Romania is a country located in southeastern Europe, bounded by the Ukraine to the north, Bulgaria to the south, Serbia to the southwest, Moldavia and the Black Sea to the east, and Hungary to the west. Although the majority of Romanian Americans immigrated from Romania, several thousand families also came from countries bordering or adjacent to Romania, such as Moldova, Serbia and Albania.
Romania has a population of over 20 million people, with more than 4 million Romanians currently living in Western Europe, United States, Canada, and other countries. Eighty-eight percent are of Romanian ethnic origin while the rest consist of various ethnic minorities, including Hungarians, Germans, Serbians, Bulgarians, Gypsies, and Armenians. Eighty percent of the population nominally belong to the Romanian Orthodox Church, and approximately ten percent are Catholics of the Byzantine Rite. Other religious denominations represented in Romania include Seventh-Day Adventists, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Unitarians, as well as the Judaic and Islamic faiths. The country’s official language is Romanian, and its capital city is Bucharest. Romania’s national flag consists of three large stripes (red, yellow, and blue) arranged vertically.
The name Romania, which means “New Rome” in Latin, was given by Roman colonists after Emperor Trajan (c.53-117 A.D. ) and his legions crossed the Danube River and conquered Dacia (an ancient province located in present-day Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountain region) in 106 A.D. Although Roman occupation of Dacia ended in 271 A.D. , the relationship between the Romans and Dacians flourished; mixed marriages and the adoption of Latin culture and language gradually molded the Romans and Dacians into a distinct ethnic entity. The ancestors of the modern Romanian people managed to preserve their Latin heritage despite Gothic, Slavic, Greek, Hungarian, and Turkish conquests, and the Romanian language has survived as a member of the Romance languages group.
Romania has been subjected to numerous occupations by foreign powers since the Middle Ages. In the thirteenth century, the Romanian principalities Moldavia and Wallachia became vassal states of the Ottoman Empire. Bukovina, Transylvania, and Banat were incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the 1700s. Czarist Russia occupied Bessarabia in 1812. In 1859 Moldavia and Wallachia became unified through the auspices of the Paris Peace Conference, and Romania became a national state. At the Congress of Berlin in 1878 Romania obtained full independence from the Ottoman Empire but lost Bessarabia to Russia. In 1881, Romania was proclaimed a kingdom and Carol I (1839-1914) was installed as its first monarch.
Following the death of Carol I, his nephew, Ferdinand (1865-1927), became king and led the country into World War I against the Central Powers. Romania regained Transylvania, Banat, Bukovina and other territories after the war. In 1940, Carol II (1893-1953) was named General Ion Antonescu (1882-1946) premier of Romania, who then forced the monarch to renounce his throne in favor of his son, Michael I (1921–2017 ). Under Antonescu’s influence, Romania became an ally of Nazi Germany during World War II and fought against the Soviet Union. In the last year of the war, however, Romania switched its alliance to the Soviets and, after the war ended, Antonescu was executed. In national elections held in 1947, members of the Communist party assumed many high-level positions in the new government, and King Michael I was forced to abdicate his throne. Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej (1901-1965) of the Romanian Communist party served as premier (1952-1955) and later as chief of state (1961-1965). Two years after Gheroghiu-Dej’s death, Nicholae Ceauşescu (1918-1989), a high-ranking Communist official, assumed the presidency of Romania.
On December 22, 1989, the Communist regime was overthrown and Ceauşescu was executed on Christmas Day. In the post-Communist years, various changes have occurred, including a free press, free elections, and a multi-party electorate bringing to power a democratic government (President Emil Constantinescu, 1996– ). The pace of transforming Romania’s economy into a market economy accelerated, and improved relations with the United States, Canada and other Western countries were promoted. Romania also petitioned to become a member of NATO, and its candidacy will be considered in the year 2002.
The first Romanians in America
Romanians have a recorded presence of almost 250 years on American soil. The first Romanian recorded in America was Father Samuil Damian, a Romanian Orthodox priest from Transylvania who traveled in Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia in 1748 and corresponded with Benjamin Franklin regarding electricity, before settling in Charleston, South Carolina.
In 1849, a group of Romanians came to California during the Gold Rush but, being unsuccessful, migrated to Mexico. Romanians continued to immigrate to America during this period and some distinguished themselves in the Union Army during the Civil War. George Pomutz (1818-1882) joined the Fifteenth Volunteer Regiment of Iowa and fought at such battlefields as Shiloh, Corinth, and Vicksburg, and was later promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. Nicholas Dunca (1825-1862), a captain serving in the Ninth Volunteer Regiment of New York, died in the battle of Cross Keyes, Virginia. Another Romanian-born soldier, Seaman Constantin Theodorescu was killed while serving aboard the battleship “Maine” when it sunk in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898.
Through the decades, they founded and supported more than two hundred churches, over three hundred beneficial and cultural societies, as well as over one hundred and twenty newspapers and periodicals. “The American Newspaper”, the official organ of the Union and League of Romanian Societies of America, founded in 1906, has the longest continuous appearance in the Romanian community. Over 15,000 Romanians served in the American and Canadian Armies during both world wars, in Korea and Vietnam, where hundreds died and many distinguished themselves in battle.
