) 921-8321
Amerikai Magyar Szó (American Hungarian Word)
Founded in 1952 as a successor to several earlier socialist newspapers, this is a Hungarian-language independent weekly currently published in New York by the American Hungarian Federation, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.
130 East 16th Street
New York, New York 10003
Phone: (212) 254-0397
Fax: (202) 737-8406
Californiai Magyarság (California Hungarians)
Founded in 1924 as a moderate regional newspaper, it is now a national paper that has retained its middle-of-the-road stance.
207 South Western Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90004
Phone: (213) 463-3473
Fax: (213) 384-7642
Kanadai/Amerikai Magyarság (Canadian/American Hungarians)
This is the Western world's largest weekly newspaper in Hungarian.
747 St. Clair Avenue West #103
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Phone: (416) 656-8361
Fax: (416) 651-2442
Magyar Elet (Hungarian Life)
Circulated throughout Canada and the United States, this is an independent weekly newspaper published in Hungarian.
390 Concession 7
Claremont, Ontario L1Y 1A2
Phone: (289) 200-6772
The Nationality Broadcasting Network
Located in Cleveland, Ohio, this network broadcasts Hungarian programs every day via satellite throughout North America.
Miklós Kossányi, President
11906 Madison Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44107-5027
Phone: (216) 221-0331
ORGANIZATIONS AND ASSOCIATIONS
American Hungarian Federation (AHF) (Amerikai Magyar Szövetség [AMSZ])
Founded in Cleveland in 1906, the AHF is the oldest and largest umbrella organization of Hungarian Americans. It represents the interests of its members and the Hungarian American community in general. After being based in Washington, D.C., from the 1940s to the 1970s, it transferred its office to Akron, Ohio, in the early 1980s.
Frank Koszorús, Jr., President
2631 Copley Road
Akron, Ohio 44321
Phone: (330) 666-1313
Fax: (330) 666-2637
American Hungarian Folklore Centrum (AHFC)
This organization supports and promotes Hungarian studies and folk culture within the scholarly and public life of the United States.
Kalman Magyar, Director
P.O. Box 262
Bogota, New Jersey 07603
Phone: (201) 836-4869
Fax: (201) 836-1590
American Hungarian Reformed Federation (AHRF) (Amerikai Magyar Református Egyesület [AMRE])
Founded in 1898, the AHRF is the second-largest and only religiously based Hungarian American fraternal association in existence. It has about 20,000 members, and although it is now primarily an insurance company, it continues to support Hungarian cultural activities and also engages in some lobbying efforts on behalf of Hungarian causes.
Gyula Balogh, Co-President
2001 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20036-1011
Phone: (202) 328-2630
Hungarian American Coalition (Magyar-Amerikai Koalíció)
Founded in 1992, the coalition is a relatively recent Hungarian umbrella organization. Politically, it has a moderate-centrist, pragmatic orientation. It attempts to carry out an effective lobbying effort on behalf of Hungarian causes in Washington, D.C.
1120 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: (202) 296-9505
Fax: (202) 775-5175
William Penn Association (WPA)
Founded in 1886, as the Verhovay Aid Association, the WPA is the largest Hungarian fraternal association in North America. It assumed its present name in 1955, when it absorbed its largest rival, the Rákóczi Federation of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Although primarily an insurance company, the WPA still sponsors certain Hungarian cultural functions. In the early 2000s the WPA transferred much of its archives and library to the Hungarian Heritage Center of New Brunswick, New Jersey.
709 Brighton Road
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15233-1821
Phone: (412) 231-2979 or (800) 848-7366
MUSEUMS AND RESEARCH CENTERS
American Hungarian Foundation (AHF), Hungarian Heritage Center
Founded in 1955, the AHF is a major Hungarian cultural foundation that operates the Hungarian Heritage Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The Hungarian Heritage Center possesses one of the largest collections of archival materials relating to Hungarian Americans as well as one of the largest Hungarica libraries in the United States (40,000 volumes).
August J. Molnar, President
300 Somerset Street
New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903-1084
Phone: (732) 846-5777
Fax: (732) 249-7033
Hungarian Institute, Rutgers University
Founded in 1992 with the financial support of the Hungarian government, the Hungarian Institute Page 386 | Top of Articleat Rutgers draws heavily on the intellectual and library resources of Rutgers University (Hungarica, 2,000 volumes), as well as on the library of the nearby American Hungarian Foundation (Hungarica, 40,000 volumes).
102 Nichol Avenue
New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901
Phone: (732) 932-7129
Institute of Hungarian Studies
An integral part of Indiana University, the institute focuses on Hungarian society and civilization, including contemporary economic and cultural affairs.
Gustav Bayerle, Director
Bloomington, Indiana 47405
Phone: (812) 855-2233
SOURCES FOR ADDITIONAL STUDY
Lengyel, Emil. Americans from Hungary. Philadelphia; New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1948.
McGuire, James Patrick. The Hungarian Texans. San Antonio: University of Texas, Institute of Texan Culture, 1993.
Papp, Susan M. Hungarian Americans and Their Communities in Cleveland. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Ethnic Heritage Studies, Cleveland State University, 1981.
Tezla, Albert. The Hazardous Quest: Hungarian Immigrants in the United States, 1895–1920. Budapest: Corvina, 1993.
Várdy, Steven Béla. Clio's Art in Hungary and in Hungarian-America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.
———. The Hungarian-Americans. Boston: Twayne, 1985.
———. The Hungarian Americans: The Hungarian Experience in North America. New York; Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1990.
Várdy, Steven Béla, and Agnes Huszár Várdy. The Austro-Hungarian Mind: At Home and Abroad. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.
———. Hungarian Americans in the Current of History. New Columbia University Press, 2010.
Vida, Istvan Kornel. Hungarian Émigrés in the American Civil War: A History and Biographical Dictionary. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011.