Our People: Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Descendants in North America

Our People: Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Descendants in North America

Our People: Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Descendants in North America

Our People: Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Descendants in North America

Excerpt

Whenever you drive through the northeastern and north-central states of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania and proceed on to Ohio, Indiana, Michigan--even as far west as Minnesota--you are likely to notice that the non- descript and grimy urban landscape through which you pass is punctuated from time to time by strange-looking gilded domes topped by equally unusual multi-barred crosses. These architectural surprises belong to the so-called "Russian" churches--churches that still function and even thrive as places of worship in the otherwise blighted downtown areas of many American inner cities. Your curiosity is whetted and you are prompted to ask: what are these strange and even exotic looking structures and who are the people that still flock to them in large numbers?

What you are seeing in these churches is a reflection of the long tradition of Eastern Christianity, both Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox. The people who attend them are first-generation immigrants or, more often, their second-, third-, fourth-, and even fifth-generation descendants. The immigrants were mainly Slavs from the Carpathian Mountain regions in east- central Europe, men and women who were originally known as Rusyns or Rusnaks but who through the centuries acquired a whole host of names, given to them by others or adopted by themselves, especially in America. Thus, while throughout their history the Carpatho-Rusyns may have been deprived of many things, including political independence and a reasonable standard of living, they were never at a loss for names. Among the more common ones were Rusyn, Rusnak, Uhro-Rusin, Carpatho-Russian, Ruthenian, Carpatho-Ukrainian, Lemko, Slavish, Byzantine, or simply the "po-našomu" people (that is, "our people"). This, then, is the story of the "po-našomu people," whom we will call by their most commonly accepted name-- Carpatho-Rusyns.

To be sure, Carpatho-Rusyns cannot be counted among the world's more numerous peoples. In the European homeland, there are at best about one million people who inhabit the traditional Rusyn ethnolinguistic territory on both sides of the Carpathians. But for various reasons alluded to in the first chapter of this book, only a few of these--in most cases elderly people-- continue to call themselves Rusyns. Only among a small group (25,000), whose ancestors emigrated in the eighteenth century to what is today part of Yugoslavia (that is, the Bačka or Vojvodina) can one find an active sense of Rusyn national and ethnic identity. As for the later and larger group of emigrants who left the Carpathian Mountains for the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there are perhaps 690,000 people who can be counted as having at least one parent or grandparent of Rusyn background.

Among these, only a certain (though difficult to estimate) percentage of American Carpatho- Rusyns continue to maintain a clear sense of their European heritage. However, this portion of the group, on the increase among the younger generations, appears to be quite determined to dis-

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