Reply to Ron / response to the academic paper for which I posted a link
- Dear Ron,
Hi. Thanks for writing.
Ron, you wrote:
"I have not found the history of Sulin and the Stara Lubovna area that
I would like to read, so I plan on writing it myself."
I think that that is wonderful, Ron.
I applaud your spirit and enterprise.
Keep up the good work.
Regarding more controversial portions of your email.
You wrote that you did not read my article, because it is long, but
that you did read negative comments that purported to be about my
article, because those comments were short, and that those comments
worked for you.
Well, that's the problem, isn't it?
Whenever a writer publishes something, esp. something that is not a
soundbite, but that, rather, is lengthy and complicated, that writer
risks being misrepresented by others' soundbites.
The soundbite didn't work for me. It is not about the article i wrote.
That's one problem.
The larger problem, for me, is this.
I come from a Slavic American background. In many ways, my family
represents typical demographic trends.
Illiterate (on my father's side; my proud Slovak grandmother, though a
peasant who gave birth to my mother in a river, would haunt me if I
intimated that she could not read; in fact she could read in at least
three, largely unrelated, languages), peasants in the old country,
coal miners here; their children had to really struggle to enter the
American middle class, to the extent that we have.
I had really high test scores and received advanced degrees, under
world famous scholars, at two prestigious American graduate schools; I
also attended what I think is the oldest university in Central Europe.
I've worked around the world and spoken several languages. I could
have, as many like me have done, chosen a highly remunerative
profession. I could be living in a big house and worrying about my
stocks and bonds.
I didn't do that. Like you, Ron, I wanted to do something for those
people who were so mistreated by history. That's why I so highly
respect the statement I quoted from your email, above.
Despite active discouragement from my profs, I worked on Slavic
I was informed, by profs who cared about me and my future: "You've
lived in Africa! You speak an African language! There is funding for
Africa! Do Africa! You'll get a job when you finish!"
I was begged: "You've lived in Asia! You speak an Asian language! Do
Asia...! Don't you want to get a job when you finish?"
I was warned: "If you keep writing about these Bohunks, there's no job
for you when you finish!"
It's been a tough row to hoe. It's been all but impossible to find
funding. Pieces I've written on non-Slavic issues have found
publication readily; articles on Slavic issues have been much harder
And I've had to deal with active bigotry. I've had to watch professors
I very much liked and respected reveal their bigotry against
Catholics, against blue collar people, and against Poles (I'm half and
half.) I was invited to announce that, as a Polish Catholic American,
I am a dumb anti-Semite -- yes -- even advanced academics retain these
And there's more. If you want to work on Slavic-American issues in the
academy, funding is hard to come by. Departments that even recognize,
never mind support, these issues are vanishingly rare, and often
Mind -- I'm not talking about linguistics -- about Old Church
Slavonic; I'm not talking about economics -- about how to make lots
and lots of money in the post-Communist world; I'm not talking about
rulers' histories, about dead white Central European males. There are
plenty of academic departments addressing those issues.
I'm talking about writing we Bohunks can be proud to call our own.
How much of it is out there?
Irish people have "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn;" Italians have, like it
or not, the Godfather epic. We have "Out of this Furnace," but how
many, outside of, or even within, our communities have read that book?
Academia does not make it easy on the scholar who wants to do the kind
of work that you describe doing, Ron, the kind of work I dream of doing.
The lowest point in my academic career came several years ago when I
was harassed by a well-placed prof for taking off four work days to
attend my dad's funeral. The harassment was brutal, and resulted in my
sustaining an injury that rendered me occasionally functionally
paralyzed, blind, and unable to stop vomiting.
That went on for years.
I'm still trying to dig myself out of the economic and social hole
caused by that catastrophic illness. The best teaching jobs I can find
are as an adjunct. These are temporary jobs without security. I live
below the poverty line, and I don't know what the future holds.
Something keeps me going, though. That something is the belief I have
in the work that I do, or, at the very least, in my service to that
work, in the best way that I can serve.
Service? I've edited papers for free, hosted scholars for free,
written letters, even marched, while carrying a sign. I've pushed
sales for my Slavic American colleagues' books. I work at this. As
hard as I can.
My proudest effort was contributing to the resurrection of the poetry
of Antony Piotrowski.
But I'm not enough, and you are not enough, and no single one of us is
I've been in academia for a long time. I've learned that, in academia,
work is done, and topics are honored, because of community more often
than because of individuals.
I've watched minorities in academia build important community and
advance their agenda.
Have you ever observed how African American scholars reach out to,
form community with, and support each other?
I've been at parties where an African American scholar will enter a
room, see the one other black person there, cross the room, shake
hands, and say, more or less, "I've got your back, brother. You are
not alone, here."
This kind of community is especially important when the lone African
American is, like me, a first generation college student -- heck -- my
parents were removed from school before grade school graduation, for
my dad, and before high school graduation, for my mom -- from a poor
background. That kind of support is needed in the strange land of
academia for an ethnic minority scholar.
Hispcanic American? Asian American? Gay American?
They support each other. They start departments. They begin journals.
They care about their friends. Their efforts are admirable. More
importantly, they get the job done. They create a future for
themselves and their work.
A working class girl from a poor, immigrant background, I have been
supported, mentored, and encouraged in academia.
People have pointed out jobs to me, and journals for possible
publication to me, and helped me get funding to attend conferences.
For the most part, with a couple of exceptions, those people have not
been, alas, my fellow Slavic American academics.
My supporters have been, largely, though not exclusively, Jewish
Americans, who are often interested in the same region, but from a
different angle. They're the ones who read my work and offer HELPFUL,
PERTINENT comments. They're the ones who write me good letters of
When I've tried to approach Slavic-American scholars, I've been rebuffed.
It's not just me. I see this again and again. There is a kind of
spite, back biting, undercutting.
A desire to see the other guy fail.
This behavior isn't just about individuals. It's about us as a people
in America, and our efforts to get work done.
United we stand, divided we fall.
If anyone here is an academic, and wants to contribute helpful
comments to my work, by all means. contact me. I'm eager to form real
community with fellow Slavic Americans who want to achieve the same
ends as I. My email inbox awaits your valued communication.
But when behavior that looks like what I've seen before takes place, I
have to speak up. That is part of the work to which I am in service.
It's not an easy or a nice part of that work. Frankly, it makes me sad
But, if we don't name that behavior when we see it, and if we don't
work to change it, we're going to be stuck in this no-exit situation
Let's encourage and support each other.