My cousin just sent me some mementos from my recently-deceased uncle
Frank (my mother’s youngest brother), and among them was a little
book that I had almost forgotten. It is a poignant study of how
immigrants of the 1920s embraced their cultural heritage and, at the
same time, embraced their new country. I can remember my mother
reading some passages from it to me when I was quite young and being
impressed and surprised that my mother had once spoken Czech, even though she was a second generation American.
The book, in Czechoslovakian, is “A First Reader for the Czech
Catholic Schools of America, for Sweet Youth-Illustrated” (thanks to
Google Translate, quite an impressive tool). My mother attended a
Czech Catholic grade school in South Omaha (to this day a strong
ethnic Slavic neighborhood), and this reader was one of her
textbooks. I understand that the rest of the curriculum was
delivered in English (maybe with a Czech accent), and I am confident
that it included a strong dose of exceptionalist American history.
I can only imagine the hullabaloo that would arise today if the
“Hispanic Catholic Schools of America” insisted that all “Sweet
Youth” be required to be fluent in Spanish, as well as English.
That aside, I am sure of one thing-St. Wenceslaus School in Omaha
was not advocating for the restoral of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
and reparations from the United States for taking the English/French
side in the wars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. My
mother died a proud American, proud as well of her Czech-Croatian heritage.
A lesson from those times of significant in-migration might be
summarized in the Preface of the Reader by author Sister Mary Vita,
O.S.F.-“Ve spojeni je sila!”, which translates “In conjunction strength!” Would that we could embrace that sentiment in these divisive times.