MultiCulti Community Challenge Embrace Who You Are

dwana-de-la-cerna-multiculti-blogherIt’s the first time I’ve shared so much information online. Thanks to Dwana De La Cerna for asking me to contribute my personal cultural story on her blog, House on a Hill.

That’s me with Dwana, a host of the 2013 BlogHer MultiCulti Community Celebration. Two more talented bloggers,  Ananda Leeke and Pauline Campos, co-hosted the celebration.

What’s your culture? How has it affected who you are and what you do? Here’s my story.

MultiCulti Embrace Who You Are Interview

Tell us a bit about Barb the teenaged girl. How did your culture affect your young thoughts and dreams?

Small towns can be confining; dreams can help you think bigger.

Knowing that my family tree on my mother’s side traced back to Mary Queen of Scots and that my father’s parent’s roots were deep in Hungary gave me a worldly view beyond the farmlands of central Illinois. Our family name, Rozgonyi, is in our Hungarian hometown’s tourism brochure. In the course of researching for this guest post, I found Telkibanya, Hungary on Facebook. Thanks for the prompt to reflect and remember, Dwana!

Where did you see yourself when you were 20, 25, 35?

As a 20-year-old college student at the University of Illinois, I was my sorority’s social chair. My job was to plan parties/exchanges with fraternities. We had 15 events that year, up from three or four the year before. We also entered a recycling content and broke national records for the most empty beer cans collected.

To win, we negotiated deals with bars, beer truck drivers and fraternities to help us out. I thought, at that time, that I would be in sales for the beer company. But, on the morning of my interview, I overslept, which was probably a good thing.

At 25, I was managing the regional office for a Dun & Bradstreet subsidiary. In addition to managing the inside sales team, I made up to 150 calls per day. Talk about being productive! I planned to pursue a corporate marketing or sales executive path.

At 35, I had two children. I’d been a business owner for a few years. At night, I typed in a mother’s journal I called LtlOne; it’s never been published and is about 30,000 words.

At this age, I saw myself as a creative writer and partnered with another playgroup mom, a graphic designer, to work with clients on marketing and PR projects.

Together, we produced an award-winning ad for the world’s largest organ and bone marrow transplant reinsurer. Also in this year, I created a video sales training program for a pharmaceutical company. My father passed away when I was 35 and we sold the home I’d grown up in.

This was a very transitional year. My family, two small children and a loving husband, kept me grounded. Going through everything [and I mean everything] in my childhood home drew me closer to my heritage.

What about your culture defines you?

There are few Rozgonyis [about 35 on LinkedIn] in the world. My married name is Svoboda, which means freedom and is more common in Eastern Europe. The Rozgonyi family is mentioned on Wikipedia and in a tourism brochure from Telkibanya, Hungary. Someday soon I would love to take my family back to our homeland.

My grandmother arrived at Ellis Island on Christmas Eve.


I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her to leave her home. She talked about how she left beautiful things there. When she left, she was training to be a pastry chef for a baron in Hungary. So many immigrants interrupted their good life in the old country for the promise of a better one in America.

Every morning, she made bread dough and let it rise in a feather bed. My dad said her pastry was so thin you could read a newspaper through it. As a little girl, I remember her being more comfortable speaking Hungarian than English. Like my Grandma Cory, Grandma Rozgonyi had long hair that she wore in bun during the day and in braids at night.

Both grandmas were revered as fantastic cooks. Both of my grandfathers passed away before I met them.

Whether it was cooking, sewing, gardening, or carpentry, working with their hands was important.

My uncle, Joe Rozgonyi, was a talented violinmaker who crafted instruments for professional violinists in Chicago. My father enjoyed working with wood; his profession was cutting meat.

Were your parents and close family members very pride-oriented when it came to your heritage or were they more focused on blending into American ways?

In all these years, no one from our family has visited Hungary. My grandparents wanted to fit in in America. They lived in a town called Westville where many languages were spoken. Everyone was very proud of their heritage, but few people were interested in going back.

What languages were spoken?


My grandparents, my aunts and my father spoke Hungarian. That’s my Aunt Helen, Aunt Mary, Aunt Aggie and my dad, John. My husband is half Hungarian and half Czech. When my mother-in-law met my family for the first time, they all spoke Hungarian together. It was quite a conversation!

Tell about our career path. Did your heritage impact your choices?

With a degree in marketing, I started out as a telemarketer/insides sales rep for a group health insurance company.

After a few years, I advanced to become the office manager and then moved on to working in direct sales for a group life insurance company.

After winning the group sales leader award, I looked for a new challenge and moved on to become a national sales trainer for a company that provided financial services for Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans. I loved my job, including all the travel, until I became a mom.

On my first Mother’s Day, I woke up alone in a hotel room and decided that I would find a way to merger motherhood and my career.

After going through career counseling and learning that I should be a florist or a writer, I decided to go the writer route and opened CoryWest Marketing Communications in 1990.

Three kids and over 20 years later, I can say that my wake up moment was well worth it!

I’ve been so honored to work with so many leading edge clients who’ve given opportunities to help them reshape the world. And, I’ve been close by to watch my kids grow up all along the way.

Although my Hungarian/Irish/Scottish heritage didn’t closely impact my career choices, my family’s culture definitely imprinted my lifestyle by underscoring the values of a strong work ethic, making beautiful things, finding joy in cooking and sharing stories.

Probably the biggest impact on me was stories. That’s why I named my company CoryWest Media. To honor my family’s storytelling legacy, I combined my mother’s [Cory] and grandmother’s [West] maiden names.


After I wrote this post, I started connecting with other Hungarians.

And, I found this video from Gary Vaynerchuk about how important your digital legacy is. Legacy is greater than currency.


Your Turn: How does your culture affect who you are and what you do?

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