Carpatho-Rusyn Americans

views updated


by Paul Robert Magocsi


Carpatho-Rusyns (also known in English as Ruthenians) come from an area in the geographical center of the European continent. Their homeland, known as Carpathian Rus' (Ruthenia), is located on the southern and northern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains where the borders of Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland meet. Carpatho-Rusyns have never had their own state and have lived since the sixth and seventh centuries as a national minority, first in the kingdoms of Hungary and Poland, then from the late eighteenth century to 1918 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Since the end of World War I, borders have changed frequently, and Carpatho-Rusyns have found themselves living in several different countries: from 1919 to 1939 in Czechoslovakia and Poland; during World War II in Hungary, Slovakia, and Nazi Germany; and from 1945 to 1989 in the Soviet Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. Since the Revolution of 1989 in East Central Europe and the fall of the Soviet Union two years later, the Carpatho-Rusyns have lived, for the most part, in three countries: Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland. There are also smaller numbers in neighboring Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, in the Vojvodina region of Yugoslavia, and in nearby eastern Croatia.

As a people without their own state, Carpatho-Rusyns have had to struggle to be recognized as a distinct group and to be accorded rights such as education in their own language and preservation of their culture. At various times in the twentieth century, they have also tried to attain autonomy or self-rule. These efforts have met with varying degrees of success depending on the general political situation in the countries where they have lived. For example, during the interwar years (1919-1938) in Czechoslovakia, Carpatho-Rusyns did have their own province called Subcarpathian Rus', in which they enjoyed state support for education and culture as well as a degree of political autonomy. On the other hand, during the four decades of communist rule following World War II, Carpatho-Rusyns were not even recognized as a distinct people but were simply considered a branch of Ukrainians. Since the Revolution of 1989, they are recognized in Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Yugoslavia, but not in Ukraine.

Related to their status as a national minority is the problem of numbers. Since they are not recognized in countries like Ukraine, or have not been recorded in Poland, it is impossible to know with certainty how many Carpatho-Rusyns there are in the European homeland today. Informed estimates place their number possibly at 800,000 to one million. This includes 600,000 to 800,000 in Ukraine; 100,000 in Slovakia; 40,000 in Poland; 30,000 in Yugoslavia; 20,000 in Romania; and the rest in Hungary, Croatia, and the Czech Republic.

Minority status has also contributed indirectly to confusion regarding the very name used to describe the group. Traditionally, they have called themselves Rusyns or Rusnaks, but the states who have ruled them, and their own leaders, have used many other names, including Carpatho-Russian, Carpatho-Ukrainian, and Uhro-Russian. In Poland, Carpatho-Rusyns adopted the name Lemko at the outset of the twentieth century. In the United States, the group has also identified itself by many names: aside from Carpatho-Rusyn, the most popular have been Carpatho-Russian, Lemko, Ruthenian, or the vague and ethnically meaningless Byzantine or Slavish.

Carpatho-Rusyns began immigrating to the United States in the late 1870s and in the 1880s. By the outbreak of World War I in 1914, approximately 225,000 had arrived. This was to be the largest number of Carpatho-Rusyns ever to reach America. When emigration resumed after World War I, only about 20,000 came in the second wave during the interwar years. From World War II to the present, the numbers have been smaller stillat the most, 10,000. Upon arrival in the United States, the vast majority of Carpatho-Rusyns identified with the state that they had left. It is, therefore, impossible to know their exact number. Based on immigration statistics and membership records in religious and secular organizations, it is reasonable to assume that there are about 620,000 Americans who have at least one ancestor of Carpatho-Rusyn background.

At the time of the first and largest wave of immigration (1880s to 1914), the Carpatho-Rusyn homeland was located entirely within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That empire was itself divided into two parts: about three-quarters of Carpatho-Rusyns lived in the northeastern corner of the Hungarian Kingdom, with the remainder in the Austrian province of Galicia. In both parts of Austria-Hungary, the economic situation for Carpatho-Rusyns was the same. Their approximately 1,000 villages were all located in hilly or mountainous terrain from which the inhabitants eked out a subsistence-level existence based on small-scale agriculture, livestock grazing (especially sheep), and seasonal labor on the richer plains of lowland Hungary. Their livelihood was always precarious, however, and following a growth in the population and shortage of land, many felt they had no choice but to emigrate to the United States.

