Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide

Latin America

Statistics on the number of Lithuanians in Latin America vary wildly, putting the number anywhere between 60 000 to 1 000 000. It depends on who is to be considered Lithuanian as there is generally less participation in Lithuanian activities than in the USA or Western Europe. Many people of Lithuanian descent are now assimilated as in many cases they did not form ethnic enclaves and spread across large territories.

There have been Lithuanians in Latin America as early as the start of 19th century participating in the independence movements. Ignatas Domeika (also known in Polish as Ignacy Domeyko and in Spanish as Ignacio Domeyko) has a mountain named after him in Chile.

The real birth of Latin America's Lithuanian community was the interwar period (1920s - 1930s). In 1908 USA curbed immigration and Lithuanians opted for Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay instead. Argentina and Uruguay were as rich as Western Europe at the time and not far behind the USA. Brazil was poorer but had jobs in its extensive plantations.

60% of all 1926-1940 Lithuanian emigrants emigrated to these three countries. They published Lithuanian newspapers and created institutions. In general, they were poorer than Lithuanians in the USA and had less civil rights. Some used South America as a trampoline to the USA.

Latin America of the early 20th century still had vast unpopulated spaces so Lithuanians also participated in the establishment of new towns, e.g. Ijui (Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil) and Esquel (Chubut, Argentina). In the cities, they established Lithuanians were soon outnumbered by other immigrant communities. Lithuanian culture survived better in the region's metropolises (Buenos Aires, Rosario). There is a Lithuanian district in Sao Paulo, Brazil (Villa Zelina) centered around a Lithuanian church. Lithuanian parishes, dance troupes, and clubs exist in multiple Argentine and Uruguayan cities.

The last sizeable Lithuanian migration to Latin America was that of refugees in late 1940s who established the Lithuanian communities in Colombia and Venezuela. Never numbering more than 2000 they were nevertheless influential as most of their members were elite (artists, professionals). Antanas Mockus, a university professor, former mayor of Bogota and presidential candidate is a Lithuanian Colombian.

In the same era, J. Stalin invited interwar Lithuanian emigrants to return (for propaganda purposes), falsely promising riches. Some returned; those who could then left again for South America soon but this option was not possible to everyone.

After 1950s Lithuanian Latin Americans were never replenished by new immigrants. In 1945-1990 emigration was banned by occupational Soviet authorities. After 1990 Latin America was already relatively poor and Lithuanians favored the USA, Western Europe, and Australia as their new foreign homes. Intermarriage in the older communities triggered assimilation but some did marry within the community and there are 4th generation Lithuanians who still speak Lithuanian at home. The final Lithuanian newspaper in Latin America "Argentinos lietuvio balsas" ceased publishing in 2001.

There has been upsurge in interest in Lithuanian roots after Lithuania joined the European Union as the Lithuanian passport now provides a possibility to work in Western Europe.

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Argentina

Lithuanians began migrating to Argentina before World War 1 (about 5000 migrated) but the main wave of migration took place between the World Wars (~30 000), after USA has curbed immigration while much of the rest of the world was ravaged by World War 1 (whereas neutral Argentina thrived). One in five of the emigrants from interwar Lithuania ended up in Argentinian cities, creating significant Lithuanian heritage there.

The main "Lithuanian" cities were Buenos Aires, Beriso, Rosario, and Cordoba, more or less in this order. Unique Lithuanian heritage also exists in Patagonia, the southernmost inhabited region of the earth that had its first towns and cities built in the 19th century and Lithuanians were among their founders.

Esquel Lithuanain museum building in Patagonia

Esquel Lithuanain museum building in Patagonia

Buenos Aires Lithuanian heritage sites

Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina and one of the top 20 cities of the world in terms of population. Its wide avenues and grand architecture still breathe in the grandeur of the age gone by, when it was also one of the richest cities in the world and attracted many immigrants, among them Lithuanians.

Lithuanian-Argentinian Center with the patriotic symbol of Columns of Gediminas on its facade

Lithuanian-Argentinian Center with the patriotic symbol of Columns of Gediminas on its facade

Buenos Aires and its suburbs has the most massive Lithuanian heritage in Argentina and probably entire South America (except for Sao Paulo, perhaps). Three major Lithuanian heritage sites and hearts of the Lithuanian community are the Lithuanian Center, the Alliance of Lithuanians in Argentina and the Our Lady of Vilnius Lithuanian church. Each of the three is not merely a building but an entire complex of various premises, institutions, and activities. All three operate for more than 70 years and thus are full of Lithuanian symbolism and history.

Main stairway of the Alliance of Lithuanians in Argentina

Main stairway of the Alliance of Lithuanians in Argentina

"Secular" Lithuanian clubs operate on Saturdays. They include bars, libraries, Lithuanian item exhibitions, event halls for dancing and choir singing. Their activities are almost exclusively Lithuanian (save for the times the premises are rented out). On the other hand, the church (the complex of which also includes a Lithuanian museum, school, and monastery) has slowly drifted away towards a more general membership. Still, many of the parishioners have Lithuanian roots and the complex is arguably the richest in Lithuanian artworks.

Buenos Aires Lithuanian church

Buenos Aires Lithuanian church

Furthermore, the greater Buenos Aires has 5 streets named after Lithuania, the longest of which is 4 km long. That's the biggest number of Lithuania-named street among the conurbations worldwide. The mains streets have been renamed under the initiative of the Lithuanian community of Buenos Aires.

Beriso Lithuanian heirtage sites

A small (pop. 100 000) city of Beriso is unique in Argentina as most of its inhabitants are descendants of the ~1900-1940 immigrants and they care about their roots more than in nearly all other cities of the world. In Beriso it is very important to belong to an ethnic club (to the youth and kids as well), to participate in the annual Immigrant festivals. Lithuanians, ~3000 of whom once migrated here, are no exception.

Beriso Lithuanian club Nemunas

Beriso Lithuanian club Nemunas

There are not one but two Lithuanian clubs - "Mindaugas" and "Nemunas" - each with their small-but-nicely-built club HQ buildings, adorned with Lithuanian bas-reliefs. These clubs not only perform Lithuanian activities but also create new objects of Lithuanian heritage in Beriso, e.g. a Lithuanian traditional cross memorial in 2009.

Bas-relief of club Mindaugas depicts the first Lithuanian Christian king Mindaugas with a cross and a sword

Bas-relief of club Mindaugas depicts the first Lithuanian Christian king Mindaugas with a cross and a sword

Rosario Lithuanian heritage sites

Rosario has a Lithuanian club and a complex of Lithuanian church (that includes a school and a kindergarten). The community used to be smaller than in Buenos Aires and so the buildings are humbler. Still, the Roasrio Lithuanians were influential enough to ensure one of the streets in the city was renamed after Lithuania and another one after a famous local Lithuanian priest Margis

Rosario Lithuanian street commemorative plaque

Rosario Lithuanian street commemorative plaque

Patagonia Lithuanian heritage sites

Patagonia's Lithuanian history is very different from that of Argentina's main cities. Lithuanians migrated to Patagonia before World War 1 when the regions still had no cities. They were led or invited by Šlapelis family, more than a single member of which left a deep enough trace in Patagonian history to have numerous places named after Šlapelis surname. Most of them are in or around the city of Sarmiento, where the local museum has significant Šlapelis-related exhibits as well.

Šlapelis family images in Sarmiento museum

Šlapelis family images in Sarmiento museum

The second Lithuanian heart of Patagonia is Esquel and the local Lithuanian farmstead-museum where one can spend some nights in Lithuanian-inspired bungalows near the Andes and visit an impressive museum that is interesting both to Argentinian and to Lithuanian alike. All that was created by a private initiative of a single Lithuanian-Argentinian family.

Lithuanian-Argentinian newspaper printing exhibits in the Esquel Lithuanian museum

Lithuanian-Argentinian newspaper printing exhibits in the Esquel Lithuanian museum

Other cities of Argentina Lithuanian heritage

Although Lithuanian club organizations operate in a few more Lithuanian cities, they lack their own premises and these cities have no Lithuanian heritage sites. Cordoba Lithuanians once owned their own club building - however, that organization folded and while it was re-created, it now lacks premises. Tandil Lithuanian club, on the other hand, was established by descendants of Lithuanians researching their roots and they never had any premises nor Lithuanian heritage sites in the city.

Lithuanian folk dancers rehearsing in the Lithuanian Center of Argentina

Lithuanian folk dancers rehearsing in the Lithuanian Center of Argentina

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Brazil

Brazil arguably has the largest Lithuanian community in South America. This migration peaked in the 1920s and 1930s. 35% of all emigrants from interwar Lithuania chose Brazil as their destination, 25 000 to 50 000 moved in. Unlike elsewhere in America, most Lithuanians of Brazil started off as rural workers (in coffee plantations), under contracts they pre-signed while in Lithuania. They had little rights and most were quite poor as was Brazil itself. Eventually, many of them drifted to the cities and became richer than the average Brazilian, constructing homes and establishing businesses.

Sao Paulo (Latin America's largest city) hosts the only true Lithuanian neighborhood in South America - Vila Zelina. Its construction was carried out ~1934 when the Lithuanian immigration had peaked.

The district is centered at the Lithuanian Republic Square (Praca Republica Lituania), so-named on 1976 10 31. The square is adorned by a Lithuanian Freedom Monument with the Columns of Gediminas symbol and lyrics of a song "Lithuanians we are born, Lithuanians we want to be" written on it. The Monument is a copy of a similar monument in Kaunas. When the Sao Paulo monument was unveiled in the December of 1985, the original had been long since destroyed by the Soviet Union occupational regime, giving the erection of the monument in the communist-free Brazil a symbolic meaning. The original monument in Kaunas has since been reconstructed, however. The Sao Paulo monument is currently covered by trees which are not peritted to be removed or trimmed as per ecological regulations.