The second wave of Romanian immigrants, numbering approximately ten thousand, arrived between 1948 and 1953, as a consequence of the “Displaced Persons Act” and settled in the same areas as the first immigrants. The third group, consisting mainly of political refugees, arrived after the signing of the Helsinki Agreement in 1974, and settled in the cities of the west, southwest and south.
Significant Immigration Waves
The first major wave of Romanian immigrants to the United States took place between 1895 and 1920, in which 145,000 Romanians entered the country. They came from various regions, including Wallachia and Moldavia. The majority of these immigrants—particularly those from Transylvania and Banat—were unskilled laborers who left their native regions because of economic depression and forced assimilation, a policy practiced by Hungarian rulers. They were attracted to the economic stability of the United States, which promised better wages and improved working conditions. Many did not plan to establish permanent residency in America, intending instead to save enough money to return to Romania and purchase land. Consequently, tens of thousands of Romanian immigrants who achieved this goal left the United States within a few years, and by 1920 the Romanian American population was approximately 85,000.
Between 1921 and 1939, the number of Romanians entering the United States declined for several reasons. Following World War I, Transylvania, Bukovina, Bessarabia, and other regions under foreign rule officially became part of Romania, thus arresting emigration for a time. In addition, the U.S. Immigration Act of 1924 established a quota system which allowed only 603 persons per year to immigrate from Romania. The Great Depression added to the decline of new Romanian immigrants to the United States; immigration figures reached their lowest level at the beginning of World War II. Romanians who did enter the country during this period, however, included students, professionals, and others who later made notable contributions to American society.
A new surge of immigrants to the United States was generated by the threat of Nazi occupation of Romania during World War II. When the Communists assumed control of the country in 1947 they imposed many political, economic, and social restrictions on the Romanian people. Refugees (who had left the country as a result of persecutions, arrests, or fear of being mistreated) and exiles (who were already abroad and chose not to return to Romania) were admitted into the United States through the auspices of the Displaced Persons Act of 1947 and other legislation passed to help absorb the flood of refugees and other immigrants from postwar Europe. Because of the abrupt and dramatic nature of their departure, the refugees and exiles (estimated at about 30,000) received special moral and financial support from various Romanian organizations—religious and secular—in America. These immigrants infused an important contingent of professionals, including doctors, lawyers, writers, and engineers into the Romanian American community, and were also more active politically. They established new organizations and churches, and fought against Communist rule in their homeland.
After the Revolution of December 1989, which brought an end to Communism in Romania, thousands of new immigrants of all ages came to the United States, and new arrivals (legal and illegal) continue to enter the country. The elimination of Communist travel restrictions, the desire of thousands of people to be reunited with their American relatives and friends, and the precarious economic conditions in the new Romania were powerful incentives to come to America for a new start in life. Among the newcomers were professionals, former political prisoners, and others who were disenchanted with the new leadership in Romania. There were also many Romanian tourists who decided to remain in America. Many of these immigrants spoke English and adjusted relatively well, even if they took lower-paying jobs than those to which their credentials or experience entitled them. However, others found neither employment nor understood the job hunting process, and returned to Romania. Still others left the United States to try their luck in Canada or South America. Those who chose to return to Europe settled in Germany, France, or Italy. According to the 1990 U.S. Census, there were approximately 365,544 people of Romanian ancestry living in the United States.
Because early Romanian immigrants were either peasants or laborers, they settled in the major industrial centers of the East and Midwest and took unskilled jobs in factories. The heaviest concentrations of Romanian Americans can be found in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana. A substantial number of Romanians also settled in Florida and California. Living near the factories where they worked, first-generation Romanian Americans established communities which often consisted of extended families or of those who had migrated from the same region in Romania. Second- and third-generation Romanian Americans, having achieved financial security and social status, gradually moved out of the old neighborhoods, settling either in suburban areas or in larger cities, or relocating to another state. Consequently, there are few Romanian American communities left that preserve the social fabric of the first-generation neighborhoods.
Immigrants from Moldova
While most Romanian-Americans immigrated from Romania, a significant number also arrived from countries adjacent to or bordering Romania. The Republic of Moldova, known as Bessarabia before World War II, is in fact a second Romanian country. Sandwiched between Romania and the Ukraine, it occupies an area of 13,010 square miles (33,700 square kilometers). Its capital is Chisinau (pronounced Keesheenau) and the President of Moldova is Petru Lucinschi. The population of 4.5 million consists of 65% Romanians, 14% Ukrainians, 13% Russians, 4% Gagauz (Turks of Christian faith), and 2% Bulgarians. There are also smaller groups of Poles, Belorusans, Germans and Gypsies. While 98% of the population are Eastern Orthodox believers, some Moldavians are Protestant and Jewish. The official language of Moldova is Romanian (with a Moldavian dialect), and the second language is Russian. The country’s flag is the same as Romania’s: red, yellow, and blue vertical stripes.
