Hana Voris was born in Písek in 1947. Her father, Ladislav, was a student in Prague at the time so, for the first 11 months of her life, Hana was raised by her mother Milly Voris and her maternal grandparents at their home in Bělčice. Following the Communist coup in 1948, Hana’s father left Czechoslovakia and settled in France, where he arranged for Milly and Hana to receive visas which allowed them to leave the country legally. Hana and Milly traveled to Paris on the Orient Express in June 1948. Hana lived in France until she was six years old and learned to speak the language thanks to two old ladies with whom the family lived and school, where she attended first grade. The Voris family came briefly to the United States in 1952 with a view to settling in New York City, but returned to France several months later when Hana’s father decided he preferred living there. In 1953, however, the Vorises again traveled to New York, where they lived for the next four years. Hana attended St. Joan of Arc School in Jackson Heights, where she says she was helped by a nun from Quebec who could communicate with her in French.
When Hana was 11 years old, the family moved to Cleveland (as her father took a job in the city). She says it was at this time that she and her parents became particularly active in Sokol. The Vorises settled in a Czech neighborhood around the city’s 131st Street and, for two years, Hana attended Holy Family School in Parma, Ohio. After graduating from Catholic high school, Hana attended Case Western Reserve University, where she studied French and Russian. In 1968, she spent time studying abroad at the Sorbonne in Paris, where she says she was caught up in the French riots in May which were particularly violent in the Latin Quarter, where she lived. Later that summer, she traveled to Czechoslovakia to visit her family there.
Hana frequently returned to Czechoslovakia thereafter, and spent five years in Prague following the Velvet Revolution. She worked in the city as an English teacher for Český Telecom. She returned to Cleveland when her father passed away and now works teaching English as a second language to refugees in the city. Today, Hana lives with her mother, Milly, in South Euclid, Ohio.
“I don’t think our family really assimilated very well, as a whole, because all our friends were Czech and a lot of times if I wanted to do something I wasn’t permitted to do it because it wasn’t something that we did. So that kept me separated from everybody else a little bit. And I think it stayed with me through most of my formative years, this not feeling quite with… being apart, always being on the fringes rather than being in the in-crowd, as they say.”
What sort of things would you not be permitted to do?
“Like a sleepover. I mean, my parents didn’t understand sleepovers, for what? And other things with the kids, you know. So I was always sort of kept apart.”
“That whole, that East 131st, there were the bakers, the butchers, and when my grandmother visited us in 1964, it was great because whatever store she would go into, not everybody, but there was always someone who could speak Czech. My mother got the job at the bank because she spoke Czech. We walked to the Sokol, and my parents were very active in the Sokol and we were there at least four nights a week, always either my mother or somebody was there, though my father didn’t… Did he gym back then? Okay, he gymned back then but then he was more of a meeting person than really a gymnast, but I basically grew up in a Sokol, which was nice.”
“I never felt I was Czech-Czech, because I didn’t grow up there. So, I was visiting, but because I spoke Czech, I fell in. But I had the same feeling when I went back to France, because I did speak French and so I wasn’t quite the foreigner, because I was able to understand and communicate and function. And because France was a lot more similar to the States and the way I had lived here, so I could say I was almost more comfortable in France than I was in Czechoslovakia at that time.”
Success in France
“I personally think that my father probably would have done better financially if he had stayed in Europe. Because he worked with an attitude of a European – you stay with one company for 30 years, retire, instead of changing companies and financially making those big leaps. Even though he was a very hard worker, I think he could have done better.”