Freedom Monument (right) and the Lithuanian church in the Lithuanian Republic Square ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian Republic square is a convergence of 7 streets. One of them is named after a Lithuanian priest Pijus Ragažinskas (Pio Raganzinskas, 1907-1988). He had established a Lithuanian-Brazilian newspaper "Mūsų Lietuva" (Our Lithuania) that was published from the January of 1948 until 2016. Rising above the square is St. Joseph Lithuanian church, constructed in 1936 under a direction of priest Benediktas Sugintas. A Lithuanian wooden cross (UNESCO-inscribed art form) stands in front of the church. In the interior one may find various Lithuanian details and paintings. The St. Joseph Lithuanian community (parish) has been established in 1931.

It was the construction of the church that helped make Vila Zelina a Lithuanian district. The real estate developer of the district gifted a land plot to the Lithuanian parish. Soon afterward, the nearby plots were acquired by Lithuanians who sought to build homes not far away from a Lithuanian church.

Lithuanian Republic square with the lower part of Freedom Monument, adorned by the Columns of Gediminas. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The interior of the church has many Lithuanian signs. Next to the entrance, there is a commemorative plaque for Benediktas Sugintas, the builder of the church (bilingual Lithuanian-Portuguese, adorned with his bust), as well as a commemorative plaque for priest Juozas Šeškevičius (Portuguese only, created 1998) who was a long-term leader of the Lithuanian Catholic community since 1954.

Commemorative plaque for Benediktas Sugintas inside the St. Joseph Lithuanian church. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The altar of the church is surrounded by paintings of Our Lady of Vilnius (copy of the sacred painting on Vilnius Gate of Dawn), St. Casimir (the patron saint of Lithuania. The painting also includes an image of Vilnius castle). There is also an image of the Divine Mercy. One of the stained glass windows (front right) includes St. Casimir and the Gate of Dawn. The church has been decorated by a Lithuanian artist Antanas Navickas.

The interior of Sao Paulo St. Joseph Lithuanian church. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Most of the holy masses in the church today are held in the Portuguese language. However, a bilingual mass is held on Sundays (with a Portuguese-speaking priest but Lithuanian-language Bible readings).

Stained glass window with the Gate of Down and St. Casimir (left)

Stained glass window with the Gate of Down and St. Casimir (left)

As the main period of Lithuanian migration to Brazil was in the 1920s and 1930s, nearly all of the current Lithuanian-Brazilians are born in Brazil. Still, parts of the elder population speak Lithuanian. Other Lithuanian activities are more popular, including several ethnic dance groups (Nemunas, Rambynas), a parish choir (established in 1936). Those activities are taking place in the parish buildings behind the church, that were constructed under priest Juozas Šeškevičius (1921-2008), who also organized festivals for Lithuanian-Brazilian youth in the 1960s-1970s.

Some shops around the church still sell Lithuanian food (e.g. a shop at Rua Monsenhor Pio Ragazinskas 17, wich also stocks a uniform for Lithuanian sports team, traditional colored Lithuanian easter eggs and more).

Lithuanian food in a shop at Vila Zelina. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

There is a multitude of Lithuanian motives in the nearby Bar do Vito (Avenida Zelina 851). It uses a stylized Vytis (Lithuanian coat of arms) as its symbol, while the interior houses many Lithuanian banknotes, postcards of Lithuanian song and dance festivals and more. Lithuanian beverages are also for sale there.

Bar Do Vito with Vytis logo

Bar Do Vito with Vytis logo

The logo of Bar do Vito. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The main avenue of the Vila Zelina district is known as Avenida Zelina (it passes through the Lithuanian Republic Square). There are more Lithuania-inspired names on that street. Some of them are in fact not made by Lithuanians. Yet because the district is known as Lithuanian, some non-Lithuanians also named their businesses after Lithuania. There is an optician's shop "Lithuania", real estate agencies "Lithuania" and "Kaunas". One 22-floor apartment building in the area is also named "Kaunas" (in Brazil, each apartment block has its name).

Apartment building Kaunas (on the right) is surrounded by an electrified fence (as it is common in Brazil for security reasons). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

As the years passed, the Lithuanian-Brazilian community has been active in suggestions to commemorate various people and events important to Lithuanians. In 1991, after Lithuania had restored independence, such lobbying was successful in achieving a renaming of one small street into Free Lithuania passage (Passagem Lituania Livre).

Street name sign of the Free Lithuania passage. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Historically, Sao Paulo had six Lithuanian schools.

One of them, the Vytautas the Great Lithuanian school, operated in a purpose-built building of the 1930s (Rua Santo Amasio 327, ~1 km away from Vila Zelina in Vila Bela). The building used to be adorned by a bas-relief of Vytautas the Great (the Medieval grand duke of Lithuania who ruled Lithuania at its largest territorial extent). Unfortunately, even though the building is still owned by the Lithuanian community, it is now leased out for a restaurant, so the bas-relief has been removed. Only the doors and windowsills remain authentic.

The former Vytautas the Great Lithuanian school. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Another Lithuanian school in Vila Zelina itself has been established in 1938 by Lithuanian Franciscan nuns who arrived from Pittsburgh (USA). The monastery itself is still operational (Rua Campos Novos, 49) and the St. Michael the Archangel school is still nearby, now located in modern buildings. However, today it is attended by children of various ethnicities.

Three more former Lithuanian schools have no relations to Lithuania or schooling now (the buildings have been sold and now they do not operate as schools). Maironis school used to exist in the district of Parque das Nações. This district still has a Lithuania street (Rua Lituania), among the streets named after other nations. Dr. Jonas Basanaičius school used to operate at Vila Anastacio district in the western Sao Paulo (9 km away from the center), while the 5th Lithuanian school used to operate in Bom Retiro district.

Extant coats of arms on the door of Vytautas the Great Lithuanian school. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Sao Paulo has two secular Lithuanian organizations. In addition to the Lithuanian-Brazilian Community that operates in the parish house of St. Joseph church (est. 1958), there is also the Lithuanian-Brazilian Union (est. 1931). It operates in a two-floored building with a stylized Vytis. The street where that building exists is called Lithuania street (the address of the building is Rua Lituania 67). It is the larger one of the two Sao Paulo streets named after Lithuania.

The building hosts a library and archive with various Lithuanian articles and books both with origins among Lithuanian-Brazilians and interwar Lithuanians. The hall of the building hosts Lithuanian festivals. In the past, the building housed the 6th Lithuanian school named after Dr. Vincas Kudirka.

Lithuanian-Brazilian Union building. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Although it is now harder to hear Lithuanian spoken in the Vila Zelina area, a significant part of the local population still consists of the descendants of Lithuanians. Unlike in the USA, Brazilians often spend their entire lifetimes in a single city or district, meaning that Vila Zelina is still largely populated by those, whose forefathers moved there in the interwar or postwar period. One may still often spot Lithuanian surnames adorning the offices of various specialists (e.g. dentists, brokers).

Real estate agency 'Lithuania' in Vila Zelina. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The single location that has the most Lithuanian surnames is probably the cemetery Cemiterio Ceramica of the São Caetano do Sul suburb. The cemetery is not Lithuanian-only. However, as it serves as the final resting place for people of the surrounding districts, a significant part of graves belong to Lithuanians. Like in all the Brazilian cemeteries, gravestones are large and often replaced entirely by family chapels (far from just the richest families own them). However, the cemetery has been damaged by vandals and drug addicts who have stolen a large share of metal plates listing the surnames of the dead.

Cemiterio Ceramica of the São Caetano do Sul suburb. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Sao Paulo hosts the only Lithuania's consulate general in Latin America (Avenida Irai, 438, cj. 34). It was established after the Lithuanian embassy in Argentina was closed down as a cost-saving measure in 2013. The larger number of Lithuanian-Brazilians was cited as a reason for the move to Sao Paulo although the decision has received criticism from the Lithuanian-Argentine community which holds itself to be more lively and keen at safeguarding Lithuanian traditions.

The true number of Lithuanian-Brazilians is heavily disputed with various sources claiming 30 000, 150 000, 300 000 or even 1 000 000. Presumably, the larger numbers include everyone who had at least a single grandfather or great grandfather from Lithuania. Lithuanian-Brazilian Community election of 1970 had 821 participants, while its counterpart in 1999 had 177 participants.

Cemetery. A close-up shot of one of the Lithuanian family chapels. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Rural Lithuanian communities largely assimilated over a couple of generations as they always lived intermixed with other larger groups. Lithuanian rural settlement was largely limited to the states of Sao Paulo, Parana, and the Rio Grande do Sul. In the Rio Grande do Sul, Lithuanians established Ijui city (pop. 100 000) where they were later joined and outnumbered by other European ethnicities. There is also a small Lithuanian community in Rio De Janeiro megalopolis. In 1954, there were some 50 000 Lithuanian Brazilians, of them 30 000 in Sao Paulo, 20 000 in the countryside and 300 in Rio (where a Lithuanian mass used to be celebrated in the Old Cathedral but nothing Lithuanian remains). Most were interwar migrants, many once lured in by a free boat trip (in exchange for a long-term contract) and plantation company promises of "American riches" (some believed the entire American continent to be as rich as the USA, while in fact, Brazilian GDP per capita was 1/6th of the US one in 1929 and the wages in Brazil were lower than in Lithuania but cheap land compensated this to some).

