Radio Prague woman to coordinate project collecting Czech- and Slovak- Americans’ stories

Rosie Johnston

This Wednesday is reporter Rosie Johnston’s last day here at Radio Prague. Why? Because Rosie is heading to the United States, to undertake a new national project, interviewing Czechs and Slovaks who emigrated to America under communism. Rosie joins us now in the studio with more details about the project:

“I’m leaving to go and work at the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Iowa in the United States to start a two-year project which is really interesting, gathering the testimony and the memories of Czechs and Slovaks who emigrated from communist Czechoslovakia in 1948 and 1968 in particular. That will last around two years and we want to talk to around 150 people.”

Rosie Johnston
And how come it is Iowa which is the focus and the location of this museum?

“Well, the focus, the Czechs and Slovaks who are the focus of all of these interviews, are not actually in Iowa, they are going to be in Chicago and Cleveland respectively. But I’ll be working for the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library which is actually based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa because of emigration history. Czechs especially emigrated there in the 19th century, with the incentive of the Homestead Act which basically offered immigrants from Europe a bit of farmland if they came. To this day, Iowa is a very rural state, and, like I said, it has this very rich history of Czech immigration.

“In the 1970s, locals who wanted to preserve a bit of this, their own heritage, got together, gathered some of the artifacts that their predecessors had brought over there with them, and from that founded a museum, which had fairly humble beginnings. But, in 1997, a new museum building was opened there with a lot of fanfare, by Václav Havel, Michal Kováč and Bill Clinton.”

Are you happy that there are obvious Czech ties in this job?

“Absolutely – and Slovak ties – the Slovak element of this work shouldn’t be forgotten! But yes, I’m sure I’ll still be able to use the Czech language in America with some of those who have emigrated there in the course of the past 60 years. And a part of the questions we will be asking our interviewees will be about their lives in communist Czechoslovakia, which will be really interesting. We are hoping to piece together something like a picture of the country that these people were leaving – because, to the best of our knowledge, there is no such library of such footage which exists, at least in America at the moment.”

And what are you hoping the final results of the project will be?

“Well, this is only the first stage of this project, we would hope to build up a yet more complex map of Czechs and Slovaks around the United States, but for the moment, we are just looking at Chicago and Cleveland. And what we are hoping to make is a very comprehensive library of this testimony in video format. Clearly, we plan to make a special edition of the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library’s magazine dedicated to these people and the stories they’ve told. And hopefully, in the years to come, we want to make exhibitions out of some of this footage – and hopefully, these exhibitions will be in Cedar Rapids in Iowa, and maybe here in Prague and in Bratislava as well.”