The Family: Raised by a Refugee

by Levi,

In 1989, there were around 20,000 registered Romanian refugees in Hungary, who had fled their home country because of the Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. My mother was one of these individuals. She escaped at night in the pouring rain when she was 18 years old, and was determined to meet up with her mother, who was already in Hungary. However, for their protection, she did not inform either of her divorced parents (one of whom was still living in Romania) of her plan until it was already executed, and she arrived on my grandmother’s doorstep. When comparing her 18 year­old self to my present one, I am often taken aback at the strength she possessed, and how privileged I am to have been raised by her.

While my mother harbors no resentment, her mother’s departure to Hungary without her shaped their relationship and in turn, shaped ours. Despite the complex situation with her parents, family was my mother’s top priority. She made sure that it was the central focus of our European ­American household, which was challenging in a country where work and wealth tend to overshadow family. Her experience as a refugee caused her to never accept the idea that a woman was lesser or incapable. However, Romanian parenting was noticeably gendered. Mothers were expected to stay home for the first seven years of their child’s life. When a child was misbehaving or ornery, it was said that, “the child didn’t have their seven years.” My mother applied this concept to a more progressive framework, and stayed with me until I was four, then found work within walking distance of our home. I am extremely grateful for my mother’s involvement in my life, although her assumed obligations as a Romanian mother could be viewed from various perspectives. A Feminist Anthropologist would examine the gendered cultural expectations, and the androcentrism deeply rooted within generations of Romanian culture. A mother’s workplace was likely to keep her position for her during these seven years, however a father was never expected to take leave from work to raise his child. These expectations would support the feminist anthropologist’s view that everything is gendered. A contemporary feminist anthropologist would also look into the familial hierarchies and opportunity inequalities that existed for women in the workplace during Romania at this time, and in present day. They would also look at the dualities of my mother’s fierce independance as a refugee, and her obligations as a woman.

Structural functionalist E.E. Evans Pritchard would look at the role of mother in Romanian society as a social structure that is dynamic, for instance the adaptations my mother made after having a child with an American. Structural functionalists would be interested not in the universal role of mother, but instead the specificities that pertained to Romanian motherhood during my grandmother’s and mother’s eras. They would not assess cultural norms, but rather societal ones, and the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, as well as other members of the household.

1­09­19/news/mn­112_1_romanians, accessed 7 October 2015.

2, accessed 8 October 2015.

3 Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, 7 October

4 Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, 7 October

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12 Responses to The Family: Raised by a Refugee

  1. Greta Schock (Recitation #11) says:

    First of all, I would like to say that you mother’s story is absolutely incredible. The courage she must have had at the time to flee Hungary and become a refugee is something that makes a person exceptional, and I would like to let you know that she is an inspiration.

    That being said, your essay resonates with me due to your and your mother’s personal experience in Feminist Anthropology, and how these themes have adapted with a balance. Despite gendered roles of Romanian women, the idea of going on to define your own role of society with the origins of tradition is something I think is present in societies with a lot of refugees. And of course, the role of a mother (or mother like figure) is dynamic in most cultures, but it seems that your mother made the best of what she has in a number of anthropological perspectives.

  2. Anne Poirot says:

    How do you think your role as a mother will both reflect and reject certain aspects of your own upbringing? This post is incredibly insightful and empowering–it is amazing what individuals can accomplish (and at a much younger age than we ever imagine). What might Levi-Strauss say about the universal role of “mother”? I think he might agree that not all mothers establish the same relationship with their children across cultures, but I think he might also be interested in exploring the degree of emphasis on family and family connectedness through the role of “mother” across societies. Thank you for writing such an interesting piece!

  3. Laura Hiserodt says:

    Very fascinating essay- your mother must have some crazy stories from her time as a refugee. I like how you compare the parenting styles of a Romanian mother to the parenting styles your mother used after having both the Romanian and American influence. you unpacked your theories very well and in an easy to understand manner, which improved the credibility of your claims because you were able to back them up so cohesively. overall, a very good essay.

