Diary

Immigrant Assimilation 80 Years Ago - My Mother's Story

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.