I come from a Hungarian and French-Canadian heritage. My mom’s Hungarian parents immigrated around the end of the Second World War with the hopes of creating a better life. With them, they brought some of their traditions: they found a Hungarian delicatessen nearby, decorated their house with special traditional pieces and meticulously cooked their native dishes, even speaking Hungarian at home. However, as time went on, I lost my grandmother, and with it I lost my Hungarian roots. Because my mom had spent her entire life in Canada, she didn’t have the same connection to “the home country” as her parents did; it was never something that could be passed onto my brother and me. So, when we lost our grandmother, we lost more than just the matriarch of the family. We lost our cultural heritage as well.
Desperately, I tried to cling to whatever memories I had of her preparing traditional dishes like töltött káposzta, hurka and kolbasz, feigning to be more Hungarian than I actually was. I felt as though I had become disconnected with half a portion of myself, like it had been loved and lost. I still get excited when I see the token Hungarian restaurants on main streets in the GTA, because it reminds me of my childhood, of my grandma. As I walk into these little treasure troves, there is a weird sense of nostalgia, a sense of comfort in the traditional decor, a smell that tickles my nose, and every time my heart falls into my stomach, with feelings of what could’ve been.
This richness in cultural custom and tradition is something that the descendants of immigrant families can easily take for granted. Without the passing on of a heritage, it simply disappears into thin air. It’s not that I chose to give up my culture so much as it wasn’t handed down to me. When we lose this critical connection, this sole point of entry, culture becomes a mere thing that we are, rather than a lived experience. It is this experience that me and so many people my age yearn for. And now, as the goulash touches my tongue, I am taken back to when it was served upon the circular table in my grandma’s kitchen, with doilies and festive embroidered tablecloths.
But, Canada is a country of immigrants where we all can coexist in a cultural mosaic. If you have lost your roots, seek and you shall find. If you are lucky enough to still have living grandparents, connect with them, ask them to teach you your family’s recipes, to tell you their special stories, ask them why they came to Canada. Enjoy them for as long as you can. Learn their lived experience, with the hopes that you may carry it forward and pass it on to your children. The culture from which you came has had more of an influence on you than you know: it is a part of the fibers of who you are. Savor the smells, sights and sounds. Take pride in your heritage and reassurance in your grandparents’ decision to come here. It was a decision made for you and the generations that will follow.
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