While the Lithuanian communities outside Vila Zelina may be assimilated, there are streets and other locations named after Lithuanians of the decades gone-by there. Jardim Altos suburb of Sao Paulo has a street named after Vicente (Vincas) Klimeika, a Lithuanian photographer (one of the first photographers in Jacarei). Bela Vista suburb of Sao Paulo has a park and avenue named after Analice Sakatauskas, known for helping the poor. Campinas city of Sao Paulo state has a street named after basketball player Waldemar (Valdemaras) Blastkauskas who represented the Brazilian national team in 1959-1963, winning Olympic bronze and two World Championship golds (he died in a traffic accident in 1963). There is also a sports hall named after him in Piracicabas.

Among the Lithuanians who left the biggest trace outside Villa Zelina is priest Aleksandras Arminas (Alexandre V. Arminas). In Maua suburb, he has established a parish and a school. Now, the school is named Alexandre V. Arminas college. The square in front of the church is Alexandre V. Arminas square and there is a bust for Arminas in front of the square. Arminas was also a poet who wrote about South America in the Lithuanian language.

The northern suburbs of Sao Paulo also host Lituanika, a Lithuanian piece of pristine land. Once bought jointly by the Catholic and secular Lithuanian communities in order to create a peace of Lithuania outside Lithuania, the area still has Lithuanian sites, although parts of it have been sold as houses (initially to Lithuanians, essentially creating a Lithuanian village; but some of them are no longer owned by Lithuanians).

500 post-World War 2 refugees in 1940s became the final major immigration of Lithuanians to Brazil. There had also been several thousand Lithuanians in Brazil prior to 1918 independence (immigrated in 1870s-1910s).

Interwar cups at the premises of Lithuanian-Brazilian Union. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanians of Brazil attracted filmmaker interest. In 2002, Brazilian documentary Eldorado - Lituanos no Brazil (Eldorado: The Lithuanians in Brazil) was created, while in 2011 a group of Lithuanians traveled to Brazil for their own documentary on the local community. Several books on Lithuanian-Brazilians have been published in both Lithuania and Brazil.

More information about the immigration into Sao Paulo may be discovered at the Immigration museum of Sao Paulo (Rua Visconde de Parnaiba 1316, Mocca) - however, few things of the exposition there are related to Lithuanians in particular. Still, thousands of Lithuanians passed through what is now a museum, as it used to be the building ("guesthouse") where immigrants would be brought in from the Santos port and spend a few days before being taken by their employees (typically to the farms). The museum also has archives where all the immigrants are recorded; the archives are popular among those searching for information about their Lithuanian immigrant relatives.

Rather opulent former immigrant guesthouise, now the Museum of Immigration

Rather opulent former immigrant guesthouise, now the Museum of Immigration

In addition to ethnic Lithuanians, some Lithuania's Jews (Litvaks) also immigrated to Brazil. The most famous person is the painter Lasar Segall, for whom the Lasar Segall museum is dedicated. Some of the works exhibited there are dedicated to Vilnius (the capital of Lithuania), where Segal spent his childhood (he was born in 1891 and emigrated to Germany when 15 years old, later moving to Brazil).

'Houses of Vilnius' by Lasar Segall in the Museum of Lasar Segal in Sao Paulo

'Houses of Vilnius' by Lasar Segal in the Museum of Lasar Segall in Sao Paulo

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Uruguay

Uruguay is the smallest American country to have significant Lithuanian heritage.

Some 5000 – 10000 Lithuanians immigrated to Uruguay between WW1 and WW2. Most of them settled in Montevideo.

Montevideo thus has significant Lithuanian heritage. The most important among it is the Our Lady of Fatima Lithuanian church (1954), Lithuanian cultural society building (1941) and the Republic of Lithuania square (~1960).

Cerro district (east of downtown) forms the heart of Montevideo Lithuanian community and heritage. An industrial center, the district attracted numerous other European ethnicities as well between WW1 and WW2. At that time, Uruguay was richer than most European countries.

Montevideo Lithuanian culturla society building with a Lithuanian mural

Montevideo Lithuanian cultural society building with a Lithuanian mural

Our Lady of Fatima Lithuanian church

Our Lady of Fatima Lithuanian church (address: Bélgica 1765) is the most impressive Lithuanian building in Cerro of Montevideo and entire Uruguay.

Montevideo Lithuanian church

Montevideo Lithuanian church

At the time the church was constructed (1952), Lithuania was recently occupied by the Soviet Union. This inclined Uruguay Lithuanians to create an especially Lithuanian interior in order to create a small piece of Lithuania outside of the lost homeland. Although the church is modern from the outside, its interior thus reminds of some small Baroque church typical to the UNESCO-inscribed Old Town of Lithuania’s capital Vilnius.

 Montevideo Lithuanian church interior

Montevideo Lithuanian church interior

Grand stained glass windows of the church are full of Lithuanian symbols, even secular ones.

One of the windows depicts the most famous buildings of Lithuania’s largest cities Vilnius and Kaunas (Vilnius Cathedral, the Three Crosses monument, the castle of Gediminas [all in Vilnius], Kaunas Ressurection church, Kaunas Vytautas church that still didn’t have the current high tower).

Another stained glass window depicts Our Lady of Vilnius (a miraculous painting of Virgin Mary in Vilnius) and the Gate of Dawn where the painting is located; the tricolor flag of Lithuania; the Lithuanian crops; Vilnius coat of arms.

A fragment of a stained glass window in Montevideo Lithuanian church

A fragment of a stained glass window in Montevideo Lithuanian church

A fragment of a stained glass window in Montevideo Lithuanian church

A fragment of a stained glass window in Montevideo Lithuanian church

The third stained glass window depicts St. Casimir (Lithuania’s patron saint), Lithuanian Coat of arms and the old coat of arms of Kaunas (European bison).

The church has been constructed in the 1950s when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union and many of these patriotic symbols were banned, giving their placement in free Uruguay special importance.

There are 5 additional stained glass windows that are less related to Lithuania.

Another Lithuanian stained glass window is located above the choir and organ. It depicts a cross made out of Lithuanian tricolors.

 Montevideo Lithuanian church stained-glass window above the choir

Montevideo Lithuanian church stained-glass window above the choir

Lithuania is also depicted in the murals around the altar. On the one side, Vilnius (Cathedral, the castle of Gediminas) is depicted. On the opposite side, there is the world-famous Hill of Crosses near Šiauliai.

Closer to the entrance there as a Lithuanian altar to the Virgin Mary. The vault of the church is painted in Lithuanian patterns.

The altar of the Lithuanian church of Montevideo with murals on the sides

The altar of the Lithuanian church of Montevideo with murals on the sides

Lithuanian words also adorn all the stations of the cross that represent the final moments of Jesus’s life. On them, the Spanish inscriptions describe these final moments (e.g. „Jesus falls the second time“), however, the Lithuanian inscriptions are not direct translations but rather prayers to God (e.g. „Raise me from my sins“).

Lithuanian station of the cross in Montevideo Lithuanian church

Lithuanian station of the cross in Montevideo Lithuanian church

Church walls have Lithuanian commemorative plaques to the numerous Lithuanian priests that served the church: the founder of the church Vladas Mikalauskas (1918-1956), the final Lithuanian priest of Montevideo Jonas Giedrys (1921-1998). After Giedrys’s departure Montevideo church no longer has a Lithuanian mass, although for some years after his death a semi-Lithuanian mass used to be celebrated (there, the priest would speak English but the congregation would speak Lithuanian). During some festivals, the semi-Lithuanian mass is still held. The church continues to be served by Jesuit priests. However, after Lithuania restored its independence from the Soviet Union (1990), the center of Lithuanian Jesuit activity moved to Lithuania, so the current Jesuits who control the church are non-Lithuanian Uruguayans. By the way, in 2013 a second plaque for Jonas Giedrys has been unveiled in the church (near the altar, in both Lithuanian and Spanish). A Lithuanian tricolor still stands beside the altar.

Priest Mikalauskas memorial plaque in the Lithuanian church of Uruguay

Priest Mikalauskas memorial plaque in the Lithuanian church of Uruguay

 Priest Giedrys memorial plaque in the Lithuanian church of Uruguay

Priest Giedrys memorial plaque in the Lithuanian church of Uruguay

Yet another memorial plaque in the church reminds the Lithuanian-Uruguayan artist Vytautas Dorelis (Spanish-only).

The exterior of the church is adorned by a wooden traditional Lithuanian cross (a UNESCO-World-Heritage-inscribed art form). Over the entrance under the Virgin Mary statue, a Spanish inscription declares „Our Lady of Fatima parish. The church constructed for the exiled Lithuanians in 1954 10 31“. At the time, most of the Lithuanian diaspora was seen as „exiled people“ as, due to the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, they were unable to return to Lithuania without facing persecutions or death.

Except for the aforementioned details, the church exterior is modern and not Lithuanian; it has been created by a local architect Perez del Castillo.

Lithuanian church of uruguay with a tradtional Lithuanian cross next to it

Lithuanian church of uruguay with a tradtional Lithuanian cross next to it

The Montevideo Lithuanian church is open only for the Holy Mass (Saturdays and Sundays).

The church construction has been supported by Lithuanian-Americans. As the Lithuanian-Uruguayan community was rather small (some 50000-10000 people immigrated in the interwar years) and poorer than the Lithuanian-American community. Still, Lithuanian-Uruguayans also donated for the church what they could. The names of the donors now adorn every pew and stained glass window.

