The Influence of Czech-Founded Organizations on Heritage and Culture
Czechs are known to cherish the formation of clubs or organizations that address particular needs or concerns. This presentation will explore the influence of organizations founded in Texas Czech on Czech Heritage and Culture. Heritage is something that belongs to one by birth. Culture is a sum total ways of living by a group of humans that is transmitted from one generation to another.
We preserve our heritage by knowledge of the history, traditions, attitudes, values and background of our ancestors. We are of a particular ethnic group with a unique set of parents that is our heritage. Culture depends on what was important and valued by previous generations. We learn the culture of past generations through their artistic and intellectual pursuits, development or improvement of the mind, concern for what is regarded as excellent in the arts, letters, manners, mores, attitudes and ways of living. Heritage stays the same, but a culture can change through generations. Culture depends on what was important and valued by the previous generation. Even though many generations grew up in Texas, they managed to hold on to the culture of the Czech people. The values and attitudes were passed on to subsequent generations.
The family unit had a impact, but it should be noted that Czechfounded organizations also had a significant influence in promoting a culture of concerned, hardworking, responsible people who became good citizens and who continued to strive to make life better for the next generation.
Through these organizations and social interactions, Czechs learned about their heritage, the history of their country, the traditions and values of their people. Czech organizations provided a structure for conducting meetings, working cooperatively to solve problems and a means to help each other. Organizations united people to work for a common purpose and to meet others with similar backgrounds and interests. These values were passed on to the next generation.
The political history of the Czech lands is rich with triumphs, but filled with sadness and disappointment. Ruled by the Austro- Hungarian Empires for centuries, it is a wonder that the language has survived. The first Czechs came to Texas in the 1850s at which time the Czech Nationalist Movement had just started. The largest influx of Czechs to Texas began in 1873 when most came from the Moravian region. They continued to come in large numbers until about 1910. The Czech lands became independent in 1918 and the name Czechoslovakia was selected, which included the provinces of Bohemia, Slovakia, Moravia, and Silesia. From the period of 1939-1945, they were under Nazi Protectorate. Following soon after that, Czechoslovakia was included in the Soviet Bloc until 1989. For a period of about forty years, the Czechs of the US were not able to communicate freely with their ancestors. This, I believe, had an impact on the perception of what it means to be Czech. In 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia became separate independent countries. (This is very brief –all of you know the history).
When Czechs immigrated to Texas, the economic conditions of their homeland were bleak with anecdotes of poverty, depression, no opportunity for advancement, threats of military inscription, and insufficient resources to provide a living for large families.
The traditions held were closeknit families that stayed in the same village. The villages were self-sufficient with means to provide food and goods for the community. Families grew gardens, orchards, raised rabbits, chickens, pigs, and cows. Craftsmen were able to provide necessary goods. They were involved in fine arts - music, dance, plays. They attended church where singing was a major part of the service. They worked hard and provided for their family and they preserved the Czech language in the home. Education and knowledge were promoted. Social gatherings with friends and family were frequent. Celebrating a wedding, birthday, or saint’s day were happy occasions to be together. They consoled each other in times of sorrow.
As far as attitudes, they were perhaps skeptical of the future. However, they had a deep faith in God, and must have believed in self-worth. They valued hard work, independence, responsibility, opportunity for growth and prosperity, a voice in government, freedom, liberty, and the right of property ownership.
As the new immigrants began to settle in communities, they brought with them the few goods that they could pack into a large wooden trunk or trunks. They also brought with them those values and attitudes about living and providing for their families, but now with a sense of opportunity and hope. The idea of freedom and the possibility of owning land filled them with optimism. Despite the hardships and hard work, they resolved to stay and to become good citizens. They strived to make life better for their children. Not to be discouraged by a language barrier, strange foods, unfamiliar music, land that needed clearing, and the other obstacles that they faced for a smooth transition to life in Texas, they settled in small communities that already had Czech residents and they socialized, worshiped together and formed clubs to solve some of those unexpected dilemmas. Their desire for a voice in governing to meet their needs was strong. The structured club with each person having a voice must have appealed to the new immigrants.
One of the oldest organizations that became active in Texas was the SOKOL. (Falcon) It is the only organization to be included in this paper that was not organized in Texas. Founded in the Czech lands in 1862, it came to the U.S. in 1865. In Texas, the oldest active SOKOL chapter (founded in 1908) is in Ennis, Texas. This organization is dedicated to physical, mental, and cultural advancement through gymnastics.
