Carpatho-Rusyns are one of the major ethnic groups of Pennsylvania. From the time they settled the state’s small towns and cities in the late 1870s until the present time, Carpatho-Rusyns have left an indelible mark on the state, and their story should be told. This blog is about a project that will do just that. Read more

Friday, June 20, 2014

Carpatho-Rusyn Immigrants, Carpathian Rus’, Identity

Perspective on the identity question

Carpathian Rus’, 2004. Used with permission.
The author identifies himself, and the immigrants in the scope of this study, as Carpatho-Rusyns. That is, Carpatho-Rusyns are a distinct East Slavic people whose homeland has been a defined territory known as Carpathian Rus’ or Carpatho-Rus’, which is found in the present-day countries of Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, and Romania. [maps: Carpathian Rus’ in the 19th Century | Carpathian Rus’ in 2004] The Rusyns of former Yugoslavia—present-day Serbia and Croatia, the historic Bačka and Srem regions—are also included in this study. (The question of Greek Catholic Slovaks and Hungarians, and their inclusion in this study, will be dealt with in a separate post.)

Russian? Ukrainian?

These Olyphant Carpatho-Rusyn businessmen
identified themselves as both Russian and
Ukrainian (or "Rusyn-Ukrainian"), depending
on the ethnonational orientation of
the organization whose publication their ad ran in.
A substantial number of immigrants from Carpathian Rus’, once they settled in the United States, came to think of themselves as Russians or Ukrainians, and they named the institutions they founded here, especially churches and social clubs, accordingly. Others identified these institutions one way at the start and a different way years later.

Regardless of the name they used, the author considers all such community institutions and individuals as rightly in the scope of this study. Indeed, no treatment of this history conducted on a scholarly level can deny that the various ethnonational streams of the Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant community are inextricably intertwined. In fact, many individuals – clergy, community leaders, business owners – moved easily among all the sub-groups and could easily present themselves in one context as a Rusyn or Russian, and in another context as a Ukrainian.

Shamokin's Ruthenian Band (top)
later became the Ukrainian Band.
While the author has approached the research on this topic consistently regardless of how the local Rusyn immigrant community and individuals have identified themselves, the author’s Carpatho-Rusyn perspective (and community activism) may lead one to accuse the author of bias. The author assumes that a person making such an accusation would be consistent in suggesting bias if the author’s perspective on the identity of the people being studied were the same as that of the accuser. Unfortunately, most studies of these ethnic groups in Pennsylvania consider only the portion that identified themselves in that way and writes off or treats only superficially the others who identified themselves differently. The book resulting from this study will not do that.

That said, the author’s goal is to reveal the complexity of the identity question as it played out on the local level in the patches, villages, towns, and cities of Pennsylvania from the arrival of the first immigrants through the post-Roots rediscovery of ethnic identity and, in some places, revival of Carpatho-Rusyn consciousness. The primary audience for which the book is intended is Americans of Carpatho-Rusyn descent, whatever they understand or consider their ethnic origin to be, so that they may learn about their immigrant ancestors and the rest of “our people” who came to Pennsylvania. It is not my goal to convert a reader’s ethnic identity to Carpatho-Rusyn if they have strong feelings that they are, for example, Ukrainian, but if that reader comes to better recognize the complex means through which their own family arrived at that ethnic identity, and how others from the same geographic origin arrived at a different identity, then one of my goals will have been achieved.

Catholic, Orthodox, none of the above?

In large part, the story of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants is the story of their churches. And so the history of the local parishes will make up a large amount of the story of a Rusyn immigrant community. This is not to say that this will be just a book of parish histories.

Dedication of churchyard cross,
St. Nicholas Church, Duquesne, 1940s.
The church, founded as Greek Catholic
in 1890, later affiliated with the Russian
Orthodox Church under Bishop Stephen
(Alexander Dzubay) of Pittsburgh,
then later with the Carpatho-Russian
Orthodox Greek Catholic Diocese
(at the time of this photo)
and eventually with the Russian Orthodox
Metropolia, now the Orthodox Church in America.
A number of Orthodox and Byzantine/Greek Catholic jurisdictions have published compilations of parish histories, but they have been limited to the parishes in that jurisdiction and typically fail to explain how the local Eastern Slav, Eastern Christian communities are historically related. This project transcends those Orthodox/Catholic, jurisdictional, and artificial ethnic boundaries and will tangibly show just how intertwined we all are, right down to members of the very same families and back to the very same European villages. For those children and grandchildren of the immigrants whose families were personally affected by the schisms and parish divisions, this could be this project’s most significant impact.

Furthermore, there are some Byzantine/Greek Catholic and Orthodox (of Ukrainian, Russian, or Orthodox Church in America jurisdictions) parishes in Pennsylvania whose Carpatho-Rusyn membership has been or is totally insignificant. This will be noted where appropriate, just as the history of a given Carpatho-Rusyn community will usually note the other primary ethnic groups who lived in that locale.

Finally, some Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant communities experienced the development of non-traditional religious groups, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, and those developments will be discussed to the extent possible.

Original material is © by the author, Richard D. Custer; all rights reserved.

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