Cerro Lithuanian cultural society

Cerro Lithuanian club (Cultural society) at Rio de Janeiro street 4001 may look to be just a simple 1-floored edifice from the front but it has a long Lithuanian history. Before World War 2 already the building housed Jonas Basanavičius Lithuanian school. It was funded by the Republic of Lithuania in order to keep Lithuanian spirit and culture among Lithuanian-Uruguayans.

In 1940, however, the Soviet Union has occupied Lithuania and so the school quickly folded without its support. In 1941, however, the building was acquired by Lithuanian-Uruguayan Cultural Society, thus saving its Lituanity.

 Montevideo Lithuanian club

Montevideo Lithuanian club

The club has a multitude in rooms which serve as a hub of the entire Lithuanian activities in Uruguay. There, Lithuanian language lessons, Lithuanian exhibits and events take place, Lithuanian choirs, dance troupes, craftsmen troupes used to rehearse or still rehearses. There is the main event hall, many Lithuanian symbols. The club survives financially not only on Lithuanian donations but also by renting outs its premises and by owning a public bar in the front of the building.

One of the halls of Montevideo Lithuanian club

One of the halls of Montevideo Lithuanian club

At first, the Lithuanian Cultural Society used to be socialist (not communist; while being leftist, it supported Lithuania‘s independence). Eventually, it was also joined by Catholic Lithuanians who generally had their community based around the Lithuanian church.

For long, the Lithuanian club had no Lithuanian details in its exterior. On 2019 02 16, however, while celebrating the Lithuanian independence day, the club has converted one of its walls into a ~40-meter long mural. Local Lithuanian artist Gabriel Vuljevas led the work.

A part of the Lithuanian mural of the Montevideo Lithuanian club

A part of the Lithuanian mural of the Montevideo Lithuanian club

A part of the Lithuanian mural of the Montevideo Lithuanian club

A part of the Lithuanian mural of the Montevideo Lithuanian club

The mural contains many Lithuanian symbols. From left to right: a traditional Lithuanian cross (UNESCO-inscribed artwork), Easter eggs, folk costume, Užgavėnės carnival mask, basketball balls, Lithuanian (and Uruguayan flags), hills in the colors of Lithuanian flag, a Medieval castle, Three crosses (representing the Three crosses monument in Vilnius), amber.

Cerro Lithuanian club is open every day, especially in the evenings when the bar is open. Lithuanians who arrive at the club, even from other countries, are generally welcome to visit all the premises although it is better to agree on time so people would be inside.

Cerro immigrant heritage

Cerro district on the other side of a gulf from Montevideo downtown has been established in 1838 and became the prime zone for immigrants. Thus, the streets and squares there are named after foreign countries. There is a small Lituania street and, not far from it, a Republic of Lithuania school.

The center of Cerro is marked by Immigrant square with a general sculpture of an immigrant (brought in on December 1987).

Cerro Immigrant square and memorial. Before the construction of Lithuanian church, Cerro Lithuanians used to attend the church in this square

Cerro Immigrant square and memorial. Before the construction of Lithuanian church, Cerro Lithuanians used to attend the church in this square

Surnames from many nations (among them many Lithuanian surnames) may be found in Cerro cemetery.

Every year, Montevideo hosts Immigrant festivals and once in two years, Immigrant Olympics. The so-called „immigrants“ in this case are actually grandchildren and great-grandchildren of immigrants (they should probably be more accurately referred to as minorities but the term immigrant stuck in Uruguay and is used with pride by those representing the communities even though they were all born citizens of Uruguay). As Cerro district is not rich and not very safe, many immigrant clubs

Cerro slaughterhouses that once were the main attraction for Lithuanians to immigrate to Montevideo have now all closed but it is still possible to see their remains. One of the more impressive ruins is visible from Jose Gurvich street next to the ocean.

 Abandoned slaughterhouse where many Uruguay Lithuanians used to work at as seen from the Jose Gurvich street

Abandoned slaughterhouse where many Uruguay Lithuanians used to work at as seen from the Jose Gurvich street

Republic of Lithuania square and Lithuanian sites in central Montevideo

Although most of Uruguay‘s primary Lithuanian sites are in Cerro, one of the most important - Republic of Lithuania square (Plaza Republica de Lituania) – is not far away from central Montevideo.

The square has two monuments. The older one - Stone adorned in columns of Gediminas (a traditional patriotic symbol of Lithuania) and an inscription that it has been gifted by the Lithuanian community of Uruguay.

Senasis Lietuvos paminklas Lietuvos Respublikos aikštėje

The old Lithuanian monument in the Republic of Lithuania plaza of Montevideo

The other, newer, is an abstract sculpture „Into the third millennium“, the metal forms of which symbolize hands in prayer position. To commemorate the Lithuanian independence restoration day (March 11th) of 2002, the sculpture has been gifted by a Lithuanian sculptor Eduardo Lopaitis who created it together with Jose Erman. A Spanish plaque tells that the sculpture was given by the Republic of Lithuania to the Oriental Republic of Uruguay.

 New Lithuanian monument in the Republic of Lithuania Plaza of Montevideo

New Lithuanian monument in the Republic of Lithuania Plaza of Montevideo

The square has been established around 1960. As Uruguay had never recognized the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, it allowed such symbolic initiatives.

That‘s why Uruguay hosted one of merely a few legations of Lithuania that were not closed during the cold war. It was moved to Uruguay from Argentina after Argentina has recognized the occupation of Lithuania. The legation closed in 1977 after the last Lithuanian diplomat who joined the diplomatic service before the Soviet occupation of Lithuania has died.

The central Montevideo also has Jose Gurvich museum (while Cerro has a street named after Jose Gurvich).

Gurvich was a Jew born in Lithuania (town of Jieznas) while his real name was Zusmanas Gurvičius (with Lithuanian endings). However, Zusmanas was taken away from Lithuania by his parents when he was just 5 years old (1932), therefore, he did not have many memories of Lithuania, he did not speak Lithuanian, and Lithuania is not present in his works. However, the museum regularly mentions the fact that he was born in Lithuania.

The total numbers of Lithuania‘s Jews who moved into Uruguay are unclear. They do not participate in common activities with Lithuanians and have assimilated into a wider Jewish community of Uruguay. However, that community itself have dwindled by well over 50% these years as many Jews have emigrated to Israel (Gurvich himself has also emigrated to Israel and USA eventually). Some Lithuanian-Uruguayans also emigrate from Uruguay to Lithuania or Spain.

Gurvich work in Gurvich museum, following a typical Gurvich style where larger figures are composed of seemingly unrelated smaller things

A Gurvich work in Gurvich museum, following a typical Gurvich style where larger figures are composed of seemingly unrelated smaller things

A large abandoned building in Montevideo old town near the port is Immigrant guesthouse where, once they arrived, immigrants (Lithuanians included) would freely stay for a few days until they could find jobs.

Abandoned Montevideo Immigrant guesthouse near the port of Montevideo

Abandoned Montevideo Immigrant guesthouse near the port of Montevideo

By the way, previously the Lithuanian community also had a campsite in Shangrila suburb where Lithuanian youth used to congregate. At the beginning of the 21st century, the campsite was sold.

Uruguay Lithuanian communist clubs and memorial

Although Uruguay had many Lithuanians who supported a free-from-the-Soviets Lithuania, Uruguay‘s Lithuanian community also possibly had the largest communist influence among all the Lithuanian communities in foreign countries. Their influence was one of the reasons why the Lithuanian church was established so late in Montevideo.

Uruguay actually had two Lithuanian communist clubs – one near Republic of Lithuania square and another one in Cerro (near the corner of Grecia and Ecuador). This one was established later, ~1950, when Uruguay‘s Lithuanian communists were also supported by the Soviet Union.

 Lithuanian communist club in Cerro

Lithuanian communist club in Cerro

Both clubs have been closed in 1975 by the Uruguayan government as a reaction to communism that was spreading in Latin America (revolution of Cuba, etc.). In that time, the Uruguayan government was deposed by military and communism was banned. Although at least one building of the former communist club remains, there is nothing proving its past.

There were also Lithuanians who have joined the local far left of Uruguay – the Tupamaros movement that fought against the Uruguayan government and elite. The organization used to be especially strong in Cerro district and they used to call the borderline between Cerro and the rest of Montevideo to be „latitude 38“ (analogous to the real 38 northern latitudes that separated South and North Koreas). There, Tupamaros used to fight police, perform bank heists, policemen killings, human abductions, and other counter-government and counter-business operations. Many far left activists themselves were killed or disappeared during the conflict (disappearance typically meant death as, at that time in Latin America, the authorities would typically not return the bodies of those who, for example, were shot by police, to their relatives; often, it is still not clear where such people are buried). One of the „disappeared ones“ was Viktorija Grišonaitė (Grišonas).

In the early 21st century, after the Uruguayan politics turned left, a memorial to the disappeared ones has been constructed in Cerro. It includes the name of Viktorija (as Victoria Grisonas).

Viktorija Grišonaitė name on the memorial to the disappeared ones

Viktorija Grišonaitė name on the memorial to the disappeared ones

Interestingly, Grišonaitė did not descend herself from a Lithuanian family with far-left beliefs. On the contrary – her father was a secretary in the Lithuanian legation to Uruguay and he worked lots in order to liberate Lithuania and to condemn communism.

By the way, at least one Lithuanian (Ildefonso Kazlauskas) was also among the policemen of Uruguay who were murdered by the far left in the era.

Some Lithuanian communists of Uruguay returned to Lithuania ~1950 when Stalin invited them back. They were joined by some non-communists who were attracted by the Soviet propaganda and promises of a supposedly great life in „Soviet Lithuania“. In reality, the Soviet paradise reminded hell to many returnees and most promises were left unfulfilled. Those who managed often returned to Uruguay again but not everyone managed that.

