This goes way back but I encountered my first Ukrainians when I was in the first grade. I went to one of those little K-8th grade Catholic parish schools that were abundant in small cities like Trenton, NJ, where each ethnicity gathered in certain urban neighborhoods with the ethnic church as the religious and social center. My parish was Slovak, as were the kids, but the nearby Ukrainian church didn’t have a parish school, so they sent all their kids to ours. The kids were all native-born, but their parents, and most likely their grandparents were from the the Ukraine. This was opposed to we Slovaks, we were third or even fourth generation Americans, and the most Slovak we knew was pierogi and kolbas and a few other words we knew meant to run away fast when the nuns yelled them at us. But the Ukrainian kids all knew the mother tongue–they ALL did, and they were fierce in retaining their heritage no matter how American they sounded or looked. They were proud to be Ukrainian and they let everyone know it.
I’ve been thinking of those kids lately, wondering how they got on and what they’re thinking at this particular time in history. All I know is even though those kids didn’t have their own school, that they had to blend into ours, they never lost lost their identity, and they always let us know exactly who they were, and we always respected them for it. So no matter what the future brings, they will never let their identity be lost. They didn’t lose it in Trenton, and they sure as hell aren’t going to give it up in their homeland. Never. Ever ever ever.