During the Middle Ages, Bessarabia was an integral part of the Romanian principality of Moldavia, but it later became a tributary to the Ottoman Empire. In 1812, following the Russian-Turkish War (1806-1812), Bessarabia was annexed by Tsarist Russia until the 1917 October Revolution. In 1918, as a result of the Romanian population majority vote, Bessarabia was reunited with Romania, but in 1940, the Soviet Union, in a pact with Nazi Germany, gained control of the land. During 1941-1944, Romania recaptured the territory, but lost it one more time at the conclusion of World War II, when the Soviet Union incorporated Bessarabia under the name of the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic. After the fall of Communism, in 1991 the country became independent, and took the name of the Republic of Moldova. It underwent various changes (free elections, a multi-party system of government, economic reforms) before reaching an understanding in 1996 with separatist movements in two regions, Dnestr, and Gagauzia. There was also a movement for reunification with Romania, but the majority of the population opted for independence.
Immigrants from Moldova who came to America before World War II, as well as those who arrived later (about 5,000 in the 1990s) consider themselves members of the Romanian American community, using the same language, worshiping in the same Eastern Orthodox churches and preserving the same heritage. They are also fully integrated in Romanian American organizations and support the reunification of their land of origin with Romania.
Traditions, Customs and Beliefs
Romanians have a variety of traditions and lore dating back to antiquity. For example, on certain days some farmers would not cut anything with shears so that wolves will not injure their sheep. Tuesdays were considered unlucky days to start a journey or to initiate important business. A plague could be averted by burning a shirt which has been spun, woven, and sewn in less than 24 hours. Girls would not fill their pitchers with water from a well without breathing upon it first and pouring some of it on the ground (a libation to the nymph of the well). Before serving wine, drops were poured on the floor to honor the souls of the dead. A woman who did not want children would be tortured in hell. A black cat crossing in front of a pedestrian would bring bad luck. An owl seen on the roof of a house, in a courtyard, or in a tree was a sign of forthcoming bad luck, including death in the family. Such superstitions were gradually forgotten as Romanian immigrants became acculturated into American society.
A wealth of proverbs from Romanian culture have survived through generations: “A good book can take place of a friend, but a friend cannot replace a good book”; “Whether homes are big or small, a child is a blessing to all”; “The cheapest article is advice, the most valuable is a good example”; “Do not leave an old good friend of yours just to please a new one”; “One thing for sure, each couple can tell, one’s home is both paradise and hell”; “Idleness is the biggest enemy of good luck”; “Knowledge is like a tower in which you test and build your power”; “Modesty is the dearest jewel of a man’s soul”; and “Enjoy drinking the wine, but do not become drunk by it.”
Romanian cuisine is savory, flavorful, and stimulating to the appetite. Herbs and vegetables are used in abundance, and one-dish meals occupy an important place in the repertoire of recipes. These dishes are very nourishing, inexpensive, and easy to prepare. Romanian Americans enjoy cooking, often modifying old country recipes or creating new dishes. Mamaliga (“mamalíga”), considered a national dish, is a corn mush eaten with butter, cheese, meats, and even with marmalade or fruit jelly as a dessert. Ciorba (“chiórbá”) is a popular sour soup, seasoned with sauerkraut or pickled cucumber juice. It contains onions, parsnip, parsley root, rice, and ground beef mixed with pork, and is served after the boiled vegetables are removed. Gratar (“gratár”) is a steak (usually pork) accompanied by pickled cucumbers and tomatoes and combined with other grilled meats. Garlic is a major ingredient used in preparing the steak. Mititei (“meeteetáy”), which is similar to hamburgers, consists of ground beef rolled into cylindrical forms and seasoned with garlic, and is often served with gratar.
Sarmale (“sarmálay”) is a stuffed cabbage dish prepared with pork shoulder, rice, black pepper, and chopped onion. Ghiveci (“gyvéch”) is a vegetable stew containing carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, green pepper, onions, celery roots, eggplant, squash, string-beans, fresh peas, cabbage, and cauliflower. Cozonac (“kozonák”) and torte (“tortáy”) are various forms of cakes served as desserts. Ţuica (“tsúika”) is a brandy made from plums or wheat. Vin (“veen”) is wine and bere (“báyray”) is beer. Romanian hosts and hostesses usually serve salads in a variety of shapes and compositions as entre dishes. Christmas dinner often consists of ham, sausages, pastry, fruits, bere, vin, and a special bread called colac (“kolák”). At Easter, lamb, ham, sausages, breads, and painted Easter eggs are prepared, and vin and bere accompany the feast.
Romanian traditional, or peasant costumes, are made from handwoven linen. Women wear embroidered white blouses and black skirts (or another color, according to region) which cover the knees. The costume is completed with headscarves of various colors (older women usually wear black scarves) arranged according to age and regional traditions. The traditional costume for men consists of tight-fitting white pants, a white embroidered shirt worn over the pants that almost reaches the knees, and a wide leather or cotton belt. Men wear several types of hats according to season; black or grey elongated lambskin hats are customary during the winter and straw hats are usually worn during the summer. On festive occasions, men wear black or grey felt hats adorned with a flower or feather. Moccasins are traditional footwear for both men and women, while boots (with various adornments according to regional traditions) are worn by men. Romanian Americans wear their national costumes only on special occasions, either on national holidays celebrated in churches, at social gatherings, or while performing at local ethnic festivals.
