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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What Am I?

I think there is something in humans that gives them a need to belong. It can be expressed or seen in many ways. We may identify ourselves as fans of certain sports teams or television shows, drivers of a certain brand of automobiles, followers of a certain lifestyle. A big part of our identity can revolve around knowing who we are and where we came from. This is something that can be seen in the USA on a regular basis. While we identify ourselves as citizens of this country, many of us in this big melting pot still exhibit pride in our family's places of origin. If you don't believe me, take a look at any number of big cities around March 17th, for example, when many Irish-Americans celebrate their heritage. I could name other festivals as well, like Juneteenth, cinco de mayo, or Italian-American festivals, to name a few.

I grew up, and spent many years, thinking of myself as being one hundred percent Hungarian-American. I thought it was pretty cool because so many people are a mix of multiple nationalities. As I got older, I began to realize that maybe things weren't as simple as they seemed. Hungary had been part of Austria-Hungary, so there was probably a mix of German and Hungarian blood in my veins. It made sense. After all, when I was a tiny child learning to speak, I learned three languages - English, Hungarian, and German. And before you ask, I will tell you that after my mother's death and my father's imprisonment when I was seven years old, I quickly lost my chances to practice the other two languages, and they are now lost to me.

As I tried to learn more about the country of my family's origin, I found many fascinating things. There are some theories that Hungarians may have emigrated from Asia thousands of years ago. One of the reasons for this theory is that Hungary is the only non-Asian country where names are routinely used in last name first, first name last order. In other words, in France I would be known as Katrina Szatmari, but in Hungary I am Szatmari Katrina. But wait, it gets better! When Rome was conquering vast swaths of Europe, they were in Hungary as well. The largest city near our family's village was one of the largest Roman settlements in the region. As recently as the post-World War Two era, a farmer plowing a field in my family's village would often plow up several ancient Roman coins. Modern travelers can also visit ancient Roman ruins in the northwestern part of Budapest, the old Óbuda section of the city. Historically, there was also a long period of Turkish occupation of Hungary, so that's a possibility in the mix as well.

To top it all off, when I was in Hungary, I learned that my mother's father was Croatian. So no matter what makes a Hungarian, I am one quarter Croatian as well. I still consider myself to be of primarily Hungarian heritage, but I have to jokingly ask myself what that really means. Is a Hungarian a Hungarian, or am I the American descendant of Asian-Roman-Turkish-Croatian-Hungarians. Aw, what the heck. I am Katrina. My family came from Hungary. That's good enough for me. Maybe I'll go eat some leftover spaghetti. Wait, maybe I am Roman!

p.s. I really do find myself curious about the genetic makeup of my Hungarian heritage, and hope to someday have one of those genetic national origin tests. I am not sure of how refined they are at this point, though, so I think it's a good idea to wait a bit, and wonder. The movements of people throughout history and across the continents gives me plenty to think about!