Hi you guys, here is the summary essay on a current situation of the Czech-American community in the USA (if you would like to see Ivana’s more detailed report click here.)
CZ: Ahoj! tady je zbytek diplomove prace ceske studentky Ivany Stavarove, ktera popisuje nynejsi situaci Czecho-Americanu zijicich v USA (vice podrobnych udaju muzete najit zde).
The Czech-Americans of the 21st Century
by Ivana Stavarova
The 159 respondents, the Czechs, Czechoslovaks, and Czech-Americans, put together a vivid picture of the lives of Czech descendants across the sea in America. Their viewpoints differ in relation to their age, generation, the environment in which they were bought up and also their own nature as to how they approached the origin side of their identity individually. The Czech settlements in several parts of the United States are over one hundred years old, the evidence of Czech presence on the American land is hundreds of years old, yet the Czech life and Czech ways there are still very much vibrant, as we have learned from the current descendants’ answers.
The awareness of one’s origin in America, a country of immigrants, is very important. Many American citizens know where their roots are, they do genealogy of their names and are well informed about their family trees going back several generations. Similar is the situation described by the 159 respondents. Even if not a member of any of the Czech organizations or clubs, that heritage is still known and what more it is important to most of them that it be passed on to future generations. They keep the family history as alive as possible, as the stories of their grandparents leaving Europe and arriving in the USA are fairly known in most of the cases.
The ties with the Czech country were not cut over the decades, also thanks to the advanced technology and free access to the Internet, the approach to the news from Europe is not a problem from any corner of the world. Many of our respondents are interested in what is happening in the Czech Republic and are well informed by various sources. One source can be called the direct contact with Czech family or friends still living in the Czech Republic. The utter majority who answered my questions keep such contacts and even more of them have visited the Czech Republic at least once, often with the purpose of meeting their family, finding some distant family relatives or simply visiting the mother country of their ancestors. Their impressions from the visits are highly positive and optimistic, especially those taken after 1989. They appreciate the hard work we have done here after the rebirth of the independent state and literally keep their fingers crossed for our future further prosperity.
At home in America the Czech-American way of life is demonstrated in a few levels. There are a handful of those who, although aware of their heritage, have over generations or strong assimilation pressures kept in their lives very little of the Czech customs, traditions or perhaps cooking. Also not all are members of Czech clubs or organizations, although on the other hand it is not only members who can visit Czech festivals or other activities. The majority, however, are members of a scale of Czech associations and led as members very lively pro-Czech social lives within a larger, not solely Czech, community.
These Czech associations carry one very important role in the communities. Like everywhere else there functions a very natural process of assimilation, blending with the majority and adopting its styles and ways. The assimilation is also boosted by the decrease of purely Czech marriages in the communities and also with the coming of new generations where traditional attempts mostly weaken. The Czech associations hold most of the Czech customs, traditions, national cuisine, holidays and festive days with dances for their members as well as for a broader public, in order to keep their culture alive. These associations are also trying to catch the attention of younger generations by holding events for them like e.g. the Czech or Czechoslovak Queen Pageant (one of the crowned Queens also took part in this survey).
Most of the typical Czech holidays have diminished over time in the Czech-American families. What partially remains is Jezisek for Christmas and surprisingly Mikulas (St.Nicholas) before Christmas. Mikulas is said to be celebrated in some areas in two levels, the first one is a Mikulas party for adults and the second for grandmothers and their grandchildren, very much the time filled with sweet treats like in the Czech Republic. What remained as well and can be considered a Czech feature are strong family ties and family gatherings and reunions.
What settled in the families without consideration to any assimilation process and time is Czech cooking. Roast pork, dumplings and sauerkraut, kolache, fruit dumplings, pastries, sausages and many others found their fans in even mixed families and for those who do not cook even these traditional dishes are served at the Czech festivals and local Czech restaurants. The cook books were passed through generations, the kolache and dumpling recipes are kept in families as part of a precious heritage. (The author of one such Czech cook book participated in this survey as well). While not the most healthy cuisine in this health-conscious age, the tasty Czech cooking remains alive in these communities and Czech descendants.
What is an issue for today’s Czech-Americans is the loss of knowledge and usage of the Czech language. Language in general is very hard to pass on among immigrant groups, and as explained by some of the participants especially at the beginning of the 20th century parents often forbid their children to use Czech in order to blend into the new country better. But there were many other reasons, especially the monopoly of English and less Czech speakers around for practice. Yet the exceptions can be found in this case. There are still located schools and whole villages and small towns in Texas where the Czech language is used freely along with English. Whether there are other cases elsewhere in the US was not revealed by this survey.
This survey showed very interesting facts though. It is known that Czech immigrants spread along the United States irregularly. There were a few major centers of Czech life like in Nebraska, Texas, Wisconsin or Chicago. These centers accumulated not only Czech immigrants but also the traditions, customs, and language in such strength it could be preserved for a hundred years or more, as we are coming to recognize today. A late 19th century south Moravian accent is spoken in Texas even nowadays, while the traditions are kept, almost frozen in time, as they were kept when brought to the US during the immigrant’s generation. Homemade bread, sausages, jams or sauerkraut are routinely made in Czech communities in America while in the Czech Republic these practices are slowly abandoned even in the countryside. There is a similar situation with the traditional village dances. The folk life is, however, very hard to judge, nevertheless this Czech-American way is a very pleasant surprise discovery. While the Czech Republic has rushed ahead naturally losing some traditions, this history and traditions are kept alive by those Czech-Americans who migrated to the US.
The newest group of those respondents who left the free Czech Republic, that is they moved to the USA after the 1989 revolution, will have their own future studies and patterns of assimilation and retention of traditions to tell. Most of them already started their own Czech-American families and try to incorporate the Czech spirit in their everyday life. What will be their priorities in the way of this dual citizenship and what will be their demands on their children would be very interesting to discover, yet must be left to a future study.
How can a typical Czech-American of the 21st century be described? According to the results of the questionnaire, this fictional, all-encompassing Czech-American is a middle-aged person who is proud of his or her own heritage and origin, who loves to visit the Czech Republic and keeps in contact with people and the events and happenings there. This is a person who likes to dance polkas and feed his or her family with traditional Czech dishes. While no longer a native speaker, our typical Czech-American works on his or her knowledge of the Czech language and cannot imagine Christmas and Santa Claus without the company of Jezisek or Mikulas. This is a person who would like to keep the traditions and pride of their Czech origin in the family and who works hard for the Czech organizations he/she is a member of. Our typical Czech-American is someone who duly cheers out loud for the American athletes as loudly as they cheer for the Czech ones.
At the end of this Czech-American story let me just add how happy I am that this survey caught the attention of so many good people willing to help me to find the answers about the Czech life in the USA, something that we in Europe cannot otherwise find. It has been a wonderful experience that I went through with this project, with surprising results I would never have expected. I would like to thank all the kind participants for the time they spent with my questionnaire above, and for introducing me to their lives filled with pride in their Czech heritage. This entire work, once completed with their contributions, all of a sudden vitalized and gave this topic a current and personal mood which could not be captured in the historical sources.
According to the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs information for 2008, the most current census of Czechs living in foreign countries, there live 1 637 513 Czechs in the United States and 327 522 Czechoslovaks. (www.mzv.cz)If you liked this post buy me a coffee! (Suggested:$3 a latte $8 for a pound) Thanks!