Dances and Songs
During special occasions, dancers perform the hora (“khóra”), a national dance in which men and women hold hands in a circle; the sîrba (“sýrba”), a quick, spirited dance; and the invârtite (“ynvyrtéetay”), a pair dance. These dances are accompanied by popular shoutings (sometimes with humorous connotations) spoken by the leader of the dance who also invites members of the audience to join the dancers. The orchestra consists of fiddles, clarinets, trumpets, flutes, bagpipes and panpipes, drums, and the cobza (“kóbza”), an instrument resembling a guitar and mandolin. Popular songs are traditionally performed during social reunions both in America and Romania. The doina (“dóiyna”), for example, are multi-verse tunes evoking nostalgic emotions, from a shepherd’s loneliness in the mountains to patriotic sentiments. The romanţa (“romáņtsa”) is a romantic melody expressing deep feelings of affection.
In addition to Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Easter Day, Romanian Americans celebrate the birthday of the Romanian national state on January 24 and Transylvania’s reunification with Romania on December 1. Romanian Americans with promonarchist views also celebrate May 10, which marks the ascension of Carol I to the Romanian throne. During these festivities, celebrants sing the Romanian national anthem, “Awake Thee, Romanian,” written by Andrei Muresanu (1816-1863), a noted poet and patriot. Monarchists sing the Romanian royal anthem which begins with the words “Long live the king in peace and honor.” A semi-official holiday similar to Valentine’s Day is celebrated by lovers and friends on March l, when a white or red silk flower (often hand-made) is presented as an expression of love.
Family and Community
During the first three decades of the twentieth century, the Romanian American family underwent profound changes. The first immigrants were typically single males or married men who had left their families behind temporarily in order to save enough money to send for them later. They lived in crowded boarding houses and often slept on the floors. On Sundays and holidays, they congregated in saloons or restaurants and at church. Later, Romanian immigrants gathered at the headquarters of mutual aid societies and fraternal organizations where they discussed news from Romania, read or wrote letters, and sang religious or popular songs. Meanwhile, the boarding houses evolved into cooperatives in which a boarder provided his own bed and shared all operating expenses (rent, utilities, food, and laundry services) with the other residents.
As Romanian immigrants became better accustomed to the American way of life, they adopted higher standards of living, prepared more nutritious meals, and engaged in such recreational activities as sports and movie-going. Since most women worked outside the home, economic conditions gradually improved, and the immigrants were able to purchase a home, cars, and modern appliances, or were able to rent larger apartments in more prosperous neighborhoods. The typical Romanian household features Romanian embroidery or rugs, the Romanian flag, and other cultural icons, which are displayed in a common area.
Romanians have always held the family in high esteem and are generally opposed to divorce. Although the first wave of immigrants consisted of large families, subsequent generations chose to have fewer children, a trend that could be attributed to economic factors. Early immigrants cared very much for their children, did not permit child labor, and instilled in their children the importance of education. While approximately 33 percent of the Romanian immigrants who came to America before World War I were illiterate, many of them managed to learn English or improve their education to obtain or to hold jobs. Encouraged by their parents, second-generation Romanian Americans placed more emphasis on vocational training and college education.
While maintaining their place in the industries where their parents worked, second-generation Romanian Americans gradually switched from unskilled to skilled occupations. Others became white collar workers, and many embraced professional careers. Subsequent generations went even further in their educational and professional pursuits. Romanian Americans made such progress that for several decades few of the adult members of this group had less than a high school education. The professional ranks of Romanians (those educated at American universities) were substantially enlarged by the thousands of professionals who immigrated to the United States after World War II, and in the years following the Revolution of 1989. As a result, Romanian Americans were able to make many significant contributions to American society.
The bridal shower, a social custom that was never practiced in Romania, has evolved into an often gala affair attended by both sexes. Prior to the wedding ceremony, bans are announced for three consecutive Sundays so that impediments to the marriage—if any—can be brought to the attention of the priest. After that, the couple selects the best man and maid (or matron) of honor, both of whom are called naşïï (“nashée”), usually a husband and wife or a sister and brother. In most cases, the naşïï later serve as godparents to the couple’s children.
