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Maryam Adel

Dr. Timothy Moran

HON 1000

12 October 2017

In Pursuit of Happiness: A Hungarian Woman and Her Familys Life in Detroit

It was a breezy Sunday afternoon in Detroit. Rozsa (Rozsi) Babos, a petite woman with

brown hair held loosely in a bun, sat quietly at home. She sewed her young daughter an ethnic

Hungarian dress. Her small hands grasped the threaded needle, deftly guiding it through the

fabric. On the outside, Rozsi appeared as calm and tranquil as the Detroit River. However, her

thoughts told a differently story. She pensively looked out her homes window and reflected on

the past ten years she and her family had resided in Detroits Delray neighborhood.

At first, she remembered the time she, her husband Erik, her son Vince, and her daughter

Aliz arrived to the United States in 1918. They had left Austria-Hungary with the hope of

acquiring more wealth by working in the United States but had planned to come back after they

had reached their goal1. It felt like just yesterday she had stepped foot into Detroit. Erik had

looked at her with apprehension, afraid of the unknown. In their hometown, Rozsis family was

part of the intelligentsia, or upper class. Erik worked as a university professor. However, when

they arrived to the United States, he was not able to continue being a professor and, instead,

worked in unskilled labor with lower class Hungarian immigrants. They had heard of other

members of the intelligentsia who had been able to keep pursuing their career and had an easier

time assimilating into American society. However, this was not the case for Rozsis family. Erik

1 Vrdy, Steven Bla, and Thomas Szendrey. "Hungarian Americans." Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs,

3rd ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2014, pp. 373-386. Gale Virtual Reference Library,
go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=lom_waynesu&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3273300090&asid=b5acb99d40e2263
d515f4b9da4e06fe7.
had a hard time relating to lower-class Hungarians because of his upper-class status at home. He

barely made any Hungarian connections and started befriending those of different nationalities,

especially Americans. Nevertheless, his professorial background made him more proficient at

speaking English than the average immigrant, and it helped that he could easily blend in with

white Americans appearance-wise. This could not change the fact that he felt ashamed about

contacting his friends back home, all because his fear of what they might think of his significant

drop in social class2. It pained Rozsi to see Erik feeling estranged from his own people.

The racism and prejudice they saw every day did not help their current situation. Those

who had anti-immigrant sentiments always made obvious distinctions between Eastern and

Western Europeans, and there was a push for immigration restrictions such as the immigration

laws of 1921 and 19243. In addition, Rozsi and Erik saw ads everywhere encouraging them to

learn English4. One time, Rozsi and her family had decided to go to see a Hungarian movie at

their local movie theatre5. However, a movie was also playing regarding working in Henry

Fords factories. It showed an immigrant being rejected from working there because they did not

speak English. The movie was shown to urge immigrants to learn English and better assimilate in

2 Beynon, Erdmann Doane. Social Mobility and Social Distance Among Hungarian Immigrants in Detroit. American Journal of Sociology,

vol. 41, no. 4, 1936, pp. 423434. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2768953.

3 Jaret, Charles. Troubled by Newcomers: Anti-Immigrant Attitudes and Action during Two Eras of Mass Immigration to the United

States. Journal of American Ethnic History, vol. 18, no. 3, 1999, pp. 939. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27502448.

4 "U. S. Makes Poster Appeal to Aliens." Detroit Free Press (1858-1922), Oct 20, 1915, pp. 1, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Detroit Free

Press (1831-1922), http://search.proquest.com.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/docview/565948951?accountid=14925.

5 Two Women Posing with Film Poster, Delray Theatre on Jefferson Avenue. 1939. Detroit Public Library, Detroit. Detroit Public Library

Digital Collections, https://digitalcollections.detroitpubliclibrary.org/islandora/object/islandora%3A162445. Web. Accessed 04

October 2017.
order to enjoy the luxuries of working in a Ford factory. This did not affect Erik as much as it

affected Rozsi; seeing all those advertisements and movies made her feel incompetent because

she only knew basic English. She never expected to see and experience such a great amount of

prejudice in a diverse city like Detroit6.

Nevertheless, while Erik had less difficulty learning English, he still could not take part

in Henry Fords $5 a day plan. This was because Rozsi was working in a clothing shop, and Ford

did not accept employees who had let their wives work outside of home. Unlike immigrants of

other nationalities, Hungarians encouraged women to work or get an education. That is why Aliz

was enrolled in a school nearby, just like Vince. Both Rozsi and Erik encouraged Aliz to enroll

in a business school to learn typing or stenography in order to become a clerk. Despite the fact

that wages for a clerk were less than that of an unskilled laborer, they believed that the prestige

that came with the job made up for its low wage7. Even then, Rozsi had noticed that Aliz was not

taught the same things as Vince. Women at the time were encouraged to go to school for social

and vocational purposes, not academic or intellectual8. Sometimes, Aliz longed to be able to

learn the same things as her brother.

Originally, Rozsi and Erik planned on coming back to Austria-Hungary. They had only

come to the United States for wealth. However, they found it increasingly difficult to come back.

