Bohemians in Texas.
By Rev. , Jan Hus Bohemian Church, New York City.
Not since my trip to Bohemia have I had such a delightful experience as was afforded me during my recent visit to the Bohemian sections of the State of Texas. Having previously visited all sections of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovak-land, and having already acquainted myself with the conditions prevailing amongst the Bohemians in such American centres as New York, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and the farming regions of the central west, it was intensely interesting by way of comparison and of completion of my knowledge of the Bohemian people, to observe the conditions of life prevailing amongst the Bohemian population of 100,000 in our great Lone-Star state.
The first impression that I bring away with me is that in Texas more than in any other part of the United States, the conditions of life, the habits of mind and thought of the Czechs resemble those prevailing in the old country. The mere fact that the vast majority of the people are engaged in farming is sufficient to give this impression. For, somehow, when one conjures to one’s mind a picture of a typical Bohemian, there comes before his mind’s eye the picture of the tiller of the soil. Certainly it is true that out on the farms, under God’s open sky, surrounded by fields and meadows, forests and hills, the Bohemian seems to be in his proper element. Even the Bohemian national anthem “Kde Domov Můj” describes the homeland in the following words:
Streams are rushing through thy meadows,
Mid thy rocks sigh fragrant pine groves,
Orchards decked in spring’s array
Scenes of Paradise portray.
And this land of wondrous beauty
Is the Čech land, Homeland mine.
The Bohemians of Texas have not as much cause for sighs of longing as they sing this anthem as have those living in New York or Chicago where the sight of a bit of green is a rare treat.
And as in the old country, the Bohemians of Texas are good farmers. Never will I forget the sight of the peasants up in the hill country of Bohemia and Moravia making use of every available inch of land, and producing good crops from soil which an American would despise as good for nothing. In Texas, the Bohemian farmers have not had to contend against those natural disadvantages. They are settled, for the most part, in the most fertile regions of the state. The great black belt, famous for its productiveness, is largely taken up by Bohemians. But, even here, they have not found life a bed of roses. The Bohemian farmers are prosperous today because they faced and overcame obstacles that frightened away the natives. They found there unbroken prairies used only as grazing ground by the Texas ranchers, who were too lazy or timorous to undertake the cultivation of it. They were not afraid to undertake the cultivation of bad lands, and many a hundred acres which are now bearing good crops were once wild forests, which were cleared only by diet of persevering and painstaking toil. I know of no more heroic work than that performed by the pioneer farmers of Texas. All honor to them! It is largely due to their efforts that Texas is now one of the richest states in the Union.
And the Bohemians are held in very wholesome respect by their American neighbors. I took advantage of every opportunity to learn how the natives regarded their new neighbors, and was gratified, though not surprised, to hear such expressions of opinion as the following: “The Bohemians are the best farmers in all Texas”; “They make the very best American citizens”; “I have never lost a cent of money through bad debts of Bohemians”; I am proud to have them as my neighbors and friends.”
And this good opinion has been won in spite of conditions which might well have aroused in the natives a feeling of jealousy and resentment. One of the besetting sins of native-born Americans is the tendency to regard all foreigners as inferior to themselves. And when these “foreigners” come into a community and proceed to demonstrate their superiority as workmen and as farmers, a feeling of jealous resentment might easily be provoked. The Bohemians, however, have gone about their work in such a quiet, unassuming manner, with such an entire absence of domineering braggadocio, and have withal been so kindly and neighborly in their relations with the natives, that all prejudice against them as foreigners has been broken down, and they have been gladly welcomed into the farming community of the state.
Bohemians have now been in Texas since the fifties, so that we have now a third generation growing up. It is interesting to observe the process of Americanization amongst them. In spite of several tendencies which would seem to work in the other direction, the Bohemians of Texas are better Americans than those who have made their homes in our large cities. The Bohemians have kept by themselves a good deal, even out on the farms. It is seldom that you will find a Bohemian farmer settled in the midst of Americans. Generally they settle in the Bohemian regions of Texas, and there, through their churches and societies and in some cases through their schools, they foster their own language and their own racial consciousness. Furthermore, owing to the fact that it is only a year since Texas secured a compulsory education law, and to the further fact that the children are put to work at an early age in the cotton fields, a great many, though born in this country, have grown up with a very meagre knowledge of the English language. But, in spite of this fact, they are good Americans. That is to say, they seem to have grasped the spirit of America, of her ideals, traditions and institutions even better than some of their country men who have learned the English language and American ways so fast that they have forgotten their mother tongue and the ideals and traditions of their forefathers. All this goes to deepen in my mind the conviction that it is a great mistake to hasten unduly the process of Americanization, and the belief that the more loyal these foreigners are to the traditions of their old country, the more loyal will they be to this, their adopted country. Of course, the Bohemian language is doomed to a slow death. I venture to predict that it will endure longer in Texas than elsewhere, and yet it is there that the process of Americanization has borne the greatest fruits.
In Texas, as elsewhere, I have found it to be true that it is those who are the most ardent Bohemian patriots who are the most loyal in their allegiance to America. A Bohemian who will not support the Bohemian National Alliance in its effort to liberate Bohemia from the hand of the oppressor, is not likely to support the American government in its fight for freedom and democracy. Whereas those who are most active in the propaganda for the independence of Bohemia, are encouraged in their activity by the very keen appreciation which they have of the liberty and democracy afforded to them under the American flag.
My visit to Texas has done much to deepen my affection for the Bohemian people. They are amongst the most progressive of our new citizens. They are making great contributions to our economic, political and cultural life. They have an intense love of liberty which makes them most appreciative of all that America stands for. It seems to me that the least we Americans can do is to give them a hearty welcome into our community of liberty-loving citizens, and lend to them our sympathy and support in the noble effort they are making to secure political independence for Bohemia.