Most of the earliest immigrants in the 1870s and 1880s were young males who hoped to work a year or so and then return home. Some engaged in seasonal labor and may have migrated back and forth several times between Europe and America in the decades before 1914. Others eventually brought their families and stayed permanently. Whereas before World War I, movement between Europe and America was relatively easy for enthusiastic young laborers, after World War II, communist rule in the European homeland put an effective end to virtually all cross-border emigration and seasonal migration.

Since earning money was the main goal of the immigrants, they settled primarily in the northeast and north central states, in particular the coal mining region around Scranton and Wilkes-Barre in eastern Pennsylvania, and in Pittsburgh and its suburbs in the western part of that state. Other cities and metropolitan areas that attracted Carpatho-Rusyns were New York City and northeastern New Jersey; southern Connecticut; the Binghamton-Endicott-Johnson City triangle in south central New York; Cleveland and Youngstown, Ohio; Gary and Whiting, Indiana; Detroit and Flint, Michigan; and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

By 1920, nearly 80 percent of all Carpatho-Rusyns lived in only three states: Pennsylvania (54 percent), New York (13 percent), and New Jersey (12 percent). This settlement pattern has been in large part retained by the second-, third-, and fourth-generation descendants of Carpatho-Rusyns, although most have left the inner cities for the surrounding suburbs. Since the 1970s, there has also been migration out of the northeast, in particular to the sunbelt states of Florida, Arizona, and California.

Like other eastern and southern Europeans, Carpatho-Rusyns were not discriminated against because of their color, although they were effectively segregated from the rest of American society because of their low economic status and lack of knowledge of English. They were never singled out as a group, but rather lumped together with other Slavic and Hungarian laborers and called by the opprobrious epithet, Hunkies. This was, however, a relatively short-term phase, since the American-born sons and daughters of the original immigrants had, by the late 1930s and 1940s, adapted to the host society and become absorbed into the American middle class. Effectively, Americans of Carpatho-Rusyn descent are an invisible minority within the white middle class majority.

Acculturation and Assimilation

The relationship of Carpatho-Rusyns toward American society has changed several times during the more than 100 years since they began to arrive in significant numbers in the United States. There are basically three phases, or periods, during which the attitudes of Carpatho-Rusyns toward American society have ranged from minimal adaptation to total assimilation and acceptance of the American norm.

During the first period, from the 1880s to about 1925, Carpatho-Rusyns felt estranged both linguistically and culturally from the American world surrounding them. Not only did they speak a foreign language, they were also members of a distinct Eastern Christian church that initially did not exist in the United States. Upon arrival, Carpatho-Rusyns were all Byzantine Rite Catholics, or Greek Catholics; that is, adherents of a church that followed Orthodox ritual but was jurisdictionally united with the Roman Catholic church. The American Roman Catholic hierarchy, however, did not accept, and in some cases, did not even recognize, Greek Catholic priests. Since religion was a very important factor in their daily lives in Europe, where Greek Catholicism had become virtually synonymous with Carpatho-Rusyn culture and identity, the immigrants, after finding jobs to support themselves materially, sought ways to assure for themselves spiritual fulfillment.

Not finding their own church and being rejected by the American Roman Catholics, Carpatho-Rusyns built their own churches, invited priests from the European homeland, and created fraternal and mutual-benefit organizations to provide insurance and worker's compensation in times of sickness or accident as well as to support the new churches. The oldest and still the largest of these fraternal societies was the Greek Catholic Union, founded in 1892 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and then transferred to the suburbs of Pittsburgh in 1906. The churches and fraternals each had their services and publications in the Carpatho-Rusyn language, as well as schools in which children were taught the language of their parents. In short, during this first period, the immigrants felt that they could not be accepted fully into American society, and so they created various kinds of religious and secular organizations that would preserve their old world culture and language.