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Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago lacks Lithuanians, but Tobago has a Great Courland Bay and Little Courland Bay. Their name derives from a Bronze Age Baltic tribe that lived in Western Lithuanian and Latvia.

Thus name has an interesting history. Long after the original Couronians (Lithuanian: kuršiai) have already merged into Lithuanian and Latvian nations the land they once inhabitted was still refered as Courland. In 1561 a Duchy of Courland and Semigallia has been established in modern-day Latvia (as a fief of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania). To the German Dukes of largely Latvian-inhabitted Courland and Semigallia, known for their opulent palaces, Europe was never enough. Even though their duchy had merely 200 000 inhabittants they have amassed a navy one third of the legendary Spanish armada to become the smallest colonial power to partake in the Conquest of Americas.

They have selected Tobago island in the Carribean as their colony which they named New Courland and also called one of its bays a Great Courland Bay. Colonization attempts lasted merely from 1637 to 1656 when Courland-Semigallia, together with the rest of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth suffered a Swedish-Russian invasion. Settlers in New Courland then surrendered to the Dutch who also had a colony there. Courland-Semigallia never reacquired its former glory but this interesting episode of colonization by a Lithuanian fief left a geographic name in the New World.

In 1978 Latvians built a commemorative plaque for their settlers at the Great Courland Bay. Just as various plaques built by Lithuanians in the USA it had a symbollic meaning during the occupation of the Baltic States, reminding of their nicer past.

Courland-Semigallia also had another colony in Gambia.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina and one of the 20 largest cities of the world. Its streets are still filled with a crumbling grandeur of early 20th century, the era most Lithuanians immigrated to Argentina.

Among those old buildings stand two Lithuanian centers, a Lithuanian church and small museum, five streets named after Lithuania. As everything had been created ~70 years ago, it also has a grand history.

Some 30 000 Lithuanians have immigrated to Argentina during a very short period in the middle of the interwar period (1925-1930). At that time, Argentina was possibly the second-richest country of the Americas (after the USA) and, unlike the USA at the time, it did not limit immigration.

Afterward, Argentina slowly became comparatively poorer and poorer. Now it is significantly poorer than Lithuania itself. Thus Lithuanians have long stopped migrating there and the current Lithuanians of Buenos Aires are nearly all descendants of the pre-WW2 migrants.

Lithuanian Center of Buenos Aires with a patriotic Columns of Gediminas symbol on the facade[/c

Lithuanian Center of Buenos Aires with a patriotic Columns of Gediminas symbol on the facade

Buenos Aires Lithuanian center

Lithuanian Center of Argentina at Tabaré 6950 1439, Villa Lugano neighborhood, may be one of the most impressive Lithuanian secular buildings in South America.

Its façade is marked with Columns of Gediminas (a Medieval Lithuanian symbol). Inside, it has two floors, with a bar on the first floor and a dance hall above, where the Lithuanian traditional dance troupes rehearse.

 Lithuanian dancers at the Lithuanian Center

Lithuanian dancers at the Lithuanian Center

The interior is full of Lithuanian décor: the coats of arms of Lithuania and Lithuanian cities, artworks representing the Lithuanian national anthem and the Battle of Žalgiris (the largest battle where Lithuania participated, winning against the Teutonic Knights in the Medieval era). A nice symbolic artwork has been created by priest Antanas Lubickas (1981) while the coats of arms were created by Antanas Grigonis.

 Grigonis’s coats of arms in the Lithuanian Center

Grigonis’s coats of arms in the Lithuanian Center

The organization of Lithuanian Center of Argentina has been established in 1926 10 10. At the time, the largest wave of Lithuanian immigration to Argentina was commencing. The center was mostly established by intellectuals and the building itself was erected in 1957-1962.

In 2014, a bas-relief to commemorate Lithuania has been created in the yard of the center.

 Bas-relief of the Lithuanian center

Bas-relief of the Lithuanian center

Lithuanian Center is open on Saturdays when dances and other events are held. At other days of the week, the premises are rented out, allowing it to operate.

Our Lady of Vilnius church complex

Most of Buenos Aires Lithuanians settled in the Avellaneda suburb. There they have opened an Our Lady of Vilnius parish in 1942. It is better known as Our Lady of Mercy as the Spanish name now omits references to Vilnius. Still, right over the church entrance, there is an image of the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, the city gate famous for the miraculous Virgin Mary image (Our Lady of Vilnius) that adorns it and that inspired the naming of the church. One of the side altars is also dedicated to this image.

 Buenos Aires Lithuanian church

Buenos Aires Lithuanian church

 Gate of Dawn image over the Buenos Aires Lithuanian church entrance

Gate of Dawn image over the Buenos Aires Lithuanian church entrance

Under each of the stained glass windows, a name and surname of the Lithuanian who helped to fund it are inscribed. Under some stained glass windows US cities are mentioned as well – as the Lithuanian-Argentine community was not as rich as the Lithuanian-American community, the church also received many donations from the USA Lithuanians.

 One of the stained glass windows of the Lithuanian church with a donor’s name

One of the stained glass windows of the Lithuanian church with a donor’s name

Currently, the Mass in the church is Spanish-only but the Lithuanian flag still stands inside.

The interior of the Lithuanian church with the image of Our Lady of Vilnius (another one is behind the altar)

The interior of the Lithuanian church with the image of Our Lady of Vilnius (another one is behind the altar)

Together with the church a Lithuanian Marian Fathers monastery and school were built (1948). Both buildings are still operating although they are no longer Lithuanian. The complex is still cared for by Marian fathers – however, now these fathers are Argentinians whereas the Lithuanian Marian fathers now operate in Lithuania alone. Still, the Marian order would not exist today if not for Lithuanians. At one time, Lithuanian Jurgis Matulaitis was the only remaining active Marian and it was through his charisma that the Marian order expanded once again, attracting Lithuanians, Poles, and now Americans, Argentines as well. For this reason, Jurgis Matulaitis is depicted on one of the church’s stained glass windows. The church also has St. Casimir (Lithuania’s patron saint) and Divine Mercy (a Christian cult centered around a painting that is in Vilnius, Lithuania) altars.

 Lithuanian parish school of Buenos Aires

Lithuanian parish school of Buenos Aires

Lithuanian school building does not have many Lithuanian details, however, Lithuanian religious symbols do exist (Jurgis Matulaitis, Our Lady of Vilnius painting) while the stadium outside is adorned with a cross painted in Lithuanian flag colors. The school is now attended by ~800 pupils, most of them not of Lithuanian ancestry. Initially, the school building (the event hall on the second floor) also served as a Lithuanian club.

 Cross painted in the colors of Lithuania’s flag in the stadium of Buenos Aires Lithuanian church

Cross painted in the colors of Lithuania’s flag in the stadium of Buenos Aires Lithuanian church

Lithuanian monastery also houses a Lithuanian museum which has no regular opening times (one should ask at the sacristy to be allowed inside although that is only possible when the museum’s hall does not double as a parish hall). The museum has been established in 1955. Most of its exhibits are things collected by Lithuanian-Argentines that reminded them of the Homeland they left: traditional Lithuanian wooden crafts, ethnic strips, old Lithuanian books (some dating to the 19th century) and other things. At one time, the museum was larger and had over 1000 exhibits, including sculptures, folk costumes, etc. Later, however, the area was repurposed as a parish hall and thus fewer exhibits remained. Once, the building also housed the publishing house for “Argentinos lietuvių balsas” (the Voice of Lithuanian-Argentines), the major Lithuanian-Argentine newspaper. After it stopped publishing, the printing technics were moved to a Lithuanian museum in Esquel (Patagonia).

Lithuanian museum / parish hall (some half of the room is visible)

Lithuanian museum / parish hall (some half of the room is visible)

A cozy churchyard (closed from outside and accessible only through the sacristy) includes a traditional Lithuanian wooden cross (rebuilt in 2015) and Virgin Mary monument that incorporates Lithuanian Columns of Gediminas and Cross of Vytis symbols (~1960). On the yard side, the church is adorned with memorial plaques for St. Cecilia Lithuanian choir that used to operate in the parish. Both monuments also have numerous Lithuanian memorial plaques.

 Lithuanian cross in the Our Lady of Vilnius church yard of Buenos Aires

Lithuanian cross in the Our Lady of Vilnius church yard of Buenos Aires

 Virgin Mary monument  in the Our Lady of Vilnius church yard of Buenos Aires

Virgin Mary monument in the Our Lady of Vilnius church yard of Buenos Aires

The street in front of the church is named Lithuanian Alley (Pje Lituania). At its end where the passage is nearest to the church, there is a memorial plaque commemorating the fact that the street was named in honor of the Lithuanian community.

 Commemorative plaque of the Lithuanian Alley of Avellaneda

Comemorative plaque of the Lithuanian Alley of Avellaneda

Lithuanian Alliance in Argentina

Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina also has its hub in Buenos Aires (Av. San Martin 3175, Lanus Oeste district).

 Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina

Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina

Externally the building may look simple but it hosts large premises inside. The building has been dedicated to Vincas Kudirka (the author of Lithuanian national anthem), therefore, at its heart lies a rather monumental stairway with a large Vincas Kudirka portrait above and balustrades with Columns of Gediminas symbols.

