I never expected to marry a Czech. Until three years ago, all I knew about the Czech Republic was that part of it comprised the Sudetenland, which wasn’t exactly a glowing recommendation. Then I began dating the great-grandson of Czech immigrants and became exposed to a rich, flourishing subculture that has been thriving in the middle of Texas for years.
It’s wonderful to see families who have managed to thoroughly integrate into American life while still retaining pride in their Czech heritage. I’ve loved learning that kolaches refer to a fruit-filled pastry, not pigs in a blanket (and are actually spelled kolacky). Remember that, because confusing the two is one of the quickest ways to anger a Czech. I’ve loved hearing polka music played on an uncle’s accordion and trying to learn the steps to the traditional wedding march at a brother’s reception.
In my eagerness to understand the Czech culture, I even once asked a relative if a cake served at a birthday party was a traditional Czech dessert. Imagine my embarrassment upon learning that it was the dump cake recipe from the back of a Duncan Hines box.
As much as I love learning about my husband’s heritage, marrying into a family with a specific set of traditions carefully handed down can often make me feel like my own heritage is being overshadowed. Our wedding took place in a Roman Catholic Church, which was certainly something I never imagined. I always planned on eloping, like my own parents did. If I didn’t elope, my dream wedding would have taken place on the sweeping lawn of an elegant plantation in a nod to my own Southern heritage.
Although I never hesitated about the decision to take my husband’s last name, even the simple act of giving my new, complicated last name to a cashier often leads to an inquiry of its origin. I don’t blame people for being curious, but after explaining that it is Czech and answering any questions (My favorite so far is “Can you tell a person is Czech just from looking?”), I often feel disregarded. My name is Czech, but I am not Czech. I, too, have my own interesting, unique history. It’s just not as apparent.
Blending two heritages is something every couple faces when they decide to start a life together. Maybe it’s not as obvious for some, but no two people come from the exact same background…well, if they do, they’re probably not allowed by law to actually get married.
When I start to feel overshadowed, I’ve learned to look for ways to combine my own heritage with my husband’s. We took our wedding photos at the Catholic school next to the church because its front porch features soaring white columns reminiscent of a Southern plantation. When I make the cream cheese kolacky recipe handed down from his great-grandmother, I use the battered tin cookie cutters I inherited from my own great-grandmother. As I make what are probably the world’s only flower-shaped kolacky with the cookie cutters so often used for Southern tea cakes, I finally feel connected both to the family I came from and the family I joined.