The second period in Rusyn American life lasted from about 1925 to 1975. For nearly a half-century, the children of immigrants born in the United States increasingly rejected the old world heritage of their parents and tried to assimilate fully into American life. New youth organizations were founded that used only English, while the most popular sports clubs, even within the pre-World War I organizations, were devoted to baseball, basketball, bowling, and golf. By the 1950s, the formerly vibrant Rusyn-language press had switched almost entirely to English. Even the Byzantine Rite Catholic church, which in the intervening years developed into a recognized religious body, began in the 1950s to do away with traditions that were different from those in the Roman Catholic church. In short, Carpatho-Rusyns seemed to want to do everything possibleeven at the expense of forgetting their ethnic and religious heritageto be like "other" Americans. Even the international situation was helpful in this regard, since throughout virtually this entire period, Carpatho-Rusyn Americans were cut off from the European homeland by the economic hardships of the 1930s, World War II, and finally the imposition of communist rule and the creation of the Iron Curtain after 1945.

The third phase in Rusyn American life began about 1975 and has lasted to the present. Like many other "assimilated" Americans, the third-generation descendants of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants have wanted to know what their grandparents knew so well but what their parents tried desperately to forget. The stimulus for this quest at ethnic rediscovery was the "roots fever" that surrounded the nationwide telecast of the African American saga Roots and the celebrations surrounding the bicentennial of the United States in 1976.

New organizations such as the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center and several Rusyn folk ensembles were founded in the late 1970s, and several new publications began to appear that dealt with all aspects of Carpatho-Rusyn culture. Finally, the Revolution of 1989 and the fall of communism opened up the European homeland and provided new incentives for travel and opportunities for firsthand rediscovery of one's roots and ancestral family ties. Thus, since the 1970s, an increasing number of Americans of Carpatho-Rusyn background have begun to learn about and maintain, at the very least, nostalgic ties with an ancestral culture that they otherwise never really knew. Moreover, in contrast to earlier times, American society as a whole no longer stigmatized such interest in the old world, but actually encouraged the search for one's roots.


Carpatho-Rusyns are by origin Slavs. They speak a series of dialects that are classified as East Slavic and that are most closely related to Ukrainian. However, because their homeland is located within a political and linguistic borderland, Carpatho-Rusyn speech has been heavily influenced by neighboring West Slavic languages like Slovak and Polish, as well as by Hungarian. Several attempts have been undertaken in the European homeland and in the United States to codify this unique speech pattern into a distinct Carpatho-Rusyn literary language. The most successful results have been in the Vojvodina region of Yugoslavia, where a local Rusyn literary language has existed since the early 1920s, as well as in present-day Slovakia where a Rusyn literary language was formally codified in 1995.

The early immigrants to the United States used Rusyn for both spoken and written communication. As early as 1892, the Amerikansky russky viestnik (American Rusyn Bulletin) began to appear in Mahanoy City and eventually Homestead, Pennsylvania as the weekly and, at times, three-timesweekly newspaper of the Greek Catholic Union. It was published completely in Rusyn until 1952, after which it switched gradually and then entirely to English. That newspaper was one of 50 weekly and monthly Rusyn-language publications that have appeared in the United States, including the daily newspaper Den' (The Day; New York, 1922-1926). Traditionally, the Rusyn language uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Cyrillic was initially also used in the United States, although by the 1920s a Roman-based alphabet became more and more widespread. Today only one newspaper survives, the bilingual weekly Karpats'ka Rus'/Carpatho-Rus' (Yonkers, New York, 1939 ), half of which is published in Rusyn using the Cyrillic alphabet.

First-generation immigrants, in particular, wanted to pass on the native language to their American-born offspring. Hence, church-sponsored parochial and weekend schools were set up, especially from 1900 to 1930. To preserve the native language, several Rusyn American grammars, readers, catechisms, and other texts were published. The language was also used on a few radio programs during the 1940s and 1950s in New York City, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and other cities with large Rusyn concentrations. At present there are no radio programs, and the language is taught formally only to students attending the Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh and the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocesan Seminary in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Family and Community Dynamics

In the Carpatho-Rusyn homeland, where there was a need for agricultural laborers, families were often large, with an average of six to ten children. Family homesteads might also house grandparents as well as a newly wedded son or daughter and spouse waiting to earn enough to establish their own home. Many villages comprised three or four extended families interrelated through blood or through relationships, such as godparents.

The immigrants who came to the United States were initially males who lived in boarding houses. Those who remained eventually married in America or brought their families from Europe. The extended family structure typical of the European village was replaced by nuclear families living in individual houses or apartments that included parents and on average, three to four children.