 Staircase of the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina

Staircase of the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina

The second floor includes an interesting small exhibition of old materials representing Lithuania: interwar postcards, caricatures, postmarks and more. A large part of those are things that were used by interwar Lithuania to promote itself among foreigners. There is also some information on the occupation of Lithuania. The information is available in numerous languages – Lithuanian, English, German, Spanish (many of the inscriptions were originally in those languages). Browsing all that you may feel as if you’d be transported into some 1950, see the original texts and images Lithuania then used to introduce itself to the world with little-if-any new commentary.

 Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina gallery of interwar Lithuanian introductions to foreigners

Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina gallery of interwar Lithuanian introductions to foreigners

The second floor of the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina also hosts a library (according to locals, established by Juozas Pauga who smuggled Lithuanian books into Lithuania at the time they were banned by the occupying Russian Empire). There are also many commemorative plaques to commemorate various important events, such as presidential visits. As the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina is a potent symbol of Lituanity in Argentina, it has been visited by more than a single Lithuanian president, among them Algirdas Brazauskas (1996) and Dalia Grybauskaitė.

 Comemorative plaques in the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina

Comemorative plaques in the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina

The first floor of the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina has an event hall, a pool, a bar, a Lithuanian yard named after its architect Alfredas Stanevičius.

Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina is the oldest Lithuanian organization of the greater Buenos Aires (excluding Beriso). It has been established in 1914, still a decade before the main wave of Lithuanian immigration. However, at that time there were just some 5000 Lithuanians in whole Argentina – not enough to own a separate building in Buenos Aires. Therefore, the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina used to rent halls. However, as over 10000 new Lithuanians immigrated to Buenos Aires alone in years 1925-1929, the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina quickly grew in ranks. After the new immigrants found jobs and gained steady income, Lithuanians collected enough money to buy own land lot (1941, a lot of 3779 square meters) and then construct their own building.

The building of the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina has been opened in 1952 07 12 (on the occasion of the 38th anniversary of the organization). At the time, Lithuanians also owned the nearby land at the location of the current 25 de Mayo street. Later this land was nationalized by the city in order to build the street; in return, the city gave Lithuanians more land at the other side of the building (northwest), making the lot long.

In 1983, the building was expanded northwestwards by building a pool (architect Kaminskas). It used to be popular to spend time there in summer, however, as time passed, the pool has ceased operations.

 Stanevičius Lithuanian yard in Buenos Aires

Stanevičius Lithuanian yard in Buenos Aires

Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina is open on Saturdays and willing accepts Lithuanian guests from elsewhere. In addition to regular Saturdays, there are some 5-10 annual larger festivals, among them the independence days of Lithuania (February 16th, March 11th), Mother’s day, also a now-traditional Beer festival in October. During the main festivals, some 200 people come to the Alliance (some 350 during the Beer festival). The organization has 400-500 members.

 Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina  bar

Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina bar

Not far away from the Lithuanian Alliance of Argentina, there is the longest one of the Buenos Aires area’s streets named after Lithuania - Lithuania Avenue (Avenida Lithuania).

Other Lithuanian sites of Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires (together with the surrounding suburbs) have more streets named after Lithuania than any other city. In addition to the two streets mentioned above (Lithuanian Avenue and Alley), there are also Lithuanian streets in Don Bosco, Temperley and Villa Urquiza neighborhoods. Only the last one of these districts is part of the official city of Buenos Aires – the remaining ones are considered suburbs. In general, in Buenos Aires, it is popular to name streets after various foreign places, especially those places where many immigrants to the city hail from.

Next to its port, Buenos Aires has a Museum of immigration that operated in the same building where immigrants used to stay back in the interwar era after they had arrived from Europe. They stayed there as long as they would find a job. Thousands of Lithuanians spent their first days in Argentina there as well. However, the museum exhibition (which is, in part, a center of modern art) does not have anything particularly related to Lithuanians – yet, it is still possible to learn more about the Lithuanian migration to Argentina.

Recreated lines of bunks that used to be temporary homes for thousand s of Lithuanians in what is now the Buenos Aires museum of immigration

Recreated lines of bunks that used to be temporary homes for thousand s of Lithuanians in what is now the Buenos Aires museum of immigration

Argentina had some Lithuanian immigrants even before the main wave and arguably the most famous among those was Robertas Adolfas Chodasevičius (Roberto Adolfo Chodasewicz) who used a hot air balloon in the war in Argentina for the first time. He is buried in the same crypt as other veterans of the War of Triple Alliance in the famous Recoleta cemetery where Eva Peron is also buried. However, his name is not inscribed on that common grave but it may be seen in the electronic cemetery records system near the entrance, where the fact he had been born in Vilnius is also mentioned.

In 2002 Lithuania opened its embassy in Buenos Aires (relocated from Caracas, Venezuela), which served as sole Lithuania’s embassy in entire South America. It used to organize various cultural activities and, according to the local Lithuanians, it had reignited Lithuanity. However, in 2013, the embassy has been closed down as a cost-saving measure and replaced by a consulate-general in Sao Paulo (Brazil).

There are more Lithuanian places in the cities of Rosario and Beriso that are near Buenos Aires. They are, however, described in separate articles.

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Venezuela

Venezuela has a city named after St. Casimir, the only Lithuanian saint and the patron saint of Lithuania. The city, known as San Casimiro de Güiripa, has been established in 1783. The naming is not directly related to Lithuania and owes more to the fact that the cities of the Catholic Spanish Empire were often named after saints. That said, St. Casimir is quite little known in the West and there are no other large cities named after him. The city festival is on St. Casimir day (4th of March), therefore coinciding with the traditional St. Casimir fair of Vilnius.

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Beriso, Argentina

Beriso is a unique city in Argentina and arguably entire world in the significance it puts on its immigrant cultures.

The city may have a population of merely 100 000 yet it has two Lithuanian clubs and many other ethnic clubs (Polish, Greek, Italian, Armenian, Croat, etc.).

Beriso adopted the title “capital of the immigrants” and its ethnic minorities are traditionally called “immigrants”. In reality, however, today there are very few immigrants and most of the immigrants are actually sons/daughters, or, more likely, grandsons/granddaughters or great-grandsons/great-granddaughters of the original immigrants. That’s because the massive wave of immigration to Beriso took place prior to World War 2 and immigrants used to work at the slaughterhouses (which closed down in 1982) and the petroleum plant (which still operates). It was then when most of the forefathers of today’s people of Beriso immigrated. It is said some 3000 Lithuanians also were among these migrants. Although generations changed, their attachment to Lithuania did not disappear. A significant part of Beriso life revolves around the ethnic clubs which regularly prepare their traditional dishes and, once October comes, participate in the Beriso Immigrant festival. It is a very important city event and a fire similar to Olympic fire burns throughout it.

Even children of mixed ancestry often join one of the ethnic clubs in order to be able to participate in the Immigrant festival together with the ethnic dance and singing teams. Sometimes the youth would even join a club not based on their ancestry but instead based on where their friends belong to. As an example, some ~20% of Lithuanian club “Mindaugas” members have no Lithuanian ancestry at all yet they participate in Lithuanian activities and, in some cases, even try to learn Lithuanian language.

Lithuanian club „Nemunas“

“Nemunas” is the oldest Lithuanian organization in Argentina (established 1909 08 17, long before the main wave of Lithuanian migration into Argentina of the 1920s-1930s). Despite this, “Nemunas” has some of the youngest active member ranks in Argentina and probably the entire Lithuanian diaspora from the areas with no current Lithuanian immigration. Third-generation Lithuanian-Argentines and fourth-generation Lithuanian-Argentines participate in its activities and leadership roles, they not only dance the Lithuanian dances but also speak Lithuanian language well.

 Lithuanian club “Nemunas” of Beriso

Lithuanian club “Nemunas” of Beriso

The façade of the “Nemunas” club is adorned by a bas-relief “Lithuania” that has been created by Cristian del Vito, Karina Ankudowicz, G. Ponce and Kristina Natale in 2001 to commemorate the 92nd anniversary of the establishment of the club. The bas-relief depicts the “School of sorrows” (an illegal Lithuanian school operating at the times of Russian Imperial rule in Lithuania when Russians banned the teaching in Lithuanian – 1863-1904), traditional Lithuanian crops, crosses, roof and wooden homes of small Lithuanian towns. Lithuanian inscription declares „Mūsų vienybė yra mūsų stiprybė“ – “Our unity is our strength”.

 Bas-relief Lithuania on the façade of the club Nemunas

Bas-relief Lithuania on the façade of the club Nemunas

The heart of “Nemunas” club is its main hall, adorned in Lithuanian symbols, and the second-floor premises with a library (balustrade of the second floor incorporates the Columns of Gediminas symbol). The building is rather small (7,5 m in width and 12 m in length) but it includes many things and activities. For instance, it has the largest Lithuanian dance group in South America.

Baliustrada su Gedimino stulpais klube Nemunas

Coluns of Gediminas balustrade in the Lithuanian club “Nemunas”

The club building was originally constructed in 1928 (the lot acquired in 1926) and expanded by second floor ~1945.

Prior to 1928, the club members would meet at the homes of fellow members. Like other similar organizations, “Nemunas” began its history as a self-help society (prior to the reign of president Juan Peron in 1940s-1950s, Argentina lacked social security and so immigrants of the same ethnicity would pool parts of their salaries in order to help the members in dire straits, especially those injured and widowed). Naturally, ethnic activities also took place under the same roof as all the members were immigrants who grew up surrounded by the same Lithuanian culture. Many of them did not even speak Spanish well.