On the day of the wedding, the bridal party meets in the bride’s home and leaves for the church, where the groom is waiting along with the best man. In the church there is no instrumental music, and the bridal procession is made in silence. The bride is brought to the altar by her father or another male member of the family, who then relinquishes her to the groom. The ceremony is begun by the priest, assisted by a cantor or church choir that sings the responses. After receiving affirmative answers from the couple about their intention to marry and their mutual commitment, the priest blesses the wedding rings and places them in the hands of the bride and groom. Then, metal or floral crowns are placed on the heads of the couple so that they can rule the family in peace, harmony, and purity of heart. The bride and groom then take three bites of a honey wafer or drink wine from a common cup, which symbolizes their bountiful life together. Finally, the hands of the couple are bound together with a ribbon to share all joys and sorrows together, and the couple walks three times around the tetrapod (a small stand displaying an icon), symbolizing the eternity of their union and obedience to the Holy Trinity. The crowns are removed with a blessing from the priest, who then concludes the ceremony with a few words of advice for the couple. The reception is held either at a private home, hotel, or restaurant. Instead of gifts, guests give money at the reception, which is collected by the naşïï who publicly announce the amounts received. The reception is accompanied by music and dancing, including popular Romanian songs and folk dances.
When a child is ready for baptism, the parents first select the godparents, or naşïï, who are often the same couple that served as best man and matron of honor at the parents’ wedding. The naşïï bring the child to the church, where the priest confers the grace of God by putting his hand on the child. Then, the priest exorcises the child by breathing on the child’s forehead, mouth, and breast. The godmother, or naşa (“násha”), renounces the service of Satan in the child’s name and promises to believe in Jesus Christ and serve only Him. In front of the altar, the priest anoints the child with the “oil of joy” (blessed olive oil) on the forehead, breast, shoulders, ears, hands, and feet. The baptism is completed by dipping the child three times in a font or by sprinkling with holy water. Immediately after the baptism follows confirmation, which consists of a new anointment of the child with mïr (pronounced “meer,” meaning holy chrism), a mixture of 33 spices blessed by the bishop, on the forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, breast, ears, hands, and feet. It is customary to hold a dinner after the baptism, where guests usually bring gifts in the form of money.
Interaction with Other Ethnic Groups
Romanian Americans began to interact with other ethnic groups as they moved into better residential areas and suburbs. Romanian Orthodox believers established relationships with Orthodox Serbians, Greeks, Russians, and Ukrainians by attending their churches. Similarly, Romanian Catholics were drawn to Hungarian or Polish Catholics, while Romanian Baptists established friendly relations with Serbian, Croatian, and Bulgarian Baptists. Romanian workers came into contact with other ethnic groups in the workplace. All of these factors—including the proliferation of mixed marriages—contributed to the integration of Romanians into mainstream American society.
The Romanian language is a Romance language derived from Latin that has survived despite foreign influences (Slavic, Turkish, Greek, and others). In fact, it has many Latin words that are not found in other Romance languages, and is more grammatically complex. Although Romanian uses the Latin alphabet, the letters “k,” “q,” “w,” and “y” appear only in foreign words. In addition, Romanian has specific diacritical marks: ” ā,” “â,” “í,” “ţ,” “ş.” Romanians consider their language sweet and harmonious, bringing “honey to the mouth,” and are proud of its Latin origin.
For first-generation Romanian immigrants— regardless of the period they arrived in America— Romanian was the primary language. In a very short time, however, such American words as “supermarket,” “basement,” “streetcar,” “laundry,” “high school,” and “subway” became infused in daily speech; thus, Romanian has evolved into an “Americanized” Romanian. Subsequent generations generally have spoken Romanian less often, eventually switching to English as their principal language. Romanian church services (including Sunday school) are still conducted in Romanian. In several cities, radio programs are broadcast in Romanian, and there are numerous Romanian-language newspapers and periodicals in circulation.
Greetings and Popular Expressions
Common Romanian greetings and other expressions include: Bunā seara (“bóona seàra”)—Good evening; Bunā ziua (“bóona zéeoóa”)—Good day; Salut (“salóot”)—Greetings, hello; La revedere (“la rayvaydáyray”)—Good-bye; Noroc bun (“norók bóon”)—Good luck; Muļtumesc (“mooltsóomesk”)—Thank you; Felicitāri (“feleecheetáry”) —Congratulations; La multzi ani (“la múltzi ánee”)—Happy New Year; Sárbātori fericite “(sarbatóry fayreechéetay”)—Happy Holidays (this greeting is used at Christmas time, for there is no expression like Merry Christmas in Romanian); Hristos a inviat (“Khristós a ynveeát”)—Christ has Risen (a greeting used at Easter), the reply is Adevārat a inviat (“adevarát a ynveeát”)—In truth He has risen; Sānātate (“sanatátay”)—To your health, (spoken when raising a toast).
Religion and Faith
The first Romanian American churches, St. Mary’s Orthodox Church (Cleveland, Ohio) and St. Helen’s Catholic Byzantine Rite (East Cleveland, Ohio), were founded in 1904 and 1905, respectively. These churches also served as community centers where immigrants spent a good part of their social life. The vast majority of Romanian American churchgoers are Eastern Orthodox, with a membership of about 60,000 organized into 200 parishes under two canonical jurisdictions. Forty-five parishes are subordinated to the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, headed by Bishop Nathaniel Pop. Fifteen parishes—the majority of which are located in Canada—are under the Romanian Orthodox Missionary Episcopate of America, led by Archbishop Victorin Ursache (1912– ). The Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite has 15 parishes, serving approximately 4,000 Romanian members. The church is led by Vasile Puşcaş, the first Byzantine Rite bishop in America. The number of Romanian Protestants is approximately 25,000; most of them are Baptists. The first Romanian Baptist church was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1910; at present there are nine Romanian Baptist churches and smaller groups of Romanian Seventh-Day Adventists under various jurisdictions. The Pentecostals represent the majority, and there are over 100 Romanian Pentecostal Churches in USA today.
