Daniel Funda was born in Prague in 1975. Daniel’s parents divorced when he was young, and he grew up with his mother Jana and his younger brother Martin. His mother worked for an import/export company where she was responsible for coordinating jobs for workers abroad. Daniel says that due to her job responsibilities, she was often interviewed by the secret police. After the Velvet Revolution, she got her real estate license and today is a realtor in Prague. Daniel participated in several extracurricular activities during elementary school, including Young Pioneers and a Young Fireman’s group. He also enjoyed attending summer camps. He says that his schooling was excellent and that he especially loved history. Daniel attended a culinary high school and, after graduating, worked in several Prague restaurants. According to Daniel, this was a great time to work in the industry, as many new restaurants were opening in the wake of the fall of communism.
In 1998, Daniel and a friend traveled to the United States. They settled in Chicago where a Czech acquaintance helped them find a place to live and jobs. Daniel began working construction, a job which he held for many years, and also worked in restaurants. Today he works in the HVAC industry. Daniel says that upon first arriving in the United States he often socialized with other Czechs and Eastern Europeans, as there were many Czech restaurants and clubs that he enjoyed. In 2001, Daniel met his wife Colleen. He has been back to his home country several times since moving to the United States and says that while his heart is Czech, the United States is now his home. At the time of the interview, Daniel was in the process of receiving his American citizenship. He lives in Chicago with his wife Colleen.
“Due to the nature of my mom’s job, there were a lot of people who were grateful about my mom sending them overseas. But my mom is straight as an arrow, and I remember her going for an interview with the state police, StB, because they were interested in some of the people’s behavior, when they would send a thank you in the form of foreign currency. They opened the letter and would say ‘What do you have to say about this guy?’ What are you going to say? ‘I have no idea… I never asked for the money.’ So she was interrogated by the state police, I would say, at least once a month. And I remember when she’d try to say something about whatever, we went to the bathroom, she’d turn on the faucet in the sink, she’d turn on the shower and then she’d whisper, because we lived in a state apartment and you know there is something in the walls.”
So what sort of things would she say that you would need water on?
“She was not telling me because I was too little, but when she was telling something to my dad or other adults, not certainly to me.”
“I think we had meetings maybe once a week after school. They’d teach you how to roll up the hose and how to do it on time. They’d take you to see firehouses and you got these little booklets and there were questions and you had to answer them, you had to turn them in and they’d give you a certificate of a ‘Young Fireman’ and everything. I loved it. I’m not going to lie, and I’m going to say that when you’re young, six, seven or eight, who cares? You got a blue shirt, navy blue pants. You got a pretty cool belt with all the bells and whistles on it that says Buď připraven. Vždy připraven! [Be ready. Ever ready]. You’ve got all the clips for your knives and everything. It’s pretty cool. So being a Pioneer didn’t bother me at all. [When] you’re six years old, you don’t certainly pay attention to the politics. All that you want to do is play football with your buddies after school or think about how you can sneak out of school earlier.”
Idea of the West
“When you see the pictures, I expected the streets to be lit up with neon signs and everything, people just walking, and everybody’s dressed differently, not in the same blue work pants and some sort of nylon shirt and everybody smells the same. Stores. In foreign stores you can actually walk and see different things, not like on Wenceslas Square when you walk by and it’s all the same and it’s like ‘Wow.’ The new fashion for the spring in 1985 and it’s all the same [but] different colors. So that was my idea of the West. Bright lights, streets are going like this [busy], people are going out… It was good.
“You walk in and it’s like ‘Wow.’ You’ve got great TVs, brands you never heard about or that you saw in illegal movies, and it’s so colorful, it’s playing and everything. And it’s all different. From a regular store with electronic equipment to a Tuzex, it was like the Czech store was here [low] and the Tuzex was right here [high]. It was like a treat to go it. I remember we had these special stores called Eso. It had better food. So going to the Czech grocery store – it was cool; it had my favorites, the fresh bread in the morning. It was good. But you walked into the Eso and it was a different smell, different looks. The foreign etikety [labels] were all colorful, jumping out at you and it was like ‘Wow!’ We used to go to Eso maybe once a month for a couple slices of something. It was expensive so that’s all we could afford. It was good, good stuff. I think that’s probably what got me going and thinking about cooking, too.”
“If I had a job out there for a year or two, I would move there for a year or two, but this is home at this point. I mean, my heart belongs to Czech, and here too, but I love my Czech history. I’m proud to be Czech. But here’s the thing; there’s a lot of Czech people in America who would never say they are Czech. I think it goes back in the day when people from Eastern Europe didn’t have it easy here at all. I know Italians didn’t have it easy; Irish didn’t have it easy. Well, the Czechs came after that and they didn’t have it easy too, and I think the Czechs kind of left themselves in their small, really small communities, when the Irish and the Italians took over in a big wave.”