Boston Marathon Bombers Weren’t Czech

Czech Republic FlagLast week, I rode the emotional roller coaster with all Americans after the senseless bombings at the Boston Marathon. Anger, sorrow, shock, outrage. Finally, some relief when the alleged bombers were killed and captured.

I felt one more thing that did not hit most Americans: Ethnic pride and the desire to slap the Twitterati upside their collective head.

When some social media morons learned that brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were of Chechen descent, they lashed out at the Czech Republic, confusing a peaceful European ally for Chechnya, a region in the Russian Federation. Things got so bad that the Czech (not Chechen) ambassador to the United States issued a statement/geography lesson:

As many I was deeply shocked by the tragedy that occurred in Boston earlier this month. It was a stark reminder of the fact that any of us could be a victim of senseless violence anywhere at any moment.

As more information on the origin of the alleged perpetrators is coming to light, I am concerned to note in the social media a most unfortunate misunderstanding in this respect. The Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities – the Czech Republic is a Central European country; Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation.

As the President of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman noted in his message to President Obama, the Czech Republic is an active and reliable partner of the United States in the fight against terrorism. We are determined to stand side by side with our allies in this respect, there is no doubt about that.

Petr Gandalovič

Ambassador of the Czech Republic

Other Tweeters corrected the imbeciles, but it was a sad commentary on the state of American education that so fundamental a mistake could gain traction.

It could have been worse, of course. Chechens in America now must deal with the accusatory, suspicious eyes of passersby. Their heritage has been smeared because two idiots did something terrible.  All the Czech Ambassador had to do was issue a clarification.

For me it was personal. A century ago, my great-grandparents on my father’s side came from what is now the Czech Republic.  My grandfather owned a Czech bakery in Cleveland, and my generation has embraced our heritage, especially in the kitchen.

Our last name confounds most American speakers. I grew up in an area where many (mostly European) ethnic communities came together. Italian, Irish, Jewish, Polish, Lithuanian and, yes, Czech neighborhoods bled into one another.  Among all the interesting last names, ‘Trejbal’ proved persistently challenging. People just don’t know what to do with that middle ‘j’. (Hint: It acts like a ‘y’.)

When I was a kid, new teachers would get a chance to butcher it at the start of each school year. Things have not improved over time, and ‘Tredge-ball’ remains the most common mispronunciation.

Usually, they apologize and at least feign interest. “Oh. I’m sorry. That’s an unusual name. Where’s it from?”

The answer, repeated uncounted times over decades, comes readily, “Don’t worry; no one gets it right. It’s Czech.”

When you must declare your heritage so often, you cannot help but embrace it.  These days I hang a Czech flag out front of the house for part of the year.

My flag is in storage after a recent move and so is my dumpling cutter. Seeking some small measure of solidarity and paprika, the other day I visited the Czech food cart in downtown Portland. As I enjoyed a schnitzelwich on a beautiful spring day, I tried to figure out what made last week’s geographic confusion so infuriating.

When people mistake the land of my ancestors for Chechnya, it’s insulting not because I don’t want to be associated with accused bombers (though I don’t) but because the Czech Republic deserves more respect than that. It has great food, great beer and thousands of years of history. It’s cool, and there are more than 1.6 million of its descendants in America. We’re Czech, and that’s more than enough.

The Broad Side’s newest contributor Christian Trejbal is a member of the board of directors of the Association of Opinion Journalists and chair of the Open Government Committee. Overcoming graduate degrees in philosophy, he worked as an editorial writer at The (Bend) Bulletin and The Roanoke Times for more than a decade. In 2013, he and his wife moved to Portland, Ore., where he writes freelance, pursues a couple of book projects and provides public policy analysis. Or, as his wife prefers to say, he is a stay-at-home dude. Follow him on Twitter @ctrejbal.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/CC License

  • Bernadine Spitzsnogel

    Welcome, Stay at Home Dude, this is a very good article that I will be sharing with a number of people, including the friend who said to me, “Damn those Middle Easterners.” What? When did they stop teaching geography in school?

  • Chris Trejbal

    Thank you, Bernadine. I’m not sure that it’s a matter of when they stopped. There have always been ignorant people. Those people just have a broader audience today thanks to the Internet.

kurt cobain rolling stone cover
Rolling Stone Just Put Feminist and Advocate Kurt Cobain on Their UVA Report Cover
Mad Men finale, Mad Men and women
Six Months, 65 Episodes: What I Learned Catching Up With “Mad Men”
Téa Leoni Saves the World
Eating Subway in France, or How I Finally Learned the Metric System
Hand of an old woman with golden jewelry in hospital bed
Do I Want to Know if I’ll Get Alzheimer’s?
In Praise of Taxes
Trigger Warning: Western Privilege
kurt cobain rolling stone cover
Rolling Stone Just Put Feminist and Advocate Kurt Cobain on Their UVA Report Cover
My Political Fantasy: Janet Huckabee Takes on Bill Clinton
Equal Pay Day, Paycheck Fairness Act
Equal Pay Day: Even Kids Get It
Go Ahead, Hillary, Earn My Everyday American Vote
US Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons
15 Possible Hillary Clinton Campaign Announcements
feeling fat
Is Fat Passé?
Women in Science: When it Comes to Robotics, It’s Not Just About Ironman
Hand of an old woman with golden jewelry in hospital bed
Do I Want to Know if I’ll Get Alzheimer’s?
In Praise of Taxes
Hand of an old woman with golden jewelry in hospital bed
Do I Want to Know if I’ll Get Alzheimer’s?
sexual assault on college campuses, rape on college campuses
Believe Me
women and aging, Frances McDormand, embracing matronly
Why “Matron” Isn’t a Four Letter Word
Where Is Michael Brown’s ‘Humanizing’ Magazine Cover?
The Space Between Love and Fear
sexual women on TV, sexual role models
Powerful Sexual Female Role Models of a “Certain Age”
reinvention culture, Oprah and reinvention, More Magazine and reinvention, women stop reinventing yourselves
Reinvention Culture is Killing Me
Cupid’s Weekend Cocktails: It Takes Two

Get our new weekly email
Broadly Speaking

featuring our best words for the week + an exclusive longread