Coming to the United States primarily before World War I, Carpatho-Rusyns entered a society in which there were little or no welfare programs or other forms of public assistance. The ideal was to take care of oneself, depending perhaps only on a fraternal insurance organization to which dues were paid. There was never any expectation that the government would assist individuals or families in what were considered their private lives. Such attitudes of self-reliance were passed on to the second and third generations, most of whom shunned public assistance even when it became available beginning in the 1930s. Only since the 1970s, with the widespread closing of steel mills and related industries in western Pennsylvania, where thousands suddenly found themselves out of work, have attitudes toward public assistance changed. This means that today third-, fourth-, and fifth-generation Carpatho-Rusyns are likely to accept unemployment insurance whenever their livelihood is threatened.

The traditional old world pattern of marriages arranged by parents, sometimes with the help of a matchmaker, was, with rare exceptions, not followed among Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants. Instead, individuals have courted and found their own partners. At least until the 1950s, parents did not urge their daughters to continue their education after high school, but instead to get married and serve as the homemaker for a family. Boys, too, were often encouraged to go to technical schools or to begin work as an apprentice in a trade. Since the 1960s, however, an increasing number of both young men and women are encouraged to attend colleges and universities, after which they work in fields such as communications, service industries, and medicine (especially nursing).

Whereas before the 1950s women were encouraged to become homemakers, they were always welcome to take an active part in community activity. At least since the 1930s, women have served on the governing boards of Rusyn American fraternals, have had their own sports clubs, and have been particularly effective in establishing ladies' guilds which, through social events, have been able to raise extensive funds to help local church parishes. To this day, many ladies' guilds operate catering and small food services from the basements of churches, cooking traditional Rusyn dishes like holubky (stuffed cabbage) and pirohy (three-cornered cheese- or potato-filled ravioli) and selling them to the community at large. The profits go to the church.

Carpatho-Rusyns had a vibrant community life during the first three decades of this century. Fraternal organizations, social clubs, political groups, and churches sponsored publications, theatrical and musical performances, public lectures, parades, and picnics, all of which were in part or wholly related to the preservation and promotion of a Carpatho-Rusyn culture and identity. Such activity virtually ceased or lost any specific Carpatho-Rusyn content in the decades immediately following World War II.

There has been a marked revival of activity, however, since the 1970s. Several new song and dance ensembles, the largest of which is Slavjane in Pittsburgh, were founded by third-, fourth-, and fifth-generation descendants of the pre-World War I immigrants. A scholarly organization, the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center, was founded in 1978; it has distributed thousands of books about Rusyn culture and history, and publishes a quarterly, the Carpatho-Rusyn American (Fairview, New Jersey; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1978 ). Several other local cultural and social organizations were established or renewed in cities and towns where Rusyns have traditionally lived, such as Minneapolis (The Rusin Association), Yonkers, New York (Carpatho-Russian American Center), and Pittsburgh (Carpatho-Rusyn Society). This trend toward cultural renewal and the rediscovery of one's heritage has been enhanced by the political changes that have taken place in East Central Europe after 1989. As a result, visits to families and friends that were effectively cut off by the Iron Curtain are now becoming a common occurrence.


Carpatho-Rusyns are Christians and, for the most part, they belong to various Eastern Christian churches. They trace their Christian origins back to the second half of the ninth century, when the Byzantine Greek monks Cyril and Methodius and their disciples brought Christianity from the East Roman or Byzantine Empire to Carpathian Rus'. After 1054, when the Christian world was divided into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox spheres, the Carpatho-Rusyns remained part of the eastern tradition. This meant that in Carptho-Rusyn churches, Church Slavonic (written in the Cyrillic alphabet) was used instead of Latin as the liturgical language, priests could marry, and after the sixteenth century the "old calendar" was maintained, so that nonmovable feasts like Christmas were celebrated about two weeks after they were celebrated according to the western calendar. Eastern Christians also recognized as the head of their church the ecumenical patriarch, who resided in Constantinople, the capital of the former Byzantine Empire.

