Monday, May 03, 2010

Slovak Diaspora And Cleveburgh

I haven't written much about Cleveburgh in quite some time. The economic corridor is still swimming around in my head. A speech from the Slovak Minister of Foreign Affairs rekindled the geography:

I would like to thank the Centre for Transatlantic Relations at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University and, in particular, its Managing Director, Ambassador Kurt Volker, Director Daniel Hamilton, as well as Michael Haltzel and many others who contribute their efforts to the strengthening of transatlantic relations, and for having given me this opportunity to stand before you here today.

I am especially glad that I can do so right here, in the capital of the country of which thousands of Slovaks called and still call their second home. As you may or may not know, Cleveland and Pittsburgh had once been the biggest “Slovak” cities measured by the size of their Slovak communities. The US was a beacon that guided several generations of Slovaks on their quest for freedom, prosperity, or both. Whether they emigrated in pursuit of a better life during the Great Depression in the 1930s, or escaped the consequences of Fascism in the 1940s, or from the Communist seizure of power in the early 1950s, or from the Warsaw Pact tanks that suppressed the Prague Spring of 1968, virtually every generation of our fathers and grandfathers experienced one massive wave of emigration to the US.

I emphasized the relevant part of the passage. When considering regions, there needs to be a cultural foundation that ties together all the communities. The cradle of the Slovak Diaspora fits the bill.

Youngstown is part of the Slovak band stretched between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. You can read more about the ethnic experience at Steel Valley Voices. The Slovak ties are important because Cleveland and Pittsburgh represent two different historical geographies. Pittsburgh and Youngstown are Northern Appalachian cities. Cleveland is Midwestern. It is not uncommon for Browns fans to refer to Steelers fans as hilljacks:

From the southern region of the Midwest (see Southern Ohio, Northern Kentucky, Western Pennsylvania and the better part of West Virginia). Hilljacks have a penchant for sleeveless t-shirts, Blackfoot and Molly Hatchet and low-end regional beer. Family gatherings come in the form of cookouts and all of them culminate in drunken brawls and multiple arrests. Young hilljack chicks are usually very attractive but undergo a metamorphosis sometime after they have their third kid before the age of twenty.

Most of the Rust Belt attempts to distinguish itself from Appalachia. One can find the same attitude in Pittsburgh. Residents haven't embraced their city as "The Paris of Appalachia". That's too bad.

I imagine that ethnic Slovaks in Youngstown don't appreciate the differences between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. I'm sure they are aware of the rivalry, but I doubt the tension is all that important in the Mahoning Valley. To them, Cleveburgh is one long cookie table.

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