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excerpt from the Interview with SYSYN, FRANK


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FRANK SYSYN


Date and Place of Birth: December 27, 1946, Passaic N.J., U. S.A.  
Date of Interview: December 20, 2018
Place of Interview: Toronto, Ont. Canada
Length of Interview: 1 hour 20 minutes
Interviewer: Tetyana Bozhahora
Language: English


(Excerpt):


Interviewer: Do you consider yourself to be a Ukrainian American, American Ukrainian, Canadian Ukrainian?

Frank: That ’s a major issue, so functionally there are varying identities, I am interested in heritage…. in other words, in this (my) Dutch and Irish past. But functionally I became part of the Ukrainian community and deal mostly with Ukrainians and have done so particularly with my move to Toronto. Or even by going to Harvard because of the group that I met there [and] became [part of] the group I dealt with. It all reinforced each other. So in those terms I usually think of myself as Ukrainian. It varies,  when I go to Ukraine Ukraine has changed things.  And I now find my relatives in Ukraine, some of them I see much more frequently than any of my relatives in the U.S. right? So Ukraine makes for another kind of identity. And I think also when I moved to Canada and moved to the Ukrainian Institute, most of the people I knew were Ukrainian and certainly in a place like Toronto… The other issue is the American and Canadian issue ….(although probably still dominantly the place I lived for a good part of my adult life and was born deeply engrained) but as I alienate from what the U.S. is like at the moment  I become more Canadian. So sometimes I’m American to the people here and I am becoming Canadian to the people across the border. So I think, the idea of having multiple identities and multiple connections fits well in this.

Interviewer: What do you like or find helpful about Ukrainian Canadian community?

Frank: I find what has been very good ….we had our Christmas party or holiday gathering yesterday here and I could say that Toronto is a unique community in that you have so many potentially disparate groups who have managed to come to some sort of modicum of co-operation. For all Ukrainians complaining that they all argue and they’re all divided my colleague Professor Wrobel in Polish history always says, well, if Poles in Toronto could only be like Ukrainians, I think this is not quite true but Toronto as a community and particularly for academic life has been co-operative, able to maintain itself and able to bring together and strengthen various elements of community.

As far as the Canadian Ukrainian Community there is the other story, I think quite remarkable. When I arrived in Edmonton in 1990 I had assumed that the community did not have a long future as an organized and dynamic force, that its great days were over, that was partially of course because of the disappearance of Ukrainian language which was very marked by 1990 when I arrived and because the battle had been won for the Ukrainian bilingual schools. Creating the Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies, these amazing things that were done by Professors Savaryn and Lupul in creating a publicly funded Ukrainian Institute at a university. The other was that the generation that still bore the marks of discrimination was going away. I mean there is no way you can judge this, we have no metric barometer to say, but what I would argue is that in certain ways the U.S. was an easier country to be Ukrainian in,  until the second world war.

But here [in Canada] the issue was very much you couldn’t really become British and if you weren’t really a Brit or a Scot you really weren’t in this society. Toronto that I first knew, Toronto in the sixties was a very tight British little world and city. Western Canada people bore the marks of this discrimination. As I say when Myrna* and I talked, Galicians weren’t white to those people,  you had to change your name to get a job in a department store in downtown Edmonton.

* Myrna Kostash