Tonight: McKees Rocks native Jerry Jumba celebrates Slovak culture at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library
February 4, 2013 8:30 PM
Photo provided by Christie Petty
Jerry Jumba plays a mean accordion, too.
Dan Majors The Pittsburgh Press
Co by sme mali robit' dnes vecer?
If that sentence made sense to you, then it's likely that you're already aware that the Western Pennsylvania Slovak Cultural Association (wpsca.org) is presenting an evening of Slovak folk songs at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library.
If, on the other hand, the sentence baffled you -- well, now you know where you can explore its meaning.
Tonight's event, titled "A bilingual presentation -- Slovak folk songs with singing English translations," is the latest in the association's 15-year series of events aimed at celebrating and invigorating Slovak culture here in Pittsburgh.
The featured speaker is McKees Rocks native Jerry Jumba, 61, a musician, composer, music teacher and producer of numerous bilingual folk song collections.
Did I mention that he plays the accordion?
Mr. Jumba will be discussing the language and music of the Slovak people from 7 to 9 p.m. in the library's Meeting Room B.
"I want people to get into the experience of the Slovak community, especially the folk song culture," Mr. Jumba told Post-Gazette writer Margaret Smykla. "Every folk song culture affirms the life values that lift people up in the art of songs, and it makes people bond in the joy of sharing those songs."
The Slovak Heritage Series, organized by Joe and Albina Senko of Mt. Lebanon, presents programs once a month -- except during the summer -- that focus on traditions and language that the members hope to keep alive in Pittsburgh.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, metropolitan Pittsburgh is home to more than 100,000 people of Slovak heritage, making it the city with the largest population of people of Slovak heritage outside of Slovakia.
"Back in the days, they left a country that was in political turmoil and heavy unemployment," said Mr. Senko, 77, who founded the association and serves as its director. "They came to the Pittsburgh area for jobs making steel and in mining. They settled in neighborhoods where people spoke their language and knew their customs."
But the onset of World War II spurred a flush of patriotism -- and a desire to fit in -- prompting many immigrants to change names and abandon old-world customs.
"They got away from it because they wanted to be American," Mr. Senko said. "Now it's reversed itself. Genealogy is a big, big topic, and everybody wants to know their roots. It's kind of come full circle. People come to our programs and stay in touch.
"A lot of the people who attend are kind of reminiscing. They grew up in a Slovak family. Maybe their grandparents spoke the language and they understood it, but now they've forgotten it. And the customs. Maybe they think, 'My grandparents used to talk about this' or maybe 'My grandparents used to cook this.' So we have language classes and Slovak cooking classes."
The challenge, he said, is connecting with the newer generations.
"But we're putting younger people on the board, and we're on Facebook and the Internet," Mr. Senko said. "We're trying to overcome that."
Cyndee Landrum, assistant director at the library, said events such as the one tonight are part of a library's role in a community.
"They're really important because a library's role is to educate and inform, and that includes cultural education," she said. "We live in a very diverse world, and one of best ways to learn as much as possible is programs like this."
The event at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library, 16 Castle Shannon Blvd., is free and open to the public. Mr. Senko said they usually see a turnout of a couple dozen, but they're hoping for more people tonight.
"I've gotten calls from New Jersey and Ohio," he said. "I don't know if they're coming, but they asked for directions."
Oh, and the sentence at the start of this article? It says: "What should we do tonight?"
If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456.