Mishka Kornai


When did your family immigrate to the US and where exactly did they move? What made them come?

My father came to the US from Hungary in 1980 to get his PHD at Stanford University. My stepfather is Dutch and came to California to work at IBM in the early 1990s. My Mom was born in the US, but her father was a Hungarian immigrant who came to the US fleeing the holocaust, while her mother immigrated as a baby from Sicily, Italy.

What is the first language you learned? Do you speak any other languages?

English, some Spanish

What language do you primarily speak when with your family?


Have you ever visited or been back to your family's native country? If so, how often do you visit and for how long? What is that experience like? Do you have relatives there?

My father and grandparents live in Budapest and I try to go every year when it’s possible/affordable. My only living/direct extended family lives in Hungary.

Describe your experience growing up in America as someone who is so closely tied to another culture. How did you feel? What things were easy? What did you find difficult?

I always felt a sense of otherness towards mainstream American culture growing up, but at the same time felt very much a part of it. My family raised me with a very liberal European sensibility and I was often confused by conservative social attitudes and practices as a child. I wasn’t allowed to watch Disney movies growing up and my family hated sports so those two pillars of American pop culture kinda flew over my head. At the same time, I was a pretty typical American kid who loved video games and McDonalds.

What type of food do you eat at home? What are some of your favorite dishes?

I grew up eating a huge variety of food. With my Mom it was a mix of Italian, American, Indonesian, Japanese, and Chinese. At my Dad’s place it was mostly Hungarian. My favorite foods are Csirke Paprikas (Paprika Chicken) and Risotto Alla Milanese (saffron risotto).

Describe your experience making friends as a kid growing up in the UNITED STATES.

I was a weird kid, but very outgoing. I made a lot of friends growing up, all of them weird too.

Do you consider yourself as more of an American or that of your parents' native country?

I think to consider myself anything but American, would be a misrepresentation however I definitely identify as a Californian far more.

Are you proud to be American? 

No. This is a political question for me. While I’m morally opposed to nationalism in general, I also think that our country has been responsible for countless shameful injustices against humanity.

Do you plan to pass along aspects of your parents native culture to your children (if you choose to have them)? What parts of the culture do you want to keep if any? If yes, how important is that to you, and how do you plan on doing so?

I think we pass on our cultural heritage whether we choose to not. That being said, Hungarian food is really special to me and I hope to cook Hungarian cuisine for my kids and pass on those traditions to them. I have a long way to go before I consider myself even a moderately competent chef, but I intend to practice and continue to get better.

Are there aspects of your culture that you don't enjoy, parts that you know you don't want to pass on?

I’m not sure I know the answer to this question, because I’m not sure I know how many of my own behaviors or beliefs stem specifically from my cultural origins. Perhaps I’ll have a better idea when I’m ready to have a child of my own, however in the meantime I will tell a short anecdote my mother told me on my 18th birthday. She was born in 1948 just after World War and her father was on the last boat of refugees to leave Italy at the start of the war, which is the only reason he was able to survive the Holocaust. Fast forward to my birthday in 2009, my grandfather has since passed, and my mother tells me that she has always hated Germany. She explains that she has a profound hatred for German people, German products, German things and that she has always felt this hatred for as long as she can remember. She grew up as a child with the explicit knowledge that the German government, her people, and her industry had all aligned to systematically murder people just like her, and in fact did murder most of her extended family. What she told me was that she never wanted to pass that hatred onto the next generation, which is why she waited until I was an adult to share her feelings with me.

What's one thing you wish people knew about your culture? 

Hungary has been oppressed by a variety of powerful political regimes for over a century now. The way Hungarians perceive themselves, fellow Hungarians, and the world around them is intensely impacted by that. Few people realize modern day Hungary is an autocracy like Russia and China, with almost no functioning democratic institutions to speak of.

Are there any specific thoughts / inspiration behind the way you took your photos and what you took photos of? Feel free to use this space to express your photographic inspiration for this project. 

This project came at an interesting period of time in my life. The birthday of my grandfather (on my father’s side) and my mother's birthday are two days apart from one another and both sides of my parents were insistent that I be present at their respective celebrations. Because of this, I chose to shoot the majority of my camera's roll in a single 3 day period. Day 1 was my grandfather's 90th birthday celebration in Budapest on January 20th 2018. Day 2 was my plane trip from Budapest to the California Bay Area on January 21st. And Day 3 was my mother's 70th birthday celebration the following day on January 22nd. A final fourth day was shot the following week on the day of my return home to Los Angeles. Our generation has adopted disposable cameras as a fun way to capture parties so I thought it would be interesting to bring the medium into two birthday parties celebrating individuals from much older generations.