More cultures – more understanding


My maiden name was Tornoczyova and I have a Hungarian background. My grandparents were part of the Hungarian minority living in the southern parts of Slovakia. My father’s first language is Hungarian and my grandparents had never learnt the proper Slovak language. Due to the difficult political relationships between Slovaks and Slovak-Hungarians, having a Hungarian sounding surname in the middle of Slovakia was sort of exotic. But also sort of insulting for the “true” Slovaks. This is probably the reason why my family had never really opened for me the possibility to get in contact with my bicultural background. But history repeats itself and here we are – living abroad and trying to let our kids explore their own bicultural identity.

I have to say I love Hungary. I don’t speak about politics, because that is just insane, but I love Hungary – people and history and wine and cuisine 🙂 Budapest is one of my favourite places in Europe. Even during the Soviet era, Hungarians were stylish. Everything a little bit fancier we had to buy on markets in Budapest. Hungarians of all genders are in my opinion one of the most attractive people in the world. And the pride, temper and passion somehow rise from the rich history, good wine and the hot meals.

I have always been sorry that I have never learnt the language. Although, I swear pretty good because my grandfather had had bad asthma and while he was going upstairs in the house, it was all the time: “Kuťafász”, or other juicy Hungarian words 🙂

But the truth is that being Hungarian was (and most probably still is) perceived among Slovaks as something negative. My grandparents were forcibly relocated after the so-called Benes decrees, but they had never abandoned their Slovak identities. Because after all, they were Slovak-Hungarians. Not Slovak, neither Hungarians. But people with both of these identities. After they moved back to (at that time) Czechoslovakia, my grandfather became employed as a coal miner in the middle of Slovakia and my grandmother was a stay-at-home mother. I had rarely seen my Hungarian relatives (basically just weddings and funerals) and I hardly connected with them because of the language barrier. My own Hungarian identity has been suppressed. We have never spoken about it with my dad or mom, or basically with anyone. And as the negative emotions towards the Hungarian minority had been rising (mostly in 90.-ties), we didn’t speak about it for the simple reason: not to attach attention and to be secure.

My kids are growing up biculturally too. Are they Slovaks? Are they Finns? I think they are becoming both, but maybe they will not be enough Slovak for Slovaks nor enough Finnish for Finns. And as I still feel that my background was cut away from me, I don’t want the same happening to my children. But the situation is the same in Finland as I described above: having a different cultural background is not seen as something to be proud of and explore freely. Of course, we all want to belong. And for children, this is maybe even more important. I know families who don’t want their children to speak their native language at all. I know families where children don’t want to speak in public with their parents in their first languages. But I also know families, who support the bicultural or multicultural background of the children.

My children will probably still celebrate only Finnish Independence on 6.12. And not the Slovak one on 1.1. They would also probably know much more facts from Finnish history than from Slovak, but it is OK. Our responsibility is to be available when questions are being asked. Or whenever a good opportunity appears. And also not to pretend that we are something that we are not. Because for us, as adults, it’s too late to become Finnish.

If you want it or not, the cultural background forms who you are and it’s better not to ignore it. Otherwise, you will still miss some part of your personality that you hadn’t had a chance to get in touch with. More cultures make your life richer. And when you can move within those cultures smoothly, there is so much value for you and for those who are around…

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