After World War 2, as social security laws were implemented, the need to have a self-help community dissipated and thus the ethnic heritage took the upper hand in “Nemunas” activities. At the time, people who grew up in Argentina slowly took over the ranks of the organization and to them, the Lithuanian culture was not really unquestionable-and-single-one but rather something they saw a reason to save. For instance, since 1940, the club documents are all written in Spanish as the language was already better understood than Lithuanian to more and more members. However, this did not mean Lithuanian language was forgotten - even many of the youngest members still speak Lithuanian to this day, contrary to a vast majority of similar 100-year-old Lithuanian organizations worldwide that were not replenished by new immigrants.

Main hall of the club “Nemunas”

Main hall of the club “Nemunas”

Historically, “Nemunas” was known as “Vargdienis” (literally “poor man”) and was associated with the tautinininkai (moderate nationalists) and leftists. In 1939, the club renamed itself “Lithuanian tautininkai community Vargdienis”, in 1944 once again simply “Vargdienis”, in 1950 “Nemunas” after Lithuania’s longest river. Currently, the organization lacks a political alignment.

„Nemunas” has some 150 members.

Lithuanian Catholic club “Mindaugas”

The building of Lithuanian club “Mindaugas” is similar-in-design to that of “Nemunas” but the premises are larger. In addition to a larger main hall “Mindaugas” also has a bar, a library with old books. The bar sometimes serves Lithuanian dishes: in Beriso, it is a tradition that the ethnic communities rotate in offering their own meals. City dwellers of various ethnicities then go to taste the meals and this also helps to draw funds to the clubs.

 Lithuanian club “Mindaugas” of Beriso

Lithuanian club “Mindaugas” of Beriso

The building of “Mindaugas” is painted in the colors of the Lithuanian flag. The most beautiful artwork in the club is the 2010 bas-relief located in the main corridor and depicting king Mindaugas of Lithuania carrying a cross and a sword. King Mindaugas was the first leader of Lithuania who adopted Christianity. As “Mindaugas” was established by Lithuanian Catholics, he is thus a symbolic figure. The bas-relief was created by C. Del Vio, M. Santucci, and C. Gomez who created more such thematic artworks in Beriso.

 Club “Mindaugas” bas-relief

Club “Mindaugas” bas-relief

Lithuanian club “Mindaugas” was established in 1931 03 29. It acquired the current building in 1943 (at that time, it was a smaller partly-wooden building). The main hall was built in 1974-1979. Although Beriso never had a Lithuanian church, Lithuanian priests from Buenos Aires Lithuanian parish of Our Lady of Vilnius (less than 100 km away) used to come here to cater to the Lithuanian Catholics of “Mindaugas”.

Club “Mindaugas” hosts numerous interesting artworks by priest A. Lubickas, each of them depicting Lithuanian topics. The most important of these works is in the main hall. Created in 1980, it depicts the most famous Lithuanian buildings, Lithuanian folk costumes, both secular and religious Lithuanian symbols. The club also has a painting “The coronation of Mindaugas” by A. varnas.

 A fragment of priest Lubickas main work

A fragment of priest Lubickas main work

The main hall of “Mindaugas” has even more ethnic décor, such as a stylized castle of Gediminas, Vytis, a window glowing in colors of the Lithuanian flag, Columns of Gediminas on the floor, etc. The glass entrance to the hall is adorned by Mindaugas with a sword in hands. There is also a copy of Lithuania’s declaration of independence.

The hall of club “Mindaugas”

The hall of club “Mindaugas”

Beyond the main hall, there are recreational premises and meat preparation grill (meat BBQs, known as asado, are especially important in the Argentine culture).

Nowadays the club hosts Lithuanian dances and choir. “Mindaugas” has unusual Lithuanian folk costumes; as immigration from Lithuania to Argentina took place at the time when colored depictions were still uncommon in print, Beriso Lithuanians of the generations born in Argentina had to create their clothes based on black-and-white depictions alone.

„Mindaugas“ has some 150 members.

Beriso Lithuanian monuments

The heritage of Beriso immigrants is enshrined in many names and monuments. The most important Lithuanian monument has been erected in 2009 to commemorate the 1000-year-anniversary of the first mentioning of word “Lithuania” in writing. It was built jointly by both Lithuanian clubs of the city.

The sculptural composition includes a traditional Lithuanian chapel-post with Rūpintojėlis figure of pensive Christ on top. It is surrounded by four oak trees (oak being the national tree of Lithuania) and a commemorative plaque painted in colors of Lithuanian flag that explains the meaning of the monument. The composition is on the east coast of Saladero river, approximately at coordinates -34.868401, -57.887988.

 Beriso Lithuanian chapel-post

Beriso Lithuanian chapel-post

Beriso also has a Lituania street - however, only some maps shows this name. In other maps, the same street is called “23rd street” or “Sarmiento street” and on-site there are no street names “Lituania”.

In the center of Beriso there is a common Immigrant monument adorned with flags of all the source-countries of Beriso’s immigrant communities. It is here where the Olympic-like fire burns during the Immigrant festivals. A plaque explains that these festivals take place since 1977.

 Beriso Immigrant memorial with the flags, among them Lithuanain flag

Beriso Immigrant memorial with the flags, among them Lithuanain flag

 Beriso Greek club. Many of the Beriso’s ethnic clubs have interesting and artful ethnicity-inspired facades

Beriso Greek club. Many of the Beriso’s ethnic clubs have interesting and artful ethnicity-inspired facades

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Rosario, Argentina

Rosario (Argentina) is the fourth city of Latin America by the significance of Lithuanian heritage. Only Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo have more. However, compared to the Lithuanian sites of those cities, the Rosario sites are generally humbler.

 Traditional Lithuanian cross in front of the Rosario Lithuanain church and a Lithuanian coat of arms on the church facade

Traditional Lithuanian cross in front of the Rosario Lithuanain church and a Lithuanian coat of arms on the church facade

Rosario Lithuanian church and Margis street

St. Casimir Lithuanian church is the largest Lithuanian building of Rosario. It is rather simple in its design: the interior is mostly white, without grand stained-glass windows and murals. Lithuanian spirit is accentuated by details: a Lithuanian coat of arms on the façade (next to the Argentine coat of arms) and the image of St. Casimir (the patron saint of Lithuania); a traditional Lithuanian cross in front of the church (Lithuanian wooden crosses are UNESCO world heritage); inside the church, on top of the altar, a unique symbol that joins cross and Columns of Gediminas is depicted. Also, the church interior hosts three memorial plaques to Lithuanian priests – the founders of the church Jeronimas Jakaitis and Kazimieras Vengras, as well as Pranciškus Brazys who later became a bishop for Lithuanians abroad.

Rosario Lithuanian church

Rosario Lithuanian church

 The interior of the Rosario Lithuanian church

The interior of the Rosario Lithuanian church

 Columns of Gediminas over the image of the Christ in the front of the church

Columns of Gediminas over the image of the Christ in the front of the church

The church has been constructed in 1953-1954. For as much as 35 years (1957-1963 and 1967-1996) Juozas Margis served as its pastor (in Argentina, he was known as Jose Margis). This priest became famous all over Argentina (beyond the Lithuanian community) for the exorcisms he performed. Near the church a street has been named after Margis. Akin to many Lithuanian priests of South America, Margis was not born in Argentina – he was born in the USA, however, he decided to serve the Lithuanian-Argentines. Margis is interred in the St. Casimir church – the side altar under an image of Divine Mercy (the original image of Divine Mercy is in Vilnius, Lithuania).

Priest Margis grave under an image of Divine Mercy

Priest Margis grave under an image of Divine Mercy

After Margis’s death, the St. Casimir Lithuanian church of Rosario no longer had Lithuanian priests nor Masses, however, it is still served by Marian Fathers. This order has been saved from extinction by Lithuanian priest Jurgis Matulaitis who was the only active member of the order at one time. It was the Lithuanian Marian Fathers who established the St. Casimir parish of Rosario.

 Bishop Brazys commemorative plaque in the church

Bishop Brazys commemorative plaque in the church

In 1962, a Republic of Lithuania school has been opened near the church, to be joined by St. Casimir kindergarten in 1985 and Jose Margis school in 2008. The buildings are even humbler. St. Casimir church served as a community center, therefore, instead of investing in its lavishness, the community decided to build more buildings that would serve the community. The school was never exactly Lithuanian as such (in Argentina, all schools have the same program), however, it was attended by the kids of the Lithuanians who were parish members. At the present time, the parish has mostly non-Lithuanian members. It is quite far from the downtown so Lithuanians who moved to other districts typically joined the parishes there.

 St. Casimir kindergarten near the  church

St. Casimir kindergarten near the church

Rosario Lithuanian club and Lithuanian street

The building of Rosario Lithuanian club has been built around the era of First World War. It was acquired by Lithuanians in 1947. Most Lithuanians immigrated to Rosario (just like to other cities of South America) around the years 1925-1930, therefore, by 1947 the community was already established enough to have its own premises.

Rosario Lithuanian club

Rosario Lithuanian club

~1970 the club was expanded with an annex that includes a large event hall with Lithuanian-flag-colored windows.

 Rosario Lithuanian club hall

Rosario Lithuanian club hall

In 2009, to commemorate the 1000 year anniversary of the first mention of name “Lithuania” in written text, the Lithuanian government funded a restoration of the club building, where a new smaller hall dedicated to the millennium of Lithuania was opened. However, after the money was exchanged into Argentine peso, the peso deprecated and therefore inflation precluded from completing the project. Thus the second floor of the club, originally intended to be a small guest house for visiting Lithuanian bands and artists, was not completed.

Club corridors are adorned by old pictures of the club and commemorative plaques that remind of the key events in the club history.