The question of church jurisdiction changed in the mid-seventeenth century, when some Carpatho-Rusyn bishops and priests united with the Catholic church based in Rome. These Uniates, as they were first called, were at first allowed to keep all their eastern Orthodox traditions, but they were required to accept the authority of the Pope in Rome instead of the Orthodox ecumenical patriarch. Because the Uniates continued to use the eastern liturgy and follow eastern church practices, they were eventually called Greek Catholics, and today Byzantine Rite Catholics. Since the seventeenth century, Carpatho-Rusyns have been divided into two branches of Eastern ChristianityOrthodoxy and Byzantine Rite Catholicism.

Regardless of whether Carpatho-Rusyns were Orthodox or Byzantine Rite Catholic, the church remained a central feature of their life-cycle in the European homeland. Until well into the twentieth century, all rites of passage (birth/baptisms, weddings, funerals) and public events in Rusyn villages and towns were determined by the church calendar. In many ways, Carpatho-Rusyn culture and identity were synonymous with either the Byzantine Rite Catholic or Orthodox churches. Virtually all the early Carpatho-Rusyn cultural leaders, including the nineteenth-century "national awakener" Aleksander Dukhnovych, were priests.

Because religion was so important, it is not surprising that Carpatho-Rusyns tried to recreate aspects of their church-directed life after immigrating to the United States. From the very outset, however, the Byzantine Rite Catholics met with resistance from American Catholic bishops, who before World War I were intolerant toward all traditions that were not in accord with American Roman Catholic norms (especially those that used "foreign" languages and followed practices like a married priesthood). As a result, thousands of Byzantine Rite Catholics left the church and joined the Orthodox church. This "return to the ancient faith" began as early as 1892 and was led by a priest who at the time was based in Minneapolis, Father Alexis Toth.

Aside from losing members to Orthodoxy, the Byzantine Rite Catholic church was also having difficulty maintaining traditional practices. After 1929, Byzantine Rite Catholics were forced by Rome to accept the practice of celibacy for priests and to turn over all church property, which until then was generally held by laypersons who had built and paid for the buildings. This so-called "celibacy controversy" caused great dissatisfaction, and led to the defection of thousands more Byzantine Rite Catholics, who created a new American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox church. The Byzantine Rite Catholics also gave up other traditional practices, and by the 1950s and 1960s changed to the western calendar and used primarily English in their services.

The division between Orthodoxy and Byzantine Rite Catholicism in the European homeland has continued among Carpatho-Rusyns and their descendants in the United States. Today the Byzantine Rite Catholic church has four dioceses located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Passaic, New Jersey; Parma, Ohio; and Van Nuys, California. The American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox church has one diocese based in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The Orthodox Church in America, with its seat in New York City, has 12 dioceses across the country. The approximate Carpatho-Rusyn membership in these churches is as follows: Byzantine Rite Catholics195,000; Carpatho-Russian Orthodox18,000; Orthodox Church in America250,000.

In the early years of the immigration, when Carpatho-Rusyns did not yet have their own churches, many Byzantine Rite Catholics attended, and eventually joined, Roman Catholic churches. Subsequently, intermarriage increased the number of Carpatho-Rusyn Roman Catholics, who today may number as high as 80,000 to 100,000. The community's internal religious controversies and the proselytizing efforts of American Protestant churches, especially in the early decades of the twentieth century, have also resulted in the growth of several evangelical sects among Carpatho-Rusyns and conversions, especially to various Baptist churches.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Although the vast majority of Carpatho-Rusyns who came to the United States during the major wave of immigration before World War I left small villages where they worked as small-scale subsistence-level farmers or as livestock herders, only a handful found jobs in agriculture in the United States. As one priest and community activist quipped earlier in the century: "Our people do not live in America, they live under America!" This remark reflects the fact that many of the earliest Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants found employment in the coal-mining belt in eastern Pennsylvania. Since they lacked industrial and mining skills upon arrival, they were given the most menial tasks, such as coal splitting and carting. Carpatho-Rusyns were also attracted to the iron mines in upstate Minnesota; the lead mines of south central Missouri; the coal mines of southern Oklahoma and Washington state; the gold, silver, and lead mines of Colorado; and the marble quarries of Vermont. Even more important than mining for Carpatho-Rusyns was the growing steel industry of Pittsburgh and its neighboring towns. The steel mills and associated industries employed most Carpatho-Rusyns who lived in western Pennsylvania and neighboring Ohio.

