Interview with Márta Horváth, Recipient of the “Spirit of Liberty” Award

by Márta Horváth & Kinga Bíbor Nagy, translated by Kinga Bíbor Nagy

Tell me a little about your youth!

I grew up in Sopron. As a second-year student, I went to Patrona Hungariae Roman Catholic High School for Girls in Budapest. It was not well known that a Catholic school for girls existed during the years of communism. When I heard about it, I immediately wanted to attend it. The school was excellent, the academic standards were high, but the dormitory experience was like a prison. I was a free soul, even then, and had my own ideas. It was difficult for me to face their rigid way of thinking on a daily basis. Once, I was disciplined because I took off my torn stockings, which in the eyes of the nurses was considered immoral nudity. If my parents had lived in the Capitol and I could have gone home to the warm family atmosphere after school, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but I didn’t take the cold atmosphere of the dormitory well. I am grateful for the school, I received a lot of value there, but only my friends remained as sweet memories from the dormitory. I lasted only two years there, then I went back to Sopron. I had another reason for moving home and changing school – I thought that they would certainly not admit me to university from the Catholic school. I was wrong about that; the admission committee also knew that this girls’ high school was excellent. In the end, I didn’t manage to get into a higher education institution because the director of my high school in Sopron was a wild communist and, as it turned out afterwards, didn’t forward my high school diploma, saying that he wouldn’t send a high school diploma with the “seal of the Virgin Mary” to the admission committee. We didn’t know about this. We just waited in good faith for the entrance exam and only started investigating what could have happened at the end of the summer. At that time, the communists were of the mindset of, “we will show her and send her to work in a factory”. I, on the other hand, decided not to let it happen and at the last minute applied for dietitian nurse training in Budapest. It was a very intensive program which also took place in summer. We completed the training in two years, which optimally should have been much longer, but at that time the institution was still operating on an experimental basis. The school now belongs to Semmelweis University.

How did you end up in America?

I married my husband in 1965. He was sponsored by relatives to come to the USA as a refugee in 1956. His father’s side originally immigrated to America when his grandfather came to work at the Studebaker carriage factory as a blacksmith at the turn of the 20th century. He brought one of his daughters with him, who got married here, and this is how the American branch of the Horváth family was formed in the state of Indiana. My children’s father visited home 10 years after the revolution, when the Kádár government granted amnesty to those who defected in 1956. At the encouragement of his siblings, Alex proposed to me and we got married in Hungary. I arrived in America, in Indiana on January 31, 1966, and we came to Seattle on July 4, 1966, Independence Day. I have always attached great importance to this date. I will never forget driving into town over the I-90 bridge and Lake Washington. Our first child was born in the same year. We can say that it was a very eventful year for me. Back then we didn’t know anyone here, we didn’t have a health visitor, my only help was a book “How to take care of a baby”, which was sent by my mom. Later, an American mother suggested that we contact the Public Health Nurse institution. They sent me a health visitor who was an angel! I didn’t even speak English then. This lovely young lady visited me weekly, then monthly, then every few months and gave me advice. I am very grateful to her for her help and kindness at that time. My husband was brought to Seattle by Boeing and there someone from HR gave him the name and address of another Hungarian employee. That’s how we met our first Hungarian friends in Seattle.

Did you feel homesick at the beginning?

In the first two or three years, I was very homesick because I had to get used to this rainy, gray climate. Even though I was very happy to be here, I missed my family, and I couldn’t show our newborn baby to my parents. I missed not having a friend with whom I could honestly share my problems. The director of the Catholic school, who was a priest, kept my spirit up, I can thank him a lot. He was a very good man. It is said that God loves us unconditionally, he radiated this pure love.

My homesickness finally passed when we bought our current home, where I still live. When I first saw this house, it hit me in the same way as when I first laid eyes on Seattle. These are some of the special moments of my life.

You arrived in America in 1966 and in 1983 Hírek began to materialize, followed by the association. What happened in the meantime?

