Yesterday, May 24th, was Saints Cyril and Methodius Day, an important holiday for Bulgarians and Macedonians, commemorating the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet and generally their culture.* Members of the Podkrepa Bulgarian and Macedonian Association celebrated the big holiday at the Podkrepa Hall in North Portland with a potluck and folk-dancing party.
I learned about the event from the Northwest Balkan Events Google Group, where Kathy Fors, a member of both Kafana Klub and Krebsic Orkestar, posted the announcement. I showed up right at 7, and the Bulgarians made me feel right at home. Offers of home-made food (the flan and almond cake were to die for) and home-made pinot noir reminded me of my family’s hospitality. As a certified klutz, I was sorry to decline invitations to dance, but I was thrilled to find another pocket of Central/Eastern European culture in my town. Besides, anyone who calls Stalin a motherfucker is my kind of people.
Throughout the evening, I chatted with several members of Portland’s Bulgarian community and with Americans who came for the dancing. Two passersby, who had heard the music through the Hall’s open door and walked in to see what was happening, became willing students of Bulgarian history 101. A few themes emerged from the conversations:
- Many Bulgarians came stateside via the green card lottery. They love it here, just as much as they love what’s good about their ‘old country.’ They help each other out.
- Particularly the younger Bulgarians had cared little, if at all, for folk music and dancing back in their homeland. Now, having learned the steps from videos from back home, they are just loving the biweekly dances. Traditional music and dance not only fuel the national-cultural spirit, reminding of tradition, culture, and customs, they intensify it. Or, as Susan Matt writes in “Homesickness: An American History,” “this sense of ethnicity and nationalism grew out of homesickness and, in many cases, was able to develop only after immigrants left their homelands.”
- A handful American ‘recreational folk dancers’ dance even better than the natives, who said so themselves.
- Drinking fosters international friendships, whether at Podkrepa Hall or in Northern Slovakia of Boris’s stories.
The original purpose of Podkrepa, which means “support” and which was founded in 1939, was to “help Bulgarians and Macedonians in Portland to adjust to the U.S.” In “Homesickness” Matt describes how such fraternal and mutual benefit organizations mushroomed following the turn-of-the-century immigration from Central/Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
In later years, Podkrepa’s purpose changed to “uniting Bulgarians, Macedonians, American Bulgarians, and American Macedonians to promote Bulgarian and Macedonian educational and cultural activities, gatherings, and celebrations.” The holiday celebration dance capped the season (they take place every other Thursday from October to May). As the weather gets warm, the Hall, with its lack of air-conditioning becomes hostile to physical activity. Podkrepa’s other activities include language classes for adults and children, music classes for kids, and cooking classes. Eligible to apply for membership are Bulgarians and Macedonians who were born in either country, lived there, or are descendants as well as spouses thereof. Conducive to the communal spirit, rather than individual, membership is family-based.
- The history of the two saints’ journeys and accomplishments is as long and winding and action-packed as the line of Bulgarian folk dancers. Suffice it to say, they are venerated in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. Bulgarians celebrate May 24th as “Bulgarian Education and Culture, and Slavonic Literature Day” or “Alphabet, Culture, and Education Day” and Macedonians as “Saints Cyril and Methodius, Slavonic Enlighteners’ Day.” Slovaks and Czechs celebrate the two saints with national holidays on July 5th.
- Information about Podkrepa comes from a leaflet I found on the notice board.