Already during the pre-World War I decades, women were obliged to work outside the home in order to supplement the family income. With limited English-language and work skills, at first they were only able to find work as cleaning women in offices or as servants and nannies in well-to-do households. The second-generation American-born were more likely to find work as retail salespersons, waitresses, and workers in light industries such as shoe, soap, and cigar factories.

Like women, the second-generation American-born men had moved slightly up the employment ladder to work as skilled and semi-skilled workers, foremen, or clerical workers. By the third and fourth generation, there was a marked increase in managerial and semi-professional occupations. In general, however, Carpatho-Rusyns and their descendants have preferred working in factories, mills, mines, and other industries, rather than trying to establish their own businesses.

A dependence on the existing American industrial and corporate structure has, in recent decades, had a negative effect on thousands of Rusyn Americans who thought the jobs or industries that they and their fathers and grandfathers worked in would always be there for themselves and their children. The widespread closing of coal mines in eastern Pennylvania and the collapse of America's steel industry put thousands of Rusyn Americans out of work. As a result, Carpatho-Rusyns, like other middle-class working Americans in the past two decades, have had to lower their expectations about economic advancement and to retrain themselves for, and especially to encourage their children to prepare for, jobs that are no longer in coal and steel, but in electronics, computers, and service-related industries.

Politics and Government

At least until World War I, Carpatho-Rusyns in the European homeland did not have any experience in politics. They were used to being ruled and not to participating in the governing process. The result was skepticism and a deep-seated mistrust toward politics which was to continue after immigration to the United States. Not surprisingly, first-generation Carpatho-Rusyns, and even their American-born descendants, have rarely become elected officials in the United States. It was not until the 1970s that the first individuals of Carpatho-Rusyn background were to be found in elected offices beyond the local level, such as Mark Singel, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, and Joseph M. Gaydos, Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania. As for the majority of Carpatho-Rusyns, their relation to political life was limited to participation in strikes, especially in the coal fields and in steel and related industries during the decades of the 1890s to 1930s. While there were some Carpatho-Rusyn political clubs established during the 1930s and 1940s to support Democratic party candidates, these were generally few in number and short-lived.

On the other hand, Carpatho-Rusyn Americans have in the past played an active and, at times, a decisive role in homeland politics. This was particularly so during the closing months of World War I, when Carpatho-Rusyn Americans, like other immigrant groups from east central and southern Europe, proposed various options for the future of their homelands following what proved to be the imminent collapse of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires.

In the spring and summer of 1918, both Byzantine Rite Catholic and Orthodox religious and lay leaders formed political action committees, the most important of which was the American Council of Uhro-Rusyns in Homestead, Pennsylvania. The Homestead-based council chose a young, American-trained Carpatho-Rusyn lawyer, Gregory Zatkovich, to represent them. Under his leadership, the American Rusyns joined with other groups in the Mid-European Union in Philadelphia, lobbied the American government, and followed President Woodrow Wilson's suggestion that the Carpatho-Rusyn homeland might become part of the new state of Czechoslovakia. An agreement to join Czechoslovakia was reached in Philadelphia in November 1918, after which Zatkovich led a Rusyn American delegation to convince leaders in the homeland of the desirability of joining Czechoslovakia.

The "American solution" was indeed accepted in 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference. Only the Lemko Rusyns north of the mountains were left out; eventually they were incorporated into the new state of Poland. In recognition of his role, Zatkovich, while still an American citizen, was appointed by the president of Czechoslovakia to be the first governor of its eastern province called Subcarpathian Rus'.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the Rusyn American community closely followed political events in the homeland, and frequently sent protests to the League of Nations, calling on the Czechoslovak government to implement the political autonomy that had been promised, but not fully implemented, in the province of Subcarpathian Rus'. The United States government was now less interested in far-away East Central Europe, so that Rusyn American political influence on the homeland declined and eventually ended entirely, in particular after Subcarpathian Rus' was annexed to the Soviet Union in 1945 and the rest of East Central Europe came under Soviet-inspired communist rule.

