I was still a young lad – not even ten years of age – when in 1878, word got out in my part of Lemkovyna that Pavel Fyljak* of the town of Luh, of the parish Ždŷnja in the county of Gorlyci had returned from the army and was preparing to leave for a distant land beyond the sea, America ... When the priest announced in church that Pavel Fyljak, the son of Seman Fyljak, is preparing for America and that a Divine Liturgy will be celebrated on his behalf, a large group of people came to the church. On that day I didn't go to school because I wanted to see how a man prepared for America. A large group of people had gathered at the home of Seman Fyljak. A buffet was served at the home. The father rose to speak. He recited the Our Father and then blessed his son ... The people spoke about how Pavel Fyljak had learned about America from his Czech friends in the army.
[Denys Holod, “Spomyny staroho imigranta” as recorded by Omelian Reviuk, Jubilee Book of the Ukrainian National Association, ed. Luka Myshuha (Jersey City: Svoboda Press, 1936), p. 255.]
*Given in the above source as “Chyljak” but the proper surname of this family in Luh is Fyljak.
Similar sentiments are found in this account of another early immigrant’s departure:
It will be over 50 years now since our Lemkos began to leave Lemkovyna for America. It was a great occasion when they were escorting the first Lemko, Mychal Durkot of the village of Hančova, on his first steps into the distant world. He was accompanied by a huge procession. The entire community came to say farewell, not only his mother and father, but his wife and children too. And everyone wept such tears that a stranger who didn't know what was taking place might have thought that someone was being led to the gallows or some equally horrible fate. But he was respected by the community and that is why he received such a grand farewell.
[Damian Merena, “Pro Pershykh Lemkiv v Amerytsi,” Golden Jubilee Almanac of the Ukrainian National Association, ed. Luka Myshuha (Jersey City: Ukrainian National Association, 1944), p. 250.]
In the course of my research, I have met so many wonderful individuals – storytellers, collectors, those with photographic memories, and pillars of the community – and beyond all the facts, names, dates, and narrative, it is their emotions and memories that provide the real human story of Carpatho-Rusyn immigration and Americanization. I’m blessed that some of these individuals have lent their voices and memories through oral history interviews to provide a direct experience of this history. In addition, I have collected what I believe is virtually every memoir written and published by Rusyn immigrants and their descendants about the earliest days of Rusyns in America. I want to make this aspect a central feature of as many community history entries in the book as possible, to be titled “Through their Eyes.”