The symbol of Rosario Lithuanian club

The symbol of Rosario Lithuanian club

The club is open on Saturdays and Sundays. Four times a year bigger festivals are held (for example, the anniversary of the club establishment festival in May). These attract some 200 people. The club has ~120 members and a choir.

The Lithuanian community of Rosario achieved that a street not too far from the club was renamed Lituania street in 1962. In the center of the street, near the monument to Eva Peron, there is a commemorative plaque indicating it was gifted by the Lithuanian community to “Rosario, the city of the flag”. The plaque depicts the coat of arms of Lithuania as well as the Flag memorial that is located in the center of Rosario.

 Lituania street commemorative plaque in Rosario

Lituania street commemorative plaque in Rosario

Rosario is known as “the city of the flag” because it was the site where the Argentine flag was first raised. On the exact spot, the Flag memorial was built. In front of that memorial, other flags are also respected. Its interior houses a gallery of American flags whereas the flags of the countries that have consulates in Rosario are raised in front of the memorial during the national holidays of these countries.

Every year on February 16th the Lithuanian flag is also raised there while the Lithuanian national anthem is playing.

Flag memorial of Rosario

Flag memorial of Rosario

Rosario still has surviving slaughterhouses which have originally attracted Lithuanians to this city that stands in the center of the Argentine meat growing area. One of them is the Swift slaughterhouse.

Swift slaughterhouse in Rosario

Swift slaughterhouse in Rosario

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Patagonia, Argentina

Patagonia (the southern end of South America) is one of the most remote parts of the world where Lithuanian heritage exists. Population density of Patagonia is merely 2 people per. Sq. km. Moreover, Patagonia was conquered by Europeans late in history – only by the 19th century. Thus the first Patagonian cities were established in a time when Lithuanians already began their massive migration into the Americas and Lithuanians thus participated in the creation of such cities.

Patagonia is partitioned between Argentina and Chile. Almost all Patagonia’s Lithuanians and Lithuanian heritage are located in the Argentine part.

Entrance to the Lithuanian farmstead of Esquel

Entrance to the Lithuanian farmstead of Esquel

Esquel Olgbrun Lithuanian farmstead-museum

The Olgbrun Lithuanian farmstead-museum of Esquel is both the newest piece of Lithuania in Patagonia and also the largest. A complex of nice wooden buildings is used for tourism (the houses may be rented) in the area rich in lakes, Andes mountains and some of the oldest trees in the world.

 Esquel Lithuanian farmstead. House ‘Trakai’ is on the right while hills are visible on the left

Esquel Lithuanian farmstead. House ‘Trakai’ is on the right while hills are visible on the left

Each of the houses of the farmstead are named after some Lithuanian town or city (Vilnius, Trakai, Palanga, Marijampolė, Šeštokai). Lithuanian symbols are available both inside and outside. Farmstead’s souvenir shop also has lots of both Lithuanian-inspired and Argentine items.

 House Palanga of the Lithuanian farmstead

House Palanga of the Lithuanian farmstead

The real heart of the complex is the Olgbrun Lithuanian museum. It has collected many items from closed-down Lithuanian-Argentine institutions, Lithuanian diplomatic and consular missions in Argentina, as well as Lithuanian-Argentine families. There are Lithuanian books (even those published in the USA in the 19th century while Lithuanian language was still banned by the Russian Imperial government in Lithuania itself), musical records, technics. There is also lots of information about the life of Lithuanian-Argentines and the Lithuanian sites in Argentina. The museum is interesting both to the Lithuanians from Lithuania and the Argentinians.

 The building of Esquel Lithuanian museum

The building of Esquel Lithuanian museum

The museum consists of five halls. The first hall includes the main exhibits of the museum – the exhibition of “Argentinos lietuvių balsas” (Lithuanian-Argentine Voice), the prime Lithuanian newspaper of Argentina that used to be published between the years 1927 and 2001. There are three authentic ~100-year-old pieces of machinery used to print the newspaper, various examples of the newspaper, pictures from the publishing house and the wider Lithuanian-Argentine community. There are also items from other Lithuanian-Argentine institutions such as the stamping machinery of the pre-WW2 consulate of Lithuania in Buenos Aires (which is now used to make museum stamps for tourists) or the plaque that once marked the Lithuanian embassy to Argentina (closed in 2012).

 Argentinos lietuvių balsas exhibits in the Lithuanian museum of Esquel

Argentinos lietuvių balsas exhibits in the Lithuanian museum of Esquel

The second hall of the museum has old Lithuanian-Argentine books and more information about the Lithuanians of Patagonia as well as the owners of the museum. The museum was established by Bronius (Bruno) and Olga Lukoševičius who moved to Esquel from Buenos Aires in 1985. Both have been born in Argentina. Only Bronius is a Lithuanian, however, Olga also helps a lot in the creation and operation of the museum. When Lithuania was re-establishing independence ~1990 the Lukoševičius family used to inform the Argentine people and media about what is going on in Lithuania. They even created an “Esquel Sąjudis” organization, named after Sąjūdis, the Lithuanian organization that was instrumental in restoring the independence after the Soviet occupation decades. Esquel Sąjūdis is now commemorated by a plaque at the museum entrance. In 1998, when the museum owners visited Lithuania, they met Vytautas Landsbergis who is called the patriarch of Lithuanian independence restoration; he is also well introduced in the museum. At that year, while visiting the Rumšiškės folk culture museum in Lithuania, Lukoševičius saw a house very similar to one where his parents lived. Later Lukoševičius learned that it is indeed the same house (Rumšiškės museum used to take old wooden houses and relocate them into the museum territory from all over Lithuania). It was then Lukoševičius had the idea of creating a similar museum in Patagonia. The house where the museum is in, therefore, is called “Rumšiškės” and it was built to remind the Bronius’s parents house that stands in Rumšiškės. In the museum, the names of the other houses of Esquel Lithuanian farmstead are also explained. There is also more information about the journey of self-discovery Bronius took in Lithuania and images from that journey.

The third hall of the museum has information about the famous Lithuanian-Argentinians and their influence in the Argentine history / Patagonian colonization.

 Interesting details about the Lithuanian participation in Argentine life. Newspaper clippings about a Lithuanian girl who represented Argentina in Miss World in 1965

Interesting details about the Lithuanian participation in Argentine life. Newspaper clippings about a Lithuanian girl who represented Argentina in Miss World pageant in 1965

Museum’s fourth hall is full of information about Lithuania. Ethnic clothes, pieces of amber (some with fossils), Lithuanian Litas banknotes, articles from the local press about the museum, images of people who visited the museum from Lithuania (among them politicians, diplomats). It became a nice tradition for Lithuanians who travel by car across Patagonia to also visit the Lithuanian farmstead and museum of Esquel. It is not difficult as Esquel is on one of merely two paved north-south roads in Argentina (the famous 40th road, Ruta 40, that has been compared to Road 66 of the United States although it is even more atmospheric).

 Lithuania hall of the Esquel Lithuanian museum

Lithuania hall of the Esquel Lithuanian museum

The fifth and final hall of the Esquel Lithuanian museum is dedicated to the natural sciences and includes stones, shells, fossils and more. Some things there are from Lithuania but far from everything – in fact, officially the entire museum is called “Museum of Lithuania and natural sciences”. The connection is Ignacio Domeyko (Ignas Domeika), a geologist who emigrated from Lithuania to Chile and became famous there. A part of the hall is dedicated to him and various places named after him in Chile.

In the museum, visitors may also listen to old Lithuanian records.

 Items marked in Lithuanian symbols for sale at the museum’s shop. Many of them have been created in the ecological farm owned by museum owners

Items marked in Lithuanian symbols for sale at the museum’s shop. Many of them have been created in the ecological farm owned by museum owners

There are Lithuanian symbols on the exterior of the museum as well. Stork, the national bird of Lithuania. A possibility to look into a traditional farmstead of a 19th-century Lithuanian family. Interpretations of chapel-post and Rūpintojėlis, two forms of traditional Lithuanian crafts. All that is not simply exhibits – these items also help create the atmosphere of the entire farmstead.

Unlike many other Lithuanian museums abroad, the Esquel one is officially open and has regular opening hours. It is included in “Tripadvisor” and is primarily oriented at the people of Argentina who like to visit it (all the information in the museum is in Spanish, except for the old books and documents themselves). However, it is also interesting to Lithuanians from elsewhere.

In 2005 the owners of the museum ensured that one of the Esquel crossroads would be renamed “Lithuanian Square”. A wooden Lithuanian square post was erected there. Initially the post was made of marble, however, that one was stolen and then replaced by a cheaper wooden one.

 Lithuanian square commemorative plaque in Esquel

Lithuanian square commemorative plaque in Esquel

Sarmiento and its Šlapelis settler family

Although the massive wave of Lithuanian migration to Argentina took place in years 1925-1930, some 5000 Lithuanians lived in Argentina beforehand. Argentina was rich then as well – however, before World War 1, it was rather easy to emigrate to the USA and so Lithuanian migrants used to choose the USA as the destination. Still, some chose Argentina.

At that time Patagonia (Argentina’s south) was just conquered from Native Americans during a war known as “Conquest of the Desert”. Patagonia lacked cities or towns and the Argentine government, wishing to populate the region (that could have been potentially disputed by Chile or the imperial powers of Europe), would give the land for free to people (including immigrants who would become subjects of Argentina).

The most famous “Lithuanian” town of Patagonia is Sarmiento (pop. 8000). One of its founders was Izidorius Šlapelis, a Lithuanian who was first expelled by the Russian Empire (which ruled Lithuania