Helena History Press

Being Hungarian in Cleveland

Maintaining Language, Culture, and Traditions

Endre Szentkiralyi

Cleveland, Ohio, has been the U.S. hub for all things related to Hungary and Hungarians since the nineteenth century. Between the mid-1800s and the late 1990s, the city welcomed six major waves of Hungarian immigrants. The community they created had its heyday in the late 1960s, when Hungarian schools and churches, arts, music, publishing, radio and TV, and civic organizations— especially scouting—all flourished. Today, Cleveland’s Hungarian community remains vibrant and continues to value and preserve its heritage despite the ongoing impact of economic, social and cultural changes, demographic shifts and gentrification.

In this work, historian Endre Szentkiralyi examines the concept of “being Hungarian in Cleveland,” using a variety of methodologies and drawing on his 47 years as an active member of that community. He looks at the community historically and sociologically via in-depth research into its language and literature, culture, and traditions, with a focus on the years from 1950 to the present.

Szentkiralyi also documents contemporary Cleveland Hungarians’ culture, values, language use, and traditions, and analyzes how and why these elements serve to perpetuate their community and slow its assimilation. His methodology is qualitative, comparative, and interdisciplinary and uses primary (and some secondary) sources and personal interviews to encapsulate what it means to be Hungarian in Cleveland and how that meaning has changed over the years.

Today, though Cleveland’s unique Hungarian community is shrinking, its extensive roots—significantly shaped by succeeding generations—run deep, and Szentkiralyi’s research attests to the fact that it is still thriving. In his conclusion he addresses recent developments, including the communication and outreach strategies of the community’s core organizations, and offers a hopeful outlook for its changing but enduring future.

Endre Szentkiralyi studied English and German at Cleveland State University, earned an MA in English at the University of Akron, and earned his PhD at the University of Debrecen. His earlier book was Cold War to Warm Cooperation: the Military Service of Cleveland Hungarians 1950–2014 (Zrínyi Publishing). He has also edited several books of oral histories
(including Clevelandben még élnek magyarok?), and worked on the 56Films documentaries Inkubátor and Megmaradni, both of which deal with Hungarian-American communities. He currently teaches English and German at Nordonia High School near Cleveland, and is the president of the United Hungarian Societies, an umbrella organization encompassing 8 Hungarian churches and 13 civic organizations in the greater Cleveland area.

Endre Szentkirályi takes the complicated sociological task of critically examining the Cleveland Hungarian community—his very own—more seriously than anyone else has in recent memory. This book is at the same time a humble tribute to the history of the famously rich Hungarian cultural life in Cleveland and a sober portrayal of the community’s challenges in our modern age. He lucidly portrays the devastating effects of suburbanization on community life, which should serve as a flashing exclamation mark to local city planners and policy makers in Budapest alike. Szentkirályi shows how beautifully Hungarian and American traditions can merge over time, and portrays important generational shifts in the life of the Hungarian diaspora. Everchanging, constantly reinventing and redefining itself, but always proud of its roots.

—Anna Smith Lacey, Executive Director, The Hungary Initiatives Foundation

This well-crafted book could be one of the most important works on what it means to grow up in a vibrant Hungarian-American community in the United States. Szentkiralyi’s book is accessibly written and informed by the most recent research that documents the breadth and depth of activities engaged in by Hungarians in Cleveland to maintain and retain their ethnic identity. This book serves as a rich and valuable resource for historians, ethnographers, and sociologists; it provides a framework for understanding one community’s efforts to maintain and cherish its ethnic identity while
contributing constructively to the social fabric of the larger community. Through this book, one can better understand the sources of richness and diversity in American life.

—Klara Papp, PhD, AHEA President, Graber Term Professor of Health Learning, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio

This wonderful book tells the story of how an ethnic group came to the United States, and quickly and successfully became Americans contributing to their new home, while at the same time maintaining, preserving and passing on their rich Hungarian culture from generation to generation. It is a story of how these new Americans built churches and social and cultural institutions that are still in existence today; such as the Hungarian Scouts Exteris, dedicated to teaching the younger generations about their language, culture, history. It is programs such as that of the scouts that are the foundation of Hungarian language survival and cultural life not just in Cleveland, but throughout the Hungarian diaspora. Endre Szentkiralyi’s research shows us how the Hungarian American community of Cleveland has changed with each succeeding generation but how it has nevertheless successfully managed to maintain its Hungarian culture and institutions.

—Ferenc Koszorus Jr., Chairman Emeritus American Hungarian Federation

Exit mobile version