Until then, the idea lived and matured in me. I especially felt that its fruition was increasingly important when my children started to grow up and we did not have the financial means to travel to Hungary every year so that they could meet their grandmother and relatives. I felt that they were isolated and that when they look around they see that only their parents speak Hungarian. We sometimes got together with other Hungarian families, but not all of them had children. I wanted a community for them where they could see that not only their parents are Hungarians.

Then when Sue Isely and I started organizing, many people came to help. All you need is ringleader and then the others will follow you! I asked God several times, “Why me?” I felt that there were Hungarians who were more talented, more educated, better known and more capable than me. Indeed there were, but they probably were not ringleaders! I wanted to create a cultural and social community where there was no conflict and no politics, because politics divide people. I wanted to establish a community that holds together.

Tell us a little about the beginning of the association!

In the beginning, when I met Hungarians, I wrote down their names and contact information, that is how I collected the list of Hungarians living in the area.

The first Hírek was published in September 1983 and we edited it together with Sue Isely, who was interested in Hungarian folk dance and wanted to see a revival of interest in Hungarian folk dance, both in terms of participants and audience. We were so determined that we printed and mailed the first issues on our own expense. Domonkos Pista was one of the first sponsors. After the first issues were published, many people asked if there was an organization behind it. This also confirmed me the need for a Hungarian organization. I didn’t want to accept the popular belief that Hungarians can only argue with each other. I wanted to prove that we don’t fight more than other nations. Sue and I were able to work together perfectly: I had the vision of the association and Sue knew how to implement it, she knew the American laws.

In the 1980s, many Hungarian refugees arrived and, thanks to the International Rescue Committee, many of those Hungarian refugees settled in Seattle. The refugee organization also inquired whether there was a local Hungarian association. This has once again confirmed my belief that there is a real need for representation of interest. In the August and September 1985 issues of Hírek, we published the list of Hungarians who came to Seattle in the previous two years, with the aim that if anyone from the community can offer them a job, reach out to them!

We asked the Ethnic Heritage Council for help in establishing the association. Bud Bard was its president at the time, and he suggested that we should convene a Steering Committee to assess whether there is a real need to establish the association. The first meeting of the committee was held in my dining room. When selecting the members, I tried to represent each group: such as immigrants of the 40s, the 56s, those who arrived in the 80s, first and second generations and folk dancers. By then, my list of Hungarian names had swelled up quite a bit and we merged mine with other people’s lists. Based on this, we divided among ourselves who should call whom. We investigated whether they would be supportive of the establishment of a local Hungarian organization. The evaluation of the answers showed that the creation of the Hungarian association did indeed have a right of existence.

We also asked for help from other organizations for the foundation, we contacted the Austrian Club of Washington and the Okinawa Club of Washington. I was constantly watching from who and what we could learn, I was constantly gathering information.

I did not want to create a so-called Hungarian Club, I definitely wanted to create a non-profit organization with an unquestionable cost accounting, where, in addition to Hungarians, non-Hungarian spouses, friends and those interested in Hungarian culture could be represented and given a place. We had to meet a lot of requirements to become a non-profit association. We had to create our own bylaws and the Ethnic Heritage Council also came to our aid in this. Imre Benyák from our Founding Committee worked a lot on our rules. Finally, we had to submit the completed foundation documentation in Olympia.

At that time, the Ethnic Heritage Council organized an event called “EthnicFest”. Many nations presented their culture at this festival, but unfortunately the Hungarians did not; which bothered me a lot. The Museum of History and Industry also held an international Christmas event every year. Each nation put up a Christmas tree and put on a show at the weekends. It hurt me that Hungarian culture did not appear here either. That’s why in Hírek, we asked the readers if anyone who has some ‘szaloncukor’, could contribute them to the establishment of a Hungarian Christmas tree. Many people responded to this request and donated a few of their preserved ‘szaloncukor’. Several people helped to decorate the Christmas tree. My idea was to put dolls in Hungarian national costume under the tree. The collaboration was so successful that the Hungarian tree won the most beautiful tree prize that year, and it was shown on television. Finally, we also became recurring participants at the EthnicFest and winning best booth prize several years in a row.