After being cut off from the European homeland for nearly half a century, Rusyn American contacts with the homeland were renewed following the Revolution of 1989, the fall of communism, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Both secular and church bodies began once again to provide moral and financial assistance to Rusyn organizations in the homeland. Rusyn Americans also became active in the World Congress of Rusyns, established in eastern Slovakia in March 1991.

Often related to contacts with the European homeland has been the question of national identity. Throughout their entire history in the United States, politics for most Carpatho-Rusyns has meant trying to decide and reach a consensus on the question: "Who are we?" At least until about 1920, most Carpatho-Rusyns in the United States considered themselves to form a distinct Slavic nationality called Rusyn or Uhro-Rusyn (that is, Hungarian Rusyn). By the 1920s, there was a strong tendency, encouraged especially by the Orthodox church, to consider Rusyns as little more than a branch of the Russian nationality. Hence, the term Carpatho-Russian became a popular term to describe the group. By the 1950s and 1960s, two more possible identities were added, Slovak and Ukrainian.

Since the 1970s, however, there has been a pronounced return to the original Rusyn identity, that is, the idea that Carpatho-Rusyns are neither Russian, nor Slovak, nor Ukrainian, but rather a distinct nationality. Several of the older religious and lay organizations have reasserted the Rusyn orientation, and it has been fully embraced from the outset by all the new cultural and scholarly institutions established in the United States since the 1970s. The Rusyn orientation in America has been encouraged further by the Rusyn national revival that has been occurring in all the European homeland countries (Slovakia, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia) since the Revolution of 1989.

Individual and Group Contributions


Undoubtedly, the most famous American of Carpatho-Rusyn descent was Andy Warhol (born Andrew Warhola, 1928-1987), the pop artist, photographer, and experimental filmmaker. At the height of his career in the 1960s and 1970s, he had become as famous as the celebrities he was immortalizing. Recalling the idealized saintly images (icons) that surrounded him when he was growing up and attending the Byzantine Rite Catholic Church in Pittsburgh's Rusyn Valley (Ruska dolina) district, Warhol created on canvas and in photographs new "American icons" that epitomized the second half of the twentieth century. Since his untimely death in 1987, his older brothers, John and Paul Warhola, have become instrumental in perpetuating the Carpatho-Rusyn heritage of Andy and his family. That heritage figures prominently in the new Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. The Warhol Foundation, which funded the Pittsburgh museum, has also donated paintings and provided financial support for the Warhola Family Museum of Modern Art, founded in 1992 in Medzilaborce, Slovakia, just a few miles away from the Carpatho-Rusyn village where both Andy Warhol's parents were born.


In the 1940s and 1950s, Lizabeth Scott (born Emma Matzo, 1922) played the role of a sultry leading lady in several Hollywood films, while Sandra Dee (born Alexandra Zuk, 1942) was cast in roles that depicted the typical American teenage girl of the 1950s and 1960s. Her very name was later used as a nostalgic symbol of that era in the musical Grease. In more recent years, other Americans of Carpatho-Rusyn descent have been active in television, including the actor Robert Urich (1946 ) and the FOX Television newscaster, Cora-Ann Mihalik (1955 ).


It is in the area of religion where Carpatho-Rusyns have made a particularly significant contribution to American life. Three individuals stand out for their work not only on behalf of Eastern Christianity, the traditional faith of Carpatho-Rusyns, but also of Roman Catholicism and American evangelical Protestantism.

The Russian Orthodox Church of America, today the Orthodox Church in America, is one of the oldest in the United States. It was founded as early as 1792, when Alaska was a colony of the Russian Empire. The real growth of that church was connected not to the Alaskan mission, however, but to its influence over thousands of immigrants from East Central Europe who settled in the northeastern United States during the decades before World War I. The expansion of Russian Orthodoxy during those years is attributable largely to Father Alexis Toth (1853-1909), a former Byzantine Rite Catholic priest who joined the Orthodox Church in 1891. Not only did he bring his own Minneapolis parish with him, he also set out on missionary activity in several northeastern states, converting nearly 25,000 Carpatho-Rusyns and other East Slavic immigrants to Orthodoxy. The church grew so rapidly that it moved its headquarters from San Francisco to New York City. For his services, Toth was hailed as the "father of Orthodoxy in America," and in 1994 he was made a saint of the Orthodox Church of America.