  4. Morgan Barker says:

    I think that this was a great topic to tie family and anthropology together. The way you tie in the feminist anthropology with your mother as a way to comment on the structure of American and Romanian workplaces. The use of structural functionalism is very fascinating in the way that you explained mother-daughter relationships. Overall, your essay was a great read and your applications of the theories were relevant and interesting.

  5. Elizabeth Williamson says:

    Thank you for sharing your family’s story. I thought you did a great job of exploring the mothers role using the feminist theory and structural functionalism. Just reading your blog I couldn’t help but think about what Margaret Meed and Ruth Benedict would say. We talked in lecture that patterns create particular culture and particular people. I believe if you chose to, it would be interesting to look at you grandmother’s generation and mother’s generation and analyze the changing culture and how they changed and passed that change onto your generation.

  6. Elise Tomasian says:

    Your mother was such a strong young women! I completely understand why you were so taken aback by her courage. My great grandmother was a refugee from the Armenian genocide in 1915 and I cannot even comprehend the courage she must have had. She and her family of eleven were forced out of their homes by Turkish troops and forced to march until death. She watched her whole family die along the way. She managed to escape to Greece and then to America to find her father, who had let many years before with the hopes of bringing his whole family over to join him. The war started before he ever got that chance. I really liked your feminist anthropology perspective of how your mother broke with traditional norms. My great grandmother did the same! After her father and she were reunited, he was so happy to have at least a single surviving member of his family that he allowed her immense freedom in choosing a husband when the time came. Granted, it was due to her father’s good graces my grandmother was allowed to actually choose her husband, but nonetheless she did something unheard of in Armenian culture at the time in choosing her own spouse.

  7. Anna Bockhaus says:

    The way you applied such a personal topic to anthropological theories was incredible. I liked how you took an experience, most likely, rooted deep in yours and your mother’s identities and applied it to anthropological thought. That being said, your essay was very well written and showed your ability to think like an anthropologist. Well done!

  8. Cayleb Langhals says:

    While reading this story of your mother’s escape from Romania, I could not help but wonder if the relationship between your mother and your grandmother was the defining point that a feminist anthropologist would use for that argument. You stated very early on in the essay that your mother and your grandmother’s relationship shaped yours. From an anthropological standpoint, do you think that this relationship, along with the pressures of the Romanian culture of the “stay at home mother” made her more resilient to the gender roles that were pushed on her? Or was it the movement from Romania to Hungary as a refugee that gave her the state of mind that made rebelling against traditional ideals more likely?

  9. Alexis Bush says:

    I really enjoyed this essay and I loved the personal story of your mother. This personal tie made the essay extremely interesting and all of the information in the introduction made me understand your ties to the theories very well. I really liked your use of feminist anthropology as you compared the allowed 7 year absence for a women after having a child as compared to the man’s, having no time off after having a child. I think that you could also tie in practice theory to this example to add more insight. Great job, this was an extremely interesting and well written essay!

  10. Hayley Bibbiani says:

    Wow! Really interesting story, and how courageous your mother is. Its curious to wonder how this experience might effect you and the raising of your children (if you choose so) since you said it had different effects on your mother and grandmother’s relationship, as well as you and your mother. This essay was really well written and its clear to see that you were very invested in it. The only thing I can say to make it better is to possibly shorten the anecdotal part and focus more on the connection to the theory because the feminist theory connection was so short. For your essay I wish we could have gone over 500 words! Well done.

  11. Emma Schilling says:

    I really like how you wrote your essay based on a very real, personal experience. Your mother sounds like an incredible woman with amazing courage! I enjoyed learning about the Romanian “norms” for mothers compared to those of Americans and how your mother was influenced by them both. You’re use of feminist anthropology was perfect for this and helps us readers further understand the meaning of it. Do you think your knowledge of upbringing in Romania will influence the way you start a family? If you choose to do so. Again, amazing job!

  12. I thought this was a really interesting essay because it incorporated a personal experience. I think it really strengthens a paper to include an anecdote to support the theory, because it helps support the point being made. It would be interesting to interview your family further to find out about their experiences and analyze them through theory, especially feminist theory. Do you think this upbringing and knowledge will affect your family life as you age and have your own family and kids?

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