People in Your Neighborhood: Marketa Hancova grew up in communist Czechoslovakia and found freedom in arts
As one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the nation, San Diego’s cultural landscape includes a small Czech-Slovak community with an enthusiastic advocate whose life mission is to share her heritage and the joy of living in a free society.
Over the past 20 years, Point Loma resident Marketa Hancova has become somewhat of a self-appointed Czech ambassador of San Diego, voluntarily organizing events to celebrate and raise awareness of her heritage through lectures, children’s performances, bonfires, dancing events, baking for the masses and running a small Czech school.
“I think it’s the answer to peace in the world,” Hancova said. “Let’s know each other, eat together, listen to each other. Let’s enjoy the beauty of our cultures.”
During non-pandemic times, Hancova could be found in full costume volunteering at the Czech House at Balboa Park’s International Village, folk singing and dancing in her local Czech band, the Poe Street Band, or producing classical concerts with artists from the San Diego Symphony and abroad.
Lately, she’s been mastering the art of teaching music virtually to San Diego City College students from her home. While Zoom classes are not ideal, Hancova couldn’t be happier to do it.
“I just love the mission of community college — education for everyone. It just resonates so well with me that it’s so accessible,” she said.
As the former dean of San Diego’s Platt College, Hancova’s passion for education, music and the arts is deeply rooted in her experience of growing up under Czechoslovakian communist rule.
Born in a tiny town in the Moravia region, she recalls living in a society without basic human rights and freedoms of expression. Yet, it also was a society that highly valued education. By high school, students spoke multiple languages and studied literature, philosophy and the arts.
“Pretty much everyone in the Czech Republic sang, played an instrument and was well-educated in music because it was part of the culture,” she said. As part of school, “every other week you would go to the theater, ballet and opera.”
Hancova’s parents were teachers and constantly under the watchful eye of the Communist Party for speaking out against the government. While many friends and neighbors escaped the country, Hancova’s parents committed to staying behind to influence the younger generation — a philosophy that Hancova adopted as she also joined the resistance as a teacher in literature and music.
“Being a teacher in communism gave me an opportunity to make a difference in a sense to be there for my students as someone wishing for freedom,” Hancova said. “Teaching literature and music gives you so many tools to uplift spirits and convey much in between the lines of a text. … To give the students an opportunity to express themselves creatively made a difference.”
Young and idealistic, Hancova took her students with her to the streets of Prague during the Velvet Revolution in 1989. In 10 days of massive, nonviolent protests, they were among the millions of protesters who helped overthrow the communist regime.
“For the first time in my life, I saw the Czech nation raising its head and speaking its mind,” she said.
Now, 30 years after leaving her motherland, Hancova said she is living the American dream as a teacher, a community advocate and, like in her younger days, an organizer to bring people together through music and the arts.
She also directs her energy to maintaining her cultural blog, aroundtownwithmarketa.com.
With most of her cultural events on hold, Hancova eagerly awaits a post-pandemic world where social gatherings can again take place safely.
“The silver lining is that while repairing what we had left behind, we can make it closer to our ideal,” she said. “It will be a clean slate; now let us make the most of it.”