Category Archives: Identity

Out for a run through my friend’s Hungarian roots

By Nora Shelly, Medill, Immigrant Connect

It’s the sort of winter morning in the woods where the frosted dirt cracks when stepped on. The path I’m running on, alongside my friend, Victoria, is dappled with thin sunlight. As always when running on trails in Pennsylvania, we spend the whole run looking down. The state is notorious for having rocky hiking trails, and this one over a mountain close to our town is no exception.

Also typical of us, we are oscillating between gossiping about how we think friends’ freshmen years of college are going and the politics of the day. The refugee crisis is unfolding across the Mediterranean and Europe, and Hungary — where Victoria lived before moving to the United States at age 4 — has

Migrants crossing the border from Croatia to Hungary before it was sealed in Oct. 2015.
(Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

recently chosen to close its border with Croatia to migrants who were trying to make their way to countries in Western Europe.

Throughout our discussion, Victoria expresses sympathy for refugees being forced out of their countries. However, when I mention Hungary’s decision, Victoria lashes out. She slows, taking the time and energy out of running to look at me as she fiercely defends her home country, schooling me on Hungarian modern politics. I find myself shocked on several levels as we keep running, with several tense miles to go.

Victoria doesn’t have a typical immigrant story, if there is one. She had moved with her family from Budapest to Pittsburgh when she was four. Three years later, they moved into a big house near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where her father worked at a hospital, and her mother took time off from her work in the sciences to raise Victoria and her sister. She had, technically, been born a citizen of both the United States and Hungary, as her mother is a U.S. citizen who had spent part of her life in America. So, they had little worries when it came to passports or papers. Her family also didn’t seem to have financial troubles either. For these reasons, and others, I never considered whether Victoria was an “immigrant” or not. Mistakenly, I associated all potential difficulties an immigrant would have with financial or citizenship issues, and had never considered the emotional and social moorings of national origin, whether a person is an immigrant or not.

As our sneakers beat down fallen leaves in the crisp Pennsylvania woods, I considered this identity for the first time. I knew her family spoke Hungarian at home, and celebrated Hungarian holidays, such as “name days,” or quasi-birthday celebrations on the feast day of the saint who shared their name. I knew Victoria was proud to be Hungarian, and enjoyed visiting her family back in Budapest each summer. What I didn’t think about until then, however, was how salient her identity as a Hungarian was to her moral and political views. Victoria was staunchly conservative, but that wasn’t unusual in our conservative, Catholic school and community. I had never considered the connection between her family’s struggles under the communist Soviet regime in Hungary to her current economic views. Further, I didn’t realize Victoria’s persistent loyalty to her home country, even when they made what I thought to be a morally questionable decision to close their borders to refugees.

Over eight years of friendship, we had talked a lot about Hungary, and her upbringing, but in a way that I didn’t realize until later had been largely superficial, centering on cultural differences between the two countries. We had dug little into the emotional or mental toll that moving from one’s home country takes on a person.

It hurt to explore it with her.



The Indian-American dream come true: Three sons ten years apart and an admiring father

By Amit Mallik, Medill, Immigrant Connect My father is walking with my two older brothers and me along Lake Michigan in Chicago. It’s a misty morning and as we get to Oak Street, he pauses. He has something to tell us. It could be almost anything. He has attained the American dream. Born in 1949,… Continue Reading

The penetrating sound at the center of my Dominican community

By Isabella Soto, Medill, Immigrant Connect The raking, grating sound of the güira punctuates the humid and heavy South Texas night air. It’s the wee hours of the morning and Tio Julio, the lean, bald-headed life of the party, has broken out his güira, an instrument that is fundamental to the merengue and bachata music… Continue Reading

A tale of two families, once removed

By Brian Hofmann, Medill, Immigrant Connect The Windex and toast-smelling apartment belonging to the Gomez family* is a cramped, one-bedroom, three-floor walk-up, two blocks north of 26th Street in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago. The family had immigrated, under uncertain legality, to the U.S. from the Mexican State of Tabasco, three years prior to… Continue Reading

I am in kindergarten, I am 12, I am in college, I am the daughter of an Egyptian immigrant, and so much more

By Ingrid Cherry, Medill, Immigrant Connect I am sitting on the floor of my kindergarten classroom. We are going around the circle, saying our favorite thing that we did that weekend. On my turn I tell the class that my mom and I had a slumber party. I am talking about a Friday night tradition… Continue Reading

Korean stories packed in my grandmother’s cooking lesson

By Victoria Cabales, Medill, Immigrant Connect My grandmother hands me a packet of seaweed lavers, short grain rice, and pickled daikon radish. In her broken English, she instructs me to prepare rolls of gimbap while she finishes frying the marinated beef and egg. “We give to priest,” she says. And to everyone else we know,… Continue Reading

A haircut, some chocolate, a cup of coffee, but hold the hate

By Sam Brief, Medill, Immigrant Connect Marian cuts a few sections of my rough, brown hair, gathers her hand towel and wipes some hair clippings off my face. We are sitting in Edessa’s Hair Salon, a rectangular-shaped, cozy salon near the corner of Chicago Avenue and Davis Street in downtown Evanston. I’m sitting in the… Continue Reading