My mother immigrated to the United States from Hungary with her father and brother in 1958. Hungary was under military occupation by the Soviet Union after the defeat of Hungary in World War II and Communism was in effect for 45 years until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. My mother and her parents were taken out of their home in rural Hungary and put into Soviet work camps for a few years as political tensions in Hungary rose. In the winter of 1956, months before the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, my grandfather, with my 4 year old mother strapped to his back and a pregnant wife by his side, snuck across the heavily guarded border into Austria. The Soviet troops at the border had orders to shoot and kill anyone trying to escape into Austria but my grandparents somehow made it and then waited in Austria for two years to get a visa to grant them an entry to America. My uncle was born shortly after they made it into Austria but my grandmother died a few months after his birth. So my grandfather, a single parent of two children, came to America and left his children with his sister who lived in Ohio for a few years while he found work and made enough money to afford a place for them to live in New York City. I’m not sure when exactly my father immigrated to America from Hungary but it was sometime in the 60′s or 70′s. After his family was stripped of their valuable possessions by the Soviets, he was put into a few different work camps before finally escaping to Austria. He made his way to France and joined the French Foreign Legion. After his term ended he came to New York City where he eventually met my mother at a dance at the St. Stephen of Hungary Church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and the rest, as they say, is history.
Binder and Reimers focus on the waves of immigration from the 1960′s and the present which doesn’t include the influx of Hungarians immigrating to America in 1956 pre-Hungarian Revolution. However, a large majority settled in the Upper East Side of Manhattan around East 82nd Street past Lexington Avenue. The neighborhood is no longer predominately Hungarian however there is still a lingering Hungarian Atmosphere. There is an authentic Hungarian Meat Market on Second Avenue and 81st Street which carries a variety of meats and spices from Hungary. The St. Stephen of Hungary Church where my parents met is still on East 82nd Street and conducting one Mass each Sunday in Hungarian. There is a Saturday school program associated with the church (that I graduated from in 2006) that teaches young Hungarian-Americans how to speak, read and write the language fluently. The school also teaches the history and culture of Hungary. Two avenues up on East 82nd Street you’ll find the Hungarian House with the Hungarian flag waving proudly out front. Here, the Hungarian Scouting Association’s New York City branch meets weekly. Finally, there’s the renowned Andre’s Cafe – Hungarian Restaurant on Second Avenue between 84th and 85th streets where you can enjoy a range of Hungarian specialities from strudel to goulash. I’m proud to see that my culture is still preserved in New York City.