The Romanian Orthodox church and the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite are essentially sister churches with a common history, liturgy, customs, and traditions. Both follow the teachings of the Apostles but differ in their interpretation of the Pope’s infallibility. Members of the Byzantine Rite church believe in the infallibility of the Pope when he speaks ex cathedra on faith and morality, while Orthodox followers contend that any person or council in the church is not infallible. Those who embraced the dogma of papal infallibility switched allegiance from the Eastern Orthodox church to the Vatican in 1697 but have preserved all other features and disciplines of the Eastern church. Both churches adhere to the Nicene Creed, and the Liturgy is based on the text of Saint John Chrysostom (c.347-407 A.D. ), modified by Saint Basil the Great (c.329-379 A.D. ). There are seven Sacraments: Eucharist, Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick. In the Romanian Orthodox church, the Anointing of the Sick is administered by three priests and may be given to the healthy to prevent illness. Services in both churches are conducted in Romanian accentuated by song and chants. The cathedrals are richly decorated with icons and images of the saints, although carved images are forbidden. The altar is located in the center of the sanctuary, and a screen or partition called an iconostasis separates the sanctuary from the rest of the church. Only priests and deacons can enter the sanctuary; other parishioners are not permitted to cross beyond the iconostasis.
Orthodox and Byzantine Rite priests usually wear black cassocks, but gray and brown are also permitted. During the Liturgy, vestments are colorful and ornate; while a priest’s headdress is a cylindrical-shaped black hat, bishops wear a mitre, a crown made of stiff material adorned on top with a cross and various small pictures or icons. At the top of the pastoral scepter are two intertwined serpents surmounted by a cross or an image of a saint. Former liturgical colors (black, red, white) are not observed in modern times. Orthodox priests are permitted to marry before ordination, but only unmarried priests can become bishops. Deacons, subdeacons, and readers assist the priests during services. Clergy and laity (nonclergy) take part in the administration of the church and in the election of the clergy in Orthodox churches, while Byzantine Rite priests are appointed by their bishops.
Romanian Protestant churches conduct their services in the same manner as their American coreligionists, employing Romanian pastors who are subordinated to various local American jurisdictions. Their predecessors were trained by American missionaries in Romania during the nineteenth century.
Because early Romanian immigrants settled in the eastern and midwestern regions of the United States, they found work in such industries as iron, rubber, and steel manufacturing, coal mining, meat packing, and automotive assembly. They were assigned the heaviest and dirtiest jobs, as was the custom with all newly arrived immigrants. After accumulating work experience and perfecting their English language skills, some Romanians advanced to more responsible positions.
Immigrants who settled in California were employed as gardeners, fruit gatherers and packers, and in freight transporters, while Macedo-Romanians often held jobs as waiters in the hotel and restaurant industries. About nine percent of Romanian immigrants settled in Colorado, North and South Dakota, Idaho, and Wyoming; they became involved in agriculture and ranching either as farm owners or as managers. Romanians were also employed as tailors, bakers, carpenters, and barbers, establishing their own small businesses in Romanian American neighborhoods.
Romanian women found employment in light industry, such as cigar and tobacco manufacturing, or as seamstresses. Younger women became clerks or office secretaries, while others worked as manicurists or hairdressers in beauty salons. Many Macedo-Romanian women took jobs in the textile industry. Some Romanians with entrepreneurial skills opened travel agencies, small banks, saloons, boarding houses, and restaurants.
Politics and Government
The formation of the Union and League of Romanian Societies of America (ULRSA) in 1906 marked the beginning of Romanian political activity on a national scale. Founded in Cleveland, Ohio, ULRSA brought together dozens of mutual aid and cultural societies, clubs, fraternities, and other groups committed to preserving Romanian ethnicity. It provided insurance benefits, assisted thousands of Romanians in completing their education, and taught newly arrived immigrants how to handle their affairs in a democratic way. As ULRSA gained more power and prestige, its leaders were often “courted” by local and national politicians to enlist political support from the Romanian American community.
The leadership of ULRSA (with a few exceptions) has traditionally held a neutral and unbiased position in American politics. Despite this neutrality, however, many Romanians, especially those who immigrated to America prior to World War II, have pro-Democratic sentiments, while the majority of postwar immigrants and refugees with strong anti-Communist sentiments tilt more toward the Republican party. A small group of Romanian American socialists—primarily workers from Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, and New York—founded the Federation of the Romanian Socialist Workers of the United States in 1914 and later merged with the pro-Communist International Workers Order (IWO). Many Romanian Americans also joined local labor unions for the practical reason that they could not obtain work otherwise. Later, as employment opportunities improved, they participated in union activities according to their specific interests, benefits needs, and preferences.
