We had the good fortune of connecting with Réka Nagy-Vicsacsán and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Réka, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I was born in Romania into a family of Hungarian origin. My background and upbringing significantly impacted my identity and perception of others. Due to belonging to a minority group I learned to appreciate multiple cultures that have surrounded me. I have also understood the importance of preserving one’s culture and what difficulties one face during the process. Being raised basically in two cultures, I have acquired some knowledge from both that shaped who I am today like being a more acceptive and open minded person, to value innovative ideas, as well as being appreciative of the differences that separate us from others, not just the similarities that connect us.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
As the President of the Hungarian Cultural Association of Phoenix my job is to lead and manage our charity. Our goal is to serve local Hungarians, help them celebrate the culture, preserve the language through educational and cultural events. At the same time we would like to disseminate our culture and heritage, to help others learn about Hungarians for two main reasons. There are many couples and families living in Arizona who are interethnic. There are also many second or third generation American-Hungarians who are interested in the culture and would like to learn more than what their families have shared with them. By spreading more knowledge about our history, customs, and traditions, by helping couples and families understand each other’s cultures we will achieve something called intercultural communication. Intercultural communication is more than just having people of different ethnicity and culture live alongside each other. It is not solely comparing and contrasting cultures. It means interaction. It means a deep understanding and respect for each-other’s cultures, mutual exchange of ideas and cultural norms. This is exactly what we would like to achieve and are passionate about: growing together as a community. A goal that I think sets us apart from other organizations in the Hungarian community. In addition to that it does help that all of us are professionals in fields closely connected to marketing, design, and finance. I have a strong communications background with my PhD in Advertising. At the same time I am specialized in organizational and intercultural communication. Truth to be told though, I have never thought that I will use all that knowledge to start a non-profit. Years ago, as a college student, I imagined myself teaching which I still do to this day as a Communications Instructor at Grand Canyon University. However, I did not expect that my life will change as much, and that I will be living this far from home. It has been seven years since I moved to the U.S. My transition into the American culture was fairly smooth, but not without experiencing culture shock. I faced very similar difficulties to what others face when trying to blend the two (or multiple cultures) in their personal and work life. Thus a few years into living here, befriending other Hungarians, listening to their stories, their positive and negative experiences, I started thinking about ways to help. My friend Emese, who is the VP of HCAP, and I have came up with the idea of the non-profit. And that is how it all started in 2017. We are a fairly new charity, but looking back we have grown so much in the last four years. It was not an easy path to get here and it is still not easy to this day. We are experiencing similar hardships as most other small charities do: like lack of funds or volunteers. However, one of the main things that we have learned from our culture is to be strong, resilient, and perseverant. I will bring up only one name as an example of which by now probably almost everyone has heard of and that is Katalin Karikó. Katalin is of Hungarian descent and she is the scientist behind the Covid-19 vaccines. Her research and efforts did not receive recognition for many years. Many times she lost funding for her research, she did not gain the trust of her peers, she experienced hardships not just in her career, but personal life as well. However, she did not give up. Many Hungarian inventors, sportsman, artists lived and worked with the same principle: proving to the world that a tiny country like Hungary, that not many know of, does breed great talent and very innovative people. We might not be a large organization on the map of Arizona businesses and charities. However, we believe that we can achieve great changes in our community. Changes that effect not solely the Hungarian community, but at the same time everyone in the Valley who in some way is connected to or interested in our culture.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would definitely take my friend to places where they can experience the wonderful nature that surrounds us and the different cultures that we live together with. My go to places in the city are the Sahuaro Ranch Park in Glendale, downtown Phoenix – the state capitol and the Heard Museum, the Japanese Friendship Garden, as well as the Papago Park. After that we might stop by Edelweiss, the German-Hungarian Restaurant or, another favorite of mine, the Los Arbolitos de Cajeme. Then I would also take them to see the Grand Canyon, Sedona, the Montezuma Castle, and the Petrified Forest.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Our organization’s success comes from multiple sources: the hard work of our board members and volunteers, the love and encouragement of our families, as well as our Hungarian community who supports us with staying involved whether that is joining our events, spreading the word about our activity, or helping with donations. Without their effort and support, we would not be here today. I am grateful for each one of them.
Other: Facebook Page of our Hungarian School: https://www.facebook.com/napocskaphx
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