As a young child, I was into the domestic things that were available so it was fine. I didn’t feel deprived. But in the later years, in seventh, eighth grade, I was getting into bands from abroad and different styles of rock music and whatnot, and that was not available at all. We had to go Poland and buy bootlegged tapes and that sort of thing.
I don’t think our family really assimilated very well, as a whole, because all our friends were Czech and a lot of times if I wanted to do something I wasn’t permitted to do it because it wasn’t something that we did. So that kept me separated from everybody else a little bit.
Tramping to us was really special, of course you know I was thinking about that when I came to America because the name ‘tramp’ in Czech was somebody who was noble, it was a noble name; it was somebody who was good, a right person, a true patriot, a person who knows nature and loves nature.
Just how the country was run, it was like you don’t have any ambition, you don’t have any drive to become a better person, a wiser, more mature individual. It’s so difficult out there to be able to make something of yourself, to be able to stand out and live your life, and she thought the freedom allowed in America would be a great, great asset for he and I to be a part of.
Everything in Czechoslovakia was kind of drab, gray and brown – we went to Austria and it was like a different world. The gas stations with the colorful flags and colors everywhere and new cars. I think that left a huge impression on me. [I thought] ‘I want to live here,’ you know? And Coca-Cola and fries! Eating fries was like ‘Wow.’ It was amazing.
We arrived in Vienna and spent four days in Vienna, staying with a friend. But we didn’t feel safe there to ask for political asylum because Vienna was too close to home and we heard about Communist agents roaming the city. So we proceeded; we got on the road and we hitchhiked to Italy.
You know, yes of course, you have those memories and associations, but is it some kind of an idealized, background-music, lots of violins [experience] standing looking at your house, and immediate flashbacks? No, it’s not. It’s in a way awkward, because you really realize that time goes by and your life is someplace else – that’s only part of you, that’s only what you lived through, that’s only where you went to school or whatever. But whatever you took from there, you have. Going back is not going to change it.
You do because you need to survive. You need to be able to talk to people, and if you just speak Slovak all the time, they don’t speak Slovak in the store or Czech or Russian – now they speak Spanish – so you have to assimilate. You assimilate language-wise, but cultural-wise, that comes with the system. As you live there, you start doing what other people are doing.
I don’t think it’s really where you grew up, I think it’s more your attitude. I’m sure I could have kept up the Slovak culture and felt more Slovak than American myself. I think it’s more of a personal decision – what you want to be, that’s what you’ll be. If you feel like being more Slovak, you’ll be more Slovak, if you feel like being more American, you can go that way.
Not only that, many people were like that – both boys and girls. Because many guys didn’t have much opportunity, only to marry somebody else who had… to be again on a farm. You know, [another person] in the village and stuff like that. So I inherited some money from my parents, I had the opportunity, but I was not allowed. That’s it.