Antonin Varga (born Antonín Varga), 1966
Antonin Varga was born in Šternberk, Moravia, in 1966. His mother was a waitress and his father worked in a number of different jobs, notably as a butcher and waiter, and then as a guard. Antonin says that, prior to his birth, his father had spent one year in prison for attempting to emigrate. Antonin grew up with an older sister, Ludmila, and a younger brother, Roman. From an early age, Antonin says his dream was to become a DJ. In the 1980s he would record music he was lent onto Polish cassette tapes, and says he played parties and special events in villages close by.
Antonin came to the United States in 1997. He says he had wanted to travel for a long time, but had never had the money to do so. He came to America with two of his former colleagues after receiving severance pay from his employer. Antonin says the plan was to stay in the United States for one year before returning home. He quickly began to enjoy living in Chicago, however, and came to know many expatriate Czechs in the city. Antonin says he soon found DJ-ing jobs at Klas Czech Restaurant and Café Prague, and played in a band. At around about this time, Antonin says he felt that Czech and Slovak cultural life in Chicago underwent something of a revival. Today, Antonin says he can make a living playing music in Chicago in a way that he would not be able to in the Czech Republic. For this reason, he has no plans to return to Europe. Antonin adds that he has ‘no regrets’ about his decision to move to the United States, although he says he still feels totally Czech and ‘not at all American’ after 15 years in the country. He continues to DJ in Czech restaurants in Chicago three nights a week. Today, Antonin lives in Chicago with a collection of over 3000 CDs.
Antonin explains why he settled in Chicago
“Because lots of people were here. I don’t know, in a short while I got to know around 300 people. Because there were constantly parties or bands were playing. We were in a band, they were in a band, and then it grew; from two bands it suddenly grew to become ten. There were festivals and all these sorts of things. Now I’m kind of used to it here and it seems to me a bit like Europe. Everything is like at home.”
What was the cultural life like here in Chicago for Czechs and Slovaks in the 1990s?
“Well I think until about the year 2000 there wasn’t much. The old culture here was dying out – the culture of those people who had come here in the ‘70s. You know, like it is dying right now with all these Czechs going back home, or with those who went home about five years ago. So, when we came it was dying out in this way. But you could say that we got it going again.”
Antonin has several theories as to why so many Czechs and Slovaks have left the city in recent years
“Well, guys thought that the situation would be better in the Czech Republic when it comes to women. And that’s why they left. And they were wrong, of course. And women left because they wanted to have a family, for example. With their kids, or because they wanted to start their family in the Czech Republic. Or when their kids were older they wanted them to go to school there. From about seven years of age, when they go to school, their parents wanted them to go to school in the Czech Republic. I don’t know, or they missed their family. It’s difficult to say.”
Antonin explains why he has no such plans to return to the Czech Republic
“Yes I’ve considered it. But you know, it’s difficult. Because life here is better. I don’t want to go to work and slave away from morning ‘til night. I want to live like this and what I have here is enough for that. What I earn here is enough and allows me to do what I do. I sit for, I don’t know, about 50 hours a week at the computer and I put songs together. And this is really what I want to do.”
… So music is your life?
“Music is my life. I just don’t want to go to work from dawn to dusk and slave away at it, and leave it feeling ground down. I just want to play. I want to play, and that’s that.”
Category: Chicago, Oral History