In 1889- the KJT-Katolicka Jednota Texaska,. Catholic Union of Texas was founded in Fayette County. It is a Catholic fraternal benefit society that has societies across the state. It provides life insurance, burial insurance, annuities, and loans for its members. Many of the newly arrived immigrants were able to borrow money to buy a farm with a loan from KJT. Members have formal meetings and frequents socials to stay in touch. They have cultural programs for their members and a monthly newsletter. They built a few halls for meetings and entertainment. Since they were usually associated with a parish, facilities were shared with the parish.
In 1897- the KJZT-Ceska Rimska- Katolicka Jednota Zen Texaskych was formed—Catholic Family Fraternal of Texas. This is a women’s counterpart of KJT with the same mission.
1897- the SPJST- Slovanska Podporujici Jednota Statu Texas—-Slavonic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas organized in Fayette County. They have lodges throughout the state and provide life insurance and annuities to their members. They grant scholarships and also provide cultural programs for their members. They built many halls for entertainment such as plays, dances, and meetings. They also have a weekly newsletter to keep members informed of statewide events.
1901-RVOS-Rolnicky Vzajemne Ochranny Spolek Statu Texas. Farm Mutual Insurance Company. Organized by nine Czech men in Bell County to provide fire and casualty insurance for the farmers. Members owned the company and decided the affairs of the organizations. Frequent meetings were held in the communities with a social hour following. Meetings were conducted in Czech until the 1950s.
1909-Cechia Club. It organized at the University of Texas to promote Czech language and culture. Through the efforts of this club, Czech language was brought into the curriculum at U.T. in 1915. The organizations helped Czechs make the transition to English and to help them assimilate into the American culture.
1939-CESAT-Czech Ex-Students Association of Texas. Other Czech-American Organizations such as The University Club and the Association of Czech-Ex Students of Texas that were established in the twenties in Austin then merged with the Cechia Club and adopted the present name, CESATCzech Ex-Students Association of Texas in 1939. At one time they provided loans to students for study while at the University. They now grant scholarships through two endowments and also support Czech-related endeavors.
1954-CEFT. The Czech Educational Foundation of Texas. It was founded to promote the study of the Czech language and culture. They raised One Million Dollars as an Endowment to fund a Czech Chair at the University of Texas for the purpose of promoting the Czech language and studies. Then they raised additional funds to provide a fellowship at A&M, and an endowment for musical studies at North Texas University in Denton.
1982-CHS. The Czech Heritage Society of Texas. It was established to aid its members in genealogical research. Chapters were added throughout the state that are active in promoting Czech heritage such as the Czech-Slovak Queen and Little Sister Competition, Family Day Camp, and a Genealogy Workshop. Mission was expanded to include the study of Czech traditions and other programs of interest to Czechs.
1985-TOCA. Texans of Czech Ancestry. (An umbrella organization of a coalition of Czechfounded organizations) Initial project was to organize a Music Symposium to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Texas Independence. (1836-1986), The collaboration produced a successful event. Organizers then decided to incorporate in 1986. The mission was adopted to promote communication among Czech organizations to help them realize worthwhile projects.
1995- TCHCC. Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. Plans for this project were under the direction of the Texans of Czech Ancestry until it incorporated in 1997. The mission is to develop a Czech Center that will promote and preserve Czech heritage with a library, a museum, a living history village, exhibits and a venue for entertainment and meeting places for Czech organizations.
The above named are not all of the Czech organizations in Texas, but do include those that had representatives who were active in the planning and support of TCHCC. They provided the seed money and plans to get TCHCC started.
The influence of these organizations is substantial in preserving and promoting the Czech heritage and culture. What we are able to recreate and exhibit and offer today can be attributed to the untiring efforts of our great grandparents, grandparents and parents to hold on to the rich Czech heritage that they treasured. They held on to the books, artifacts, shared the memories, and joined organizations that promoted Czech culture. It would have been difficult to find the thread and some continuity to commemorate and honor our ancestors without these organizations. Many of our traditions have gone through a Texas transition. Some of our artifacts are lost forever. However, many items have been preserved. Sometimes, we are accused by the young generation of still trying to speak an archaic dialect of Czech. With a history of no communication with our homeland for almost 50 years, we could have lost it all. Thankfully, now we can reconnect with our ancestors. We can travel to the Czech Republic and Slovakia and find those places where our grandparents lived.
We are indebted to all of the leaders and members of the Czech-founded organizations for their dedication, foresight, energy, and enthusiasm to help each other and to pass on to subsequent generations those values that were important to the Czech people.
We are proud of our Czech heritage and we hope that we can continue to promote the rich culture of our ancestors.Retta Slavik Chandler
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