What successes are you most proud of in relation to the association?

A lot, but mainly that the association survived and there was always someone to take the torch and carry it on.

In the beginning, I felt great gratitude and thanks that more and more people joined the association. The first issue of Hírek was published in 1983 in 100 copies. By the year of my presidency (1985-86), our address list grew to 500! We promised that the first hundred members would be considered as charter members and that once a Hungarian house was established, their names will be written on the wall. This has not yet come true, maybe in the future.

The other thing I am proud of is that my children were able to have the Hungarian community I dreamed of, with a Hungarian school and a Hungarian folkdance group. From the beginning, all three of my children danced and for many years they entertained the Hungarian community with their dance. For a while, they were the only Hungarians in the dance group, then gradually others joined. I don’t consider myself a folk dancer, but I also got involved to show example to others.

The formation of the Hungarian community also launched the TiTi Camp, which was originally the idea of the folk dancer, Linda Teslik, and later Sue Isely and her family took over the organization. I also invited Sándor Timár and Böske from the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble to America twice and organized a teaching tour for them. Folk dance and choreography workshops were held in several cities on the West Coast.

We also organized Hungarian Masses for the Hungarian Catholic congregation. Initially I called a priest, Father Ugrin from Vancouver, who often traveled to us in the snow until his retirement. Later on, we also organized presbyterian worships at the initiative of Kati Vitéz.

To celebrate the ten-year anniversary, we published a book. Through many stories and photographs, this presented the formation of the association and all those who played a key role in the life of the organization. All in all, it took almost a year to compile the book. I was the editor-in-chief, but there was also a whole committee and support team behind me, within which everything had its own responsibility. Without them, the book would not have been completed. I especially must mention the names of Lucy Fűrész, Sue and Mario Isely, Katalin Pearman, Márta Kosály, Ilona Szablya, János Szablya Jr, Kathy Lester, and Judith Connor. The idea of the book came from the then president, Pál Juhász, but he only planed to create a brochure of a few pages, meanwhile I had the vision of a complete and detailed book. Pál Juhász designed a striking cover for our book and also wrote a very nice foreword. (“First of all, thanks and recognition go to Márta Horváth Boros, who not only organized the creation of the book, but the result of her enthusiastic work was that first the Hungarian newspaper and then the Hungarian Association. She lit the first small fire in the winter of the Hungarian spirit here.”)

We accomplished so much in the first few years! Looking back, I don’t even understand how I had the energy and time for all. Sue and I just didn’t sleep. At that time, I worked as a window dresser and had to climb high ladders in the department store. Once, when I didn’t sleep all night and the next day I was up on the ladder, I decided that I should change job before I fell off the ladder from exhaustion. My priority was clear, I felt that I couldn’t stop doing the Hírek, I should rather stop climbing ladders, so I switched to the furniture department as a salesperson.

It seems to me that even in your private life you have organized everything around the community.

Yes, that was the center. I would like to offer this award to my children, i.e. maybe they would have been happier if their mother had cared more about them than the Hungarian community, but at least now here is the tangible result of my work, something they can be proud of.

We also had plenty of family programs related to the organization, for example, when we sent out the Hírek, we had to envelope and the children sticked the stamps on them. Or when the room had to be decorated for the events, my husband and the children always helped.

Did your husband support you in your fellowship work?

Yes, only he didn’t consider folk dance to be important. He said that you couldn’t make a living from it, and that the children wouldn’t benefit from it. He was not right as our son, Tibor, danced in Hungary for two years in the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble, while also studying Hungarian at the Balassa Institute, so that he could pass the required foreign language exam at the Henry Jackson International Studies faculty of the University of Washington. Folk dancing gave all three of my children a lifelong hobby.

