Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Generation 1.5 - What's Your Story?

As part of Generation 1.5, the QMA would like to hear your personal 1.5 experiences. Are you 1.5? Do you know someone who is 1.5? How would you define 1.5?

Please contribute your item as a comment below. Selected contributions will be highlighted in the content area, and may even be published as part of the Generation 1.5 exhibtion book later next spring.

CONTRIBUTOR: Tom Finkelpearl

My grandmother, Emma Kerenyi Finkelpearl, was born in Koposvar, Hungary in 1896, moved to the U.S. and attended high school in New York City then moved back to Hungary at the end of high school, around 1913. There she was an English language tutor. She attended college and some conservatory in Hungary and Vienna, and moved back to the States in 1920 at the age of 24. Here she worked as a translator at a department store in Pittsburgh for the large number of Hungarian workers who had recently arrived to work in the blue collar jobs. She was not classic 1.5, but fit the bill in many ways as she made a couple of transitions in her formative years, and she was multi-lingual, able to attend conservatory in German and work as a translator and tutor in both Hungarian and English. Her love was the piano, and she earned a living teaching generations of mostly Jewish kids in Squirrel Hill how to play the instrument and how to behave. She always loved European culture and Mozart was her God. To me she certainly held the place of the transitional figure on the Finkelpearl side of the family. She was the link back to Eastern Europe. She loved to speak in other languages, if simply to discuss something in German with my uncle that she did not want the kids to understand. Certainly she thought of herself as American. She loved her adopted country, especially the progressive politics of FDR --whom she adored. But I could always sense her Hungarian nationalism as well – the underlying notion that Hungarians were smarter and sharper than everyone else (especially Russians). Her identity was clearly more complicated than my other grandmother – who could track her family’s American roots to before the revolutionary war. Grandma Finkelpearl was an Eastern European Jewish American, at a time where that identity meant outsider status. Don’t forget that America’s quota-based immigration laws were passed in the 1920’s with the intent of keeping people like her -- Eastern European Jews -- out. These laws were in effect until 1964. I think of my grandmother in relation to my wife’s family in which there are no 1.5ers. Her parents came from China as adults and she was born here. This created a very common cultural and linguistic divide between the Chinese parents and the American kids. In contrast, my grandmother was both/and.

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