Romany gypsy Joszef Angyal arrived in Toledo for one reason — to learn a lesson on how America deals with discrimination against minority populations.
The 25-year-old Angyal got what he was looking for.
Romany arrived here from Budapest, Hungary through the Great Lakes Consortium for International Training — a collaborative effort of Bowling Green State University, Lourdes University, the University of Toledo, and WSOS Community Action Commission established in 1999.
Angyal was hosted by Hungarian Club Vice President Stave Bartha at his Oregon home and worked alongside economic development specialist Robert Krompak from the East Toledo-based community development corporation, NeighborWorks.
|At left, Steve Bartha, vice president of the Hungarian Club of
Toledo, with Jozsef Angyal of Budapest, Hungary. (Press photo
by Ken Grosjean)
Angyal’s work in Hungary at the Ministry of Human Resources, Department of Social Inclusion, correlates directly to what he was doing here. He is a community builder in Hungary trying to assist a minority population, so he worked in the offices of community builders while here.
“His specific thing that he does is helping to integrate his own people, who are the Romany gypsies, into mainstream society,” Krompak said. “They are very discriminated in Hungary. Their experience is very similar to African-Americans or Hispanics, or even Arab-Americans here in Toledo in that there a lot of people who judge them unfairly and stereotype the whole population, and even attribute things to the population that aren’t true.”
What did Angyal find during his four weeks here? The answer might be surprise some.
“I think here the minorities here have more opportunity to work and to study because in Hungary, the gypsy minority are discriminated against, I think, so they don’t have opportunities because they don’t have a job,” Angyal said. “I think here finding occupation is easier and I was happy when I saw black people, for example, in public office. In Hungary, you can’t if you are a gypsy, but here the black people and other minorities have a job like the majority, so it’s not the same. I think if I go home, we can be more motivated to do what I see here in the U.S. as a good example.”
While here, Angyal visited with the local head of the NAACP, went to an African-American museum in Detroit, visited the African-American Legacy Project in Toledo, and then had similar experiences visiting with people and cultural centers representing the Hispanic, Jewish, and Islamic communities.
“We went to several public meetings in Toledo, and he was really surprised to see that our mayor and our police chief are both Black-Americans and our fire chief is an Hispanic-American, and that everywhere he turned, including our own agency, people in management are often minority people,” Krompak said.
“He said that would be something that he would be quite surprised to see in Hungary. Given the fact that we have a lower minority than majority population, that’s pretty unusual, and he was impressed that the majority of people in Toledo, being white, would vote for Mayor (Mike) Bell.
“I said, ‘Yeah, that’s true and that’s happened once before — we had Mayor (Jack) Ford. Of course, we have President Obama, which is the classic example, but I don’t want you to get the misimpression that everything is A-OK.’
“I think he left us with the overall impression that America is probably the one place in the world where people are working hard at diversity and we’re trying to make the melting pot a reality, but there is still work to do.”
Krompak, whose family is ethnic Hungarian but from the majority Magyar population, admits that he was unaware of the experience of the Romany people. He learned there are new emerging minorities in Eastern Europe, including immigrants from the Middle East and Russia, and he may see that first hand when the GLC program offers him a reciprocating trip.
“I also found it interesting that the government has a Ministry of Inclusion,” Krompak said. “I think that is an interesting concept where the government is working hard to making sure everyone is included, that everyone has an equal opportunity. It sounds a little bit like Civil Rights here in the United States, where we have offices of affirmative action and that kind of thing.”
In Hungary, Angyal was a student at the Romaversitas Foundation, a training and scholarship program, for five years. He graduated as an economist, faculty of finance and accounting from the University of Corvinus, the University of Budapest. At the same time, he graduated in public administration as well. During his studies he worked at several organizations as a trainee.
“Joszef is very unusual in that he comes from a rural village in Hungary of around 2,000 people and in his village it’s exceptional when someone graduates from secondary school,” Krompak said. “He has a brother and a sister and neither one of them have graduated from high school. Joszef is the only high school graduate in his family and he’s the only person in his village that has ever attended and graduated from a university.
“The experience of the Romany people there is that many of them are isolated in these small villages because the majority population rejects them. Of course, more and more of them are showing up because of job opportunities in places like Budapest, and so he’s trying to work with them to ramp up the skills that they need in order to succeed in Hungary’s economy.”
Angyal, who is fluent in English and also speaks German, is making his first trip to the United States. His stay in Toledo is over, and Wednesday he flew to Washington D.C. for conferences. On Nov. 9, Angyal will head back to Hungary.
His last night here he had dinner with Bartha and Lucas County Administrator and former elected public official Peter Ujvagi, who speaks Hungarian. He was surprised to find a Hungarian community, including Hungarian restaurants, in Birmingham and the surrounding area.
“I was surprised some people speak Hungarian, so that was very good and it was a good feeling to see the Hungarian flag and the Christian church. It’s neat you can go far from Hungary and there are Hungarians,” Angyal said.