The two other influential religious activists were both born in the United States of Carpatho-Rusyn parents. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich (1901-1927) converted to Roman Catholicism as a child, became a member of the Sisters of Charity, and devoted the rest of her years to a life of pure spirituality. A year after her death, a collection of her "spiritual conferences" was published, Greater Perfection (1928), which became so popular that they were translated into several languages, including Chinese. Her followers have established a Sister Miriam Teresa League in New Jersey, which is working to have her made a saint in the Roman Catholic church.

Perhaps the best known religious activist of Carpatho-Rusyn descent in American society as a whole is Joseph W. Tkach (b. 1927), since 1986 Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God. Tkach is editor of the popular religious magazine Plain Truth, and he is the guiding force behind the church's syndicated news-oriented television series, "The World Tomorrow," rated as one of the top religious programs in the United States.


Carpatho-Rusyn American.

A forum on Carpatho-Rusyn ethnic heritage.

Contact: Patricia Krafcik, Editor.

Address: Carpatho-Rusyn American, P.O. Box 192, Fairfax, Virginia 22030-0192.

Telephone: (703) 691-8585.

Fax: (703) 691-0513.

Karpatska Rus'/Carpatho-Rus'.

A Carpatho-Russian newspaper of the Lemko Association.

Contact: Alexander Herenchak, Editor.

Address: 556 Yonkers Avenue, Yonkers, New York 10704.

The New Rusyn Times.

A cultural-organizational publication of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society.

Address: 125 Westland Drive, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15217.

Telephone: (412) 682-2869; or (216) 561-9418.



The newsletter of the Rusin Association.

Contact: Lawrence Goga, Editor.

Address: 1115 Pineview Lane North, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55441.

Telephone: (612) 595-9188.

Organizations and Associations

Carpatho-Russian American Center.

A social and cultural center that caters primarily to Lemkos and their descendants.

Contact: John Ryzyk, President.

Address: 556 Yonkers Avenue, Yonkers, New York 10704.

Telephone: (914) 969-3954.

Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center.

The main publishing house for materials on Carptho-Rusyns worldwide, it also supports research projects. Publishes a quarterly on Carpatho-Rusyn heritage called Carpatho-Rusyn American.

Address: Box 131-B-Main Street, Orwell, Vermont 05760.

Carpatho-Rusyn Society.

Founded in April of 1994. Promotes Carpatho-Rusyn cultural activity in western Pennsylvania/ eastern Ohio. Publishes bi-monthly newsletter "The New Rusyn Times."

Address: 125 Westland Road, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15217.

Telephone: (412) 682-2869.

Lemko Association of U.S. and Canada.

The oldest Rusyn American cultural/social organization concerned primarily with immigrants and their descendants from the Lemko Region in Poland.

Contact: Alexander Herenchak, President.

Address: 555 Province Line Road, Box 156, Allentown, New Jersey 08501.

Telephone: (609) 758-1115.

Fax: (609) 758-7301.

Rusin Association.

Non-profit organization formed to sustain Carpatho-Rusyn culture.

Address: c/o Karen Varian, 1817 121st Avenue N.E., Blaine, Minnesota 55449.

Sources for Additional Study

Barriger, Lawrence. Good Victory: Metropolitan Orestes Chornock and the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Diocese. Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1985.

Dyrud, Keith. The Quest for the Rusyn Soul: The Politics of Religion and Culture in Eastern Europe and America, 1890-World War I. Philadelphia, London, and Toronto: Associated University Presses for the Balch Institute Press, 1992.

Magocsi, Paul Robert. The Carpatho-Rusyn Americans. New York and Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989.

. Opportunity Realized: The Greek Catholic Union's First One Hundred Years. Beaver, Pennsylvania: Greek Catholic Union of the U.S.A., 1994.

. Our People: Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Descendants in North America, third revised edition. Toronto: Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1994.

Pekar, Athanasius B. Our Past and Present: Historical Outlines of the Byzantine Ruthenian Metropolitan Province. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Byzantine Seminary Press, 1974.

Warzeski, Walter C. Byzantine Rite Rusyns in Carpatho-Ruthenia and America. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Byzantine Seminary Press, 1971.