Can we say that the association is your fourth child?

Yes exactly. I was there at its birth and I’m still here. Sometimes I suggest things based on my previous experiences, but only from the background.

At today’s (September 23, 2022 – Ed.) Hungarian Mass, there was a quote that I marked for myself because I thought it was important. ‘ For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Lk 18, 14) We must always remind ourselves of this.

Finally, let me ask you what you like to spend your time doing these days?

Primarily with my grandchildren, my family and my friends. Photography has become my hobby since I was 14 years old, and I spend a lot of time with it. Then I also like gardening, although I am not a gardener, but in the garden I am always filled with gratitude that life and God have brought me to such a beautiful place, and where I can look up at my huge pine trees which remind me to the forests of Sopron.

The first issue of Hírek in September 1983

List of Hungarians who arrived in Seattle in 1983/84 in the August 1985 issue of Hírek

Márta Boros Horváth – 2022 Spirit of Liberty Award

Established in 1986 and given to a naturalized citizen who has made a significant contribution to his or her ethnic community and ethnic heritage, as well as to the community at large.

Marta Boros Horvath was born in Sopron, Hungary and arrived in Seattle on the Fourth of July in 1966. Her immigration to the
United States was a latter result of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. She brought tremendous creativity and energy to Seattle, determined to preserve the Hungarian culture for fellow émigrés and those with Hungarian ancestry, as well as to invite the community at large to experience the rich Hungarian culture.

In 1983, she met Sue Isely, an American folk dancer focused on Hungarian traditions. They began publishing Hirek, a bilingual newsletter to connect people of Hungarian heritage and those interested in Hungarian culture. By the next year, support had grown enough for the founding of the Hungarian American Association of Washington State. Marta and her committee consulted with Bud Bard, founding president of the Ethnic Heritage Council (EHC), who sent Fred Takeyesu of the Okinawa Club of Washington and Inge Waltz of the Austrian Club of Washington to advise on creating by-laws. This outreach to non-Hungarian communities and the fact that Marta is considered HAAW’s “Photographer in Chief” exemplify two goals of the Ethnic Heritage Council mission: to be inclusive and help ethnic communities document their local histories for a more complete record
of the people of Washington State. Marta was elected founding president in 1985, keen on forming and strengthening a cohesive community without conflicts and divisions.

She was instrumental in establishing the Hungarian Language School and the dance groups Betyárok and Kisbetyárok, now Forgatós, that flourish to this day. Her three children were members of these groups, with one of her sons becoming a professional folk dancer in Hungary and now serving as director of the HAAW dance group. Marta also has taught Hungarian language classes to adults for several years.

In the 1980s HAAW participated in EHC’s “EthnicFest” at Northgate, winning best booth prize several years in a row. They also participated in the very popular annual international Christmas programs at the Museum of History & Industry. Marta organized two west coast teaching tours for Sándor and Böske Timár of the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble. These were sessions in various cities teaching dance and choreography to Hungarian and non-Hungarian groups.

Marta has supported local Hungarian religious communities, both Catholic and Reformed, organizing gatherings for them to worship in their own language. She worked until recently as a Hungarian medical and court interpreter for immigrants and has hosted young Hungarians for the Hungarian government’s Kőrösi Csoma Program that sends young adults to diaspora communities to help preserve Hungarian culture. Marta became the Northwest representative of the World Club of Hungarians, which annually organized a meeting in Budapest of Hungarians from all over the world. She has served on the board of
Seattle–Pécs Sister City Association (SPSCA). Among its activities SPSCA brings two students from Hungary annually so they can experience daily life, our form of government and meet with specialists in their fields of interest.

Marta emphasizes that her work and dream couldn’t have materialized without the support of many who shared her belief and goal of making Hungarian culture familiar and available to her countrymen and to the larger community of our city and state.

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