Relations with Romania
Romanian Americans have always been proud of their homeland and have maintained ties beyond normal relations with family or friends left behind. Before and during World War I, Romanian Americans exposed Hungarian persecution of Transylvanians in their newspapers and many organizations called for the unification of Transylvania and Romania. They also gave generous donations of money, food, and clothing for Romania’s orphans, widows, and refugees. In 1919 Romanian Americans submitted a Four-Point Motion to the Peace Conference, calling for the reestablishment of Romania’s territorial borders (including Transylvania and other regions formerly held by foreign powers), equal rights for ethnic minorities, and the establishment of a democracy based on principles adopted in the United States.
In the 1920s and 1930s many Romanian Americans actively supported the National Peasant Party founded in Transylvania against anti-democratic political forces. Prominent Romanians such as Queen Marie (1875-1938) visited Romanian American communities, and the Romanian government sent a group of students to complete their studies at various American universities. After World War II, Romanian Americans sent food, medicine, and clothing to refugees and other types of aid to help Romania’s devastated economy.
During the years of Communist dictatorship, Romanian American groups sent a formal memorandum to President Harry Truman protesting the mass deportations of Romanians by Soviet troops in 1952, and in 1964 called upon President Lyndon B. Johnson to exert pressure on the Communists to release Romanian political prisoners and provide exit visas for individuals desiring to join relatives in the United States. Many Romanian Americans who held pro-monarchist views sought the restoration of Michael I, who was forced by the Communists to abdicate in December 1947. Romanian American Catholics vehemently opposed the suppression of their church in Romania beginning in 1948, when bishops and priests were arrested and murdered, and church property was confiscated. Many Romanian Catholics were deported.
Romanian Americans continue to aid their native country during difficult times through the auspices of the Union and League of Romanian Societies in America, the International Red Cross, and other philanthropic organizations. Presently, some Romanian Americans are involved in developing business ventures in Romania, given the precarious conditions of the country’s economy and unfamiliarity with the capitalist system. There is also a steady flow of scholarly exchanges between Romania and United States—via grants and scholarships—in which Romanian Americans take an active role through the Romanian Studies Association of America, the American Romanian Academy of Arts and Sciences, and other academic organizations.
Romanian Americans have made significant contributions to American popular culture and to the arts and sciences. The following sections list Romanian Americans and their achievements.
Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) was a renowned authority on religious studies, mythology, and folklore. His many publications include The History of Religions: Essays in Methodology (1959) and Zalmoxis, the Vanishing God: Comparative Studies in the Religions and Folklore of Dacia and Eastern Europe (1972). Many of Eliade’s works have been translated into several languages. Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen (1906-1994) pioneered mathematical economics and influenced many American economists through his Analytical Economics: Issues and Problems (1966). Georgescu-Roegen was considered by his peers “a scholar’s scholar and an economist’s economist.” Mathematician Constantin Corduneanu edits Libertas Mathematica. Romance philologist Maria Manoliu-Manea served as president of the American Romanian Academy of Arts and Sciences for many years.
Film, Television and Theather
Jean Negulesco (1900– ) directed Singapore Woman (1941), Johnny Belinda (1948), Titanic (1953), and Three Coins in a Fountain (1954), and was also known as a portrait artist. Television actor Adrian Zmed (c. 1954– ) costarred with William Shatner in the police drama “T. J. Hooker” (1982-1986). In theater, Andrei Şerban (1943– ) adapted and directed classical plays at LaMama Theater in New York City, while Liviu Ciulei (1923– ) is best known for directing classical works.
Theodore Andrica (1900-1990) edited and published two successful periodicals, the New Pioneer during the 1940s, and the American Romanian Review during the 1970s and 1980s. Both publications featured articles on Romanian American life, traditions, customs, and cooking, and documented the achievements of Romanian Americans. Andrica also served as editor of the Cleveland Press for 20 years. The Reverend Vasile Haţegan (1915– ) of the Romanian Orthodox Church wrote several articles on Romanians residing in New York City, while the Reverend Gheorghe Murȩsan of the Romanian Catholic Byzantine Rite Church proved to be a gifted editor for Catholic publications. John Florea (1916– ) of Life magazine and Ionel Iorgulescu (1918– ) of Redbook magazine were outstanding photographers during the 1940s and 1950s. For 25 years, broadcaster Liviu Floda of Radio Free Europe hosted programs discussing human rights violations by the Communist regime in Romania. Floda interviewed hundreds of personalities, helped reunite refugee families with American relatives, and wrote dozens of articles on various subjects for Romanian Americans and foreign-language journals.
