On Friday evening, June 25th, we went to the home of our good friend, Ms. Laurel Tombazzi, Founder and Chairperson of the Eastern European Congress of Ohio, in Hinckley Township, and her husband, Frank, to attend a dinner hosting Dr. Cecilia Rokusek, President and CEO of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library (NCSML) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
As we read in the materials we were given, the mission of the NCSML is to preserve, present, and transcend “unique stories of Czech and Slovak history and culture through innovative experiences and active engagement to reach cross-cultural audiences locally, nationally, and internationally.”
In fact, the NCSML is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute and is the only national museum dedicated to preserving the Czech and Slovak history, culture, and heritage for generations to come.
Also attending the dinner were about twenty people who were either members or friends of our Carpatho-Rusyn community, including Mr. John Righetti, President Emeritus of the National Carpatho-Rusyn Society, who came to us from Pittsburgh. A professional caterer who specializes in Eastern European cuisine, Mr. Righetti prepared a delicious meal that included such dishes as mushroom and barley stuffed cabbage, potato dumplings cooked with cottage cheese and cabbage, and egg crepes with fruit fillings known as palachinky.
Indeed, it is fitting that the Carpatho-Rusyns take an interest in the NCSML because Eastern Slovakia is one of their areas of habitation and, therefore, what is presented as this museum encompasses their history and their heritage.
To be sure, Ms. Tombazzi’s home was beautiful, and the dinner table was decorated with settings that reflected Carpatho-Rusyn traditions such as carefully folded napkins and shawls covering chairs.
After dinner, Dr. Rokusek presented the guests with beautiful memos from the museum (i.e. whose store was named the 2020 National Store of the Year by the Museum Store Association) and in turn Dr. Rokusek received several gifts from the attendees that included a Carpatho-Rusyn settlement map of Europe. We, ourselves, brought copies of Ms. Margaret W. Wong’s book, “The Immigrant’s Way” for all who were present.
To be sure, we got to visit with Dr. Rokusek, and her husband, Bob, who said that we, as representatives of an immigration law office, would really appreciate the work of the NCSML because, even though the museum tells the story of immigration from the Czech and Slovak perspective, it is presented in such a way that people who have immigrated to the United States, and/or their descendants, from countries all over the world could relate to it.
For example, a young person whose family immigrated here from the Australia might listen to an oral history of a family who immigrated to the United States from Slovakia and respond by saying, “my grandmother went through much the same thing!”