Texas Czech group working to preserve traditions

The Texas Czech Heritage & Cultural Center, photo: www.czechtexas.org

The first Czechs began settling in Texas in the 1850s and within five decades there were around 250 Czech communities in the state. Today one of the organisations keeping the community's traditions alive is the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Centre. This week John Polasek, a member of its board of directors, was in Prague on behalf of the centre to receive an award from the Czech Foreign Ministry. He told me about its activities.

John Polasek,  photo: Martina Stejskalova
"We're re-establishing some of the old Czech farm homesteads. Most of the Czechs that came to Texas settled in farm areas. So we're rebuilding the farmsteads.

"We also have an amphitheatre where even people from the Czech Republic come and perform for us. We have a group coming in the next couple of months."

I've often heard about Texas being a big Czech centre in America, and even about the music that's come from there. How strong is the Czech culture in Texas today?

The Texas Czech Heritage & Cultural Center,  photo: www.czechtexas.org
"Amongst the older people it's still quite strong. We still have a lot of polka bands. You go out in central Texas mainly and you'll see polka bands and dances, and the old traditional Czech weddings still take place."

Among the younger generations is it a bit less strong?

"Among the younger generation it's getting lost, though in certain areas it's still fairly strong. You get into areas like west Texas and it's still strong.

"Believe it or not, in Texas the Czechs are the third biggest language group - we forced ahead of the German population."

You mean after English and Spanish?

"After English and Spanish."

Photo: www.czechtexas.org
Do you have trouble maintaining the language from that distance?

"Yes, naturally we do. The older folks are dying off, it's a shame to say, and us young people like myself haven't kept it up."

Tell us also about the collections you have at the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Centre of Czech historical artefacts.

"We have numerous pictures, books and all that that our ancestors brought over from the Czech Republic. We have a genealogy section where people can research their family history, and most of the people there know where there roots are in the Czech Republic, believe it or not."

Is there any one particular item you have of value at your centre?

"I guess naturally the old music pieces, the old music is probably our big thing."

I've heard the old Texas Czech music, from I presume the early part of the 20th century. How popular was that music outside the Czech community, if it was?

"In our area we have a lot of German people and of course they all enjoy the same music. The German and Czech have co-mingled quite a bit. So it's popular - it still is popular to this day in a lot of the areas."