Honors Program

 

Date of this Version

Spring 3-2018

Citation

Meegan, Katharine. "Czech Immigrants in Nebraska: A Question of Identity and Assimilation." Bachelor's thesis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2018.

Comments

Copyright Katharine Meegan 2018

Abstract

This thesis examines the dynamics of cultural and social assimilation through the experiences of Czech immigrants into Nebraska. The Czechs' long struggle to maintain their ethnic identity has shaped their experiences with assimilation. After a review of assimilation theory, I conclude that the Czech experience with assimilation follows a “straight-line” assimilation model, a progression of assimilation that is complete by the third generation. Their relatively small size, settlement in rural areas, and a strong desire to maintain ethnic identity, as reflected in the formation of Czech language benevolent associations, gymnastic societies, and Czech language newspapers, led to “social” and “structural” assimilation but fell short of psychological and acculturation. Thus, the Czech experience better reflects the idea of cultural pluralism than Americanization. This idea suggests that ethnic groups maintain elements of their identity, in spite of assimilating in other areas of life. This thesis is tested by examining three variables: language, farming practices and rural land ownership, and intermarriage. As Czech immigration declined following the world wars, language maintenance became the most important element in cultural maintenance. This was done by publishing Czech language newspapers and resisting Americanization by opening “ethnic schools”. The Czech language was mostly maintained through the second generation and thereafter faced significant decline. I found that intermarriage, as demonstrated by primary source evidence of marriage announcements from a Wilbur, Nebraska newspaper, followed a similar pattern. A detailed analysis of Czech-American land holding patterns in Nebraska, drawn from the available plat books from the 20th century, suggest a different pattern. The data shows that among the three variables, land ownership is most resistant to change or decline over time. Wilber, Nebraska Czech land holdings remained “relatively untouched by the hands of time.” This resistance has been the basis of a revival in the desire to maintain Czech language, culture, and Czech identity. In this way, Czech Americans have both maintained their ethnic identity and become a part of a diverse multi-cultural American society.

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