Rasto Gallo was born in Lučenec, Slovakia in 1970. His father, Zdenko, was a bank manager, and his mother, Eva (an ethnic Hungarian), was a teacher. When Rasto was four years old, his father received a promotion and the family moved to Banská Bystrica. The Gallos had a piano in their home that Rasto enjoyed playing; he later took music lessons. He remembers skiing and hiking in the nearby mountains. Rasto attendedgymnázium in Banská Bystrica where he began learning English. He says that he became interested in popular Western music, and that the only way to listen was from bootlegged cassette tapes because records were not readily available in Czechoslovakia at the time. Following gymnázium, Rasto enrolled at Matej Bel University (which was then a teacher’s college) to study music education. His first year there was marked by the Velvet Revolution. Rasto says he was out in the streets “almost every day” during these protests. He also says that the revolution had a “huge effect” on his life, as he was able to start studying English at university and was influenced by the Western culture that subsequently crossed the border. At university, Rasto became interested in jazz music and began playing the saxophone. He was admitted to study music at the conservatory in Bratislava, where he subsequently won a scholarship to the United States.
In March 1997, Rasto arrived in Cleveland where he studied for one year at Cuyahoga Community College. He then received a scholarship from Cleveland State University, from which he graduated with a masters degree in music. In Cleveland, Rasto became involved with the Slovak community. He translated Jan Pankuch’s History of Slovaks in Cleveland and Lakewood into English, and assisted with the creation a cataloging system at the Slovak Institute. In 2000, he decided to stop pursing a professional music career and found employment at a residential real estate firm. In September 2007, he moved to Chicago, where he found a job selling commercial real estate.
Rasto knew as soon as he arrived in America that he did not want to return to Slovakia to live. He tried several approaches to gaining American citizenship. He says he was able to gain permanent resident status in Canada because his translating skills were considered valuable; however, in 2000, he also entered the U.S. green card lottery, which he won. In 2006, Rasto became an American citizen, an event he calls “one of the best days of his life.” He has been back to Slovakia several times to visit family and friends. Today, Rasto lives in Chicago.
“My father especially, was very careful not to – back then, you didn’t know who you could trust and if you mentioned something in front of your kids, then they go to school and they talk to their friends and you can get your parents in trouble that way – so he was very careful not to show his opinions one way or another, so I don’t know what his views were. But I can tell you he was one of the few people who transitioned successfully [following the Velvet Revolution], he remained in his position, actually improved. Not because he was a Communist, but because he was a very capable guy and fair to everybody and never really got involved with the Communists, so people weren’t after him trying to get his head. It worked out well for him, not expressing his opinions, publicly anyway.”
“At that point I got into music, and I was listening to a British heavy metal band, Iron Maiden – they were my gods – so what helped me was I wanted to know what they were singing about, so I translated all their lyrics, and that’s how I really got much better at English. They were using different words than you’d usually find in high school textbooks and my level of interest was obviously much higher, so that always came very easy.”
“Well, we were there almost every day, but I was just in the crowd. I didn’t want to get involved, and not because I was against or for any of it, but I really didn’t know what was going on, and I’m the type of person that I’m not going to get involved unless I know what’s going on because what I don’t want to do is cause harm to somebody not knowing why. So I knew that I didn’t like communism and we wanted to get rid of that, but beyond that point, I really wasn’t going to get involved on a larger scale and get into the frontline, because it was unclear what the intentions were. And a lot of shady people come to the surface when something like that happens, because they recognize the opportunity to be in the spotlight or to better themselves, and people can quickly switch sides, and that’s what happened in a lot of cases back then. So I was just basically there to support, but as part of the masses and not in any sort of leading position.”
Impressions of America
“Oh, I loved it right away. It’s one of those weird things I cannot explain. I felt like I was away from home for 27 years. Right away I liked it and I wanted to stay. I love Americans. They’re the most wonderful people in the world. They’re very friendly, funny, easy-going. I like them much more than Europeans, that’s why I would not go back. So, I liked it right away. When I came here, I knew I wanted to live here.”
Slovak in the U.S.
“I always made a conscious effort to assimilate. I don’t want to stand out – it’s not that I don’t like to stand out – I don’t want to stand out as an immigrant. Because it always carries a little bit of a negative connotation, no matter what. You’re just not local, you’re not one of us, in a way. Although I’ve never felt that way, nobody ever made me feel that way. Americans are very open and liberal when it comes to that. After all, this country was established on those principles. I’m not afraid of telling people that I’m Slovak, it doesn’t bother me. But actually I feel much better when people tell me that ‘Oh you hardly have any accent.’ I like to hear that, not ‘Oh, are you from Slovakia? Where are you from?’ I don’t want people to pick up on that. Of course they do, but you know what I mean.”