Aliz and Vince were quickly getting used to their environment in school and making new

6 Babson, Steven, et al. Working Detroit. Adama Books, 1984.

7 Babson, Steven, et al. Working Detroit. Adama Books, 1984.

8 Seller, Maxine. The Education of The Immigrant Woman: 1900-1935. Journal of Urban History, vol 4, issue 3, 1978, pp 307-350.
American friends9. Vince is already enrolled in college and pursuing a degree in law10.

Additionally, despite having lived almost eight years in the United States, Erik and Rozsi had

barely earned the amount of wealth they anticipated11.

However, Rozsi remembered hearing that the Great War had no mercy on Austria-

Hungary, breaking the empire up and leaving it in shambles. Sure, I miss my home thought

Rozsi, but if we stayed, we would have to be relocated to new states like Yugoslavia and

Czechoslovakia12. Every day, whenever she longed for her home, she would try to convince

herself that there was nothing left to go back to, and to only look into the future. Living in the

past was not going to do her any good. Besides, the family is taking part of something much

greater now- the modernization of Detroit.

While Rozsi was still lost in her thoughts, someone began knocking the door. She heard a

womans sweet voice chirp Oh Rozsi! It is me, Juli. At first, she jumped at the sound.

However, as soon as she recognized the voice, she set the dress down, and got up from her

comfortable seat. Rozsi opened the door to reveal her Hungarian neighbor Juli, with a baby boy

straddled on her back and a warm smile drawn upon her tired face13. Juli and Rozsi are both in

9 Vrdy, Steven Bla, and Thomas Szendrey. "Hungarian Americans." Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs,
3rd ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2014, pp. 373-386. Gale Virtual Reference Library,
go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=lom_waynesu&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3273300090&asid=b5acb99d40e2263
d515f4b9da4e06fe7.
10 Beynon, Erdmann Doane. Social Mobility and Social Distance Among Hungarian Immigrants in Detroit. American Journal of Sociology,

vol. 41, no. 4, 1936, pp. 423434. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2768953.

11 Vrdy, Steven Bla, and Thomas Szendrey. "Hungarian Americans." Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs,
3rd ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2014, pp. 373-386. Gale Virtual Reference Library,
go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=lom_waynesu&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3273300090&asid=b5acb99d40e2263
d515f4b9da4e06fe7.
12 Vrdy, Steven Bla, and Thomas Szendrey. "Hungarian Americans." Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs,
3rd ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2014, pp. 373-386. Gale Virtual Reference Library,
go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=lom_waynesu&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3273300090&asid=b5acb99d40e2263
d515f4b9da4e06fe7.
13 The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. "Hungarian

mother and child" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1860 - 1920. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-
b53c-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.
their local Hungarian catholic churchs social club. How are you Roz? Want to go to the

butcher shop with me? I need to purchase some meat for the goulash14 I will be making tonight.

Rozsi smiled at her friend. At least she had a friend she could converse with. At work in the

clothing factory, Rozsi did not make many friends, as she was still learning how to speak

English.

As Rozsi and Juli walked to the butchers shop, Rozsi further reflected on her journey.

Coming to the United States was no easy feat, and she did not expect to stay there for long. But

as she passed store fronts in Delray, she felt a sense of hope. It may take years for her to fully

assimilate, but she knew that every day that passed meant she was a day closer to finally feeling

like she is where she was meant to be.

14 Vrdy, Steven Bla, and Thomas Szendrey. "Hungarian Americans." Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs,
3rd ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2014, pp. 373-386. Gale Virtual Reference Library,
go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=lom_waynesu&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3273300090&asid=b5acb99d40e2263
d515f4b9da4e06fe7.
Work Cited

Babson, Steven, et al. Working Detroit. Adama Books, 1984.

Beynon, Erdmann Doane. Social Mobility and Social Distance Among Hungarian Immigrants

in Detroit. American Journal of Sociology, vol. 41, no. 4, 1936, pp. 423434. JSTOR,

JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2768953.

Jaret, Charles. Troubled by Newcomers: Anti-Immigrant Attitudes and Action during Two Eras

of Mass Immigration to the United States. Journal of American Ethnic History, vol. 18,

no. 3, 1999, pp. 939. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27502448.

Seller, Maxine. The Education of The Immigrant Woman: 1900-1935. Journal of Urban

History, vol 4, issue 3, 1978, pp 307-350.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography

Collection, The New York Public Library. "Hungarian mother and child" The New York

Public Library Digital Collections. 1860 - 1920.

http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-b53c-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.

Two Women Posing with Film Poster, Delray Theatre on Jefferson Avenue. 1939. Detroit Public

Library, Detroit. Detroit Public Library Digital Collections,

https://digitalcollections.detroitpubliclibrary.org/islandora/object/islandora%3A162445.

Web. Accessed 04 October 2017.

"U. S. Makes Poster Appeal to Aliens." Detroit Free Press (1858-1922), Oct 20, 1915, pp. 1,

ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Detroit Free Press (1831-1922),

http://search.proquest.com.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/docview/565948951?accountid=14925.
Vrdy, Steven Bla, and Thomas Szendrey. "Hungarian Americans." Gale Encyclopedia of

Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs, 3rd ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2014, pp. 373-386.

Gale Virtual Reference Library,

go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=lom_waynesu&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%

7CCX3273300090&asid=b5acb99d40e2263d515f4b9da4e06fe7.