Peter Neagoe (1881-1960) was the first major Romanian American author. In such novels as Easter Sun (1934) and There Is My Heart (1936), he depicted the lives of Transylvanian peasants in realistic detail. Mircea Vasiliu (an illustrator) wrote Which Way to the Melting Pot? (1955) and The Pleasure Is Mine (1963), in which he humorously recounts his experiences as an immigrant. Eugene Theodorescu’s Merry Midwife and Anişoara Stan’s (1902-1954) They Crossed Mountains and Oceans (1947) also focus on immigrant life in America. Moreover, Stan published The Romanian Cook Book, which remains a prototype of Romanian cookery and cuisine. Eli Popa edited and translated Romania Is a Song: A Sample of Verse in Translation (1967), a bilingual collection of Romanian classical and folk poetry, and modern verse by Romanian American poets. Andrei Codrescu (1946– ), a poet, novelist, and journalist, has added new dimensions to contemporary Romanian American literature through such books as The Life and Times of an Involuntary Genius (1975), In America’s Shoes (1983), and several others which delineate anti-Communist sentiments in Romania and the immigrant experience in America. Silvia Cinca, leading author, published Comrade Dracula (1988), Homo Spiritus: Journey of Our Magic, as well as several other books both in Romanian and English. She is also President of Moonfall Press in the United States.
George Enesco (1881-1955) was a composer, violinist, and conductor who lived in the United States before and after World War II. Enesco conducted several symphony orchestras, taught at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, and earned fame for his “Romanian Rhapsodies,” which has since been performed by many American and foreign symphony orchestras. Ionel Perlea (1901- 1970) served as musical conductor of the New York Metropolitan Opera for over 20 years despite the fact that his right hand was paralyzed; he also taught at the Manhattan School of Music. Stella Roman (1905-1992), an operatic soprano, performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York during the 1940s and 1950s, specializing in Italian opera spinto roles. Other gifted performers include Christina Caroll (1920– ) of the New York Metropolitan Opera; Iosif Cristea and Gloria Vasu, both with the Boston Grand Opera Company; Yolanda Marculescu, soprano and music teacher at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee; Lisette Verea, operetta singer and comedienne based in New York City; and Marioara Trifan, an internationally renowned pianist. In addition, the popular tune “And the Angels Sing,” which was recorded by the legendary jazz musician Benny Goodman, is in fact a Romanian folk song brought to America by Romanian immigrants.
Science and technology
George Palade (1912– ) of the Yale University School of Medicine shared the 1974 Nobel Prize in medicine, for his contributions to research on the structure and function of the internal components of cells. Traian Leucutzia (1893-1970), who began his medical career in Detroit, Michigan, in the 1920s, was one of the first scientists to detect the radiation hazards of X-rays, and served as editor of the American Journal of Roentgenology, Radium Therapy, and Nuclear Medicine for several years. Valer Barbu (1892-1986) taught psychiatry and psychoanalysis at Cornell University, the New School of Social Research in New York City, and the American Institute of Psychoanalysis before and after World War II. A disciple of Karen Horney, Barbu was critical of Freudian analysis.
Constanin Barbulescu, an aeronautical engineer, devised methods of protecting aircraft flying in severe weather. He published his findings in Electrical Engineering and other technical journals during the 1940s. Alexandru Papana (1905-1946) tested gliders and other aircraft for Northrop Aircraft in California. Many of Papana’s experiences as a test pilot were documented in Flying magazine.
Charlie Stanceu (1916-1969) was the first Romanian American to play baseball in the major leagues. A native of Canton, Ohio, Stanceu pitched for the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies during the 1940s. Stanceu was followed by Johnny Moldovan, who signed a contract with the Yankees in 1947. Gymnast Dominique Moceanu, now 18, has distinguished herself since she was 14, wimming several United States’ women’s national gymnastics titles. Gheorghe Muresan, 7 feet, 7 inches tall, has become a famous basketball star playing for the Washington Bullets, and has appeared as an actor in the film My Giant, with Billy Crysal.
Constantin Brancuşi (1856-1957) is considered by some art critics to be the father of modern sculpture. He first exhibited his works in America in 1913 at the International Exhibition of Modern Art. Many of Brancusi’s pieces (“Miss Pogany,” “The Kiss,” “Bird in Space,” “White Nigress”) were acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Sculptor George Zolnay (1867-1946) created the Sequoya Statue in the United States Capitol, the Edgar Allan Poe monument at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, and the War Memorial sculpture of Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee. Zolnay also served as art commissioner at the 1892 World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, Illinois. Elie Cristo-Loveanu (c. 1893-1964) distinguished himself as a portrait artist and professor of painting at New York University during the 1940s and 1950s. His portrait of President Dwight Eisenhower is on display at Columbia University. Constantin Aramescu, a Floridian, is noted for paintings on Romanian subjects. Iosif Teodorescu and Eugene Mihaescu (1937– ) are illustrators for the New York Times, while Mircea Vasiliu (1920– ), a former diplomat, is a well known illustrator of children’s books. Alexandru Seceni painted icons and saints in several Romanian Orthodox churches in America and also developed a special technique of wood etching for the Romanian Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
Romanian Americans are distributed throughout the U.S., with concentrations found in the Midwest, such as in the states of Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois, while in the Southeast, communities are found in Georgia (Metro Atlanta), Florida (South Florida) and Alabama (Montgomery). There are also significant communities of Romanian Americans in the far east and west of the United States, particularly in New York and California (Los Angeles and Sacramento).
The states with the largest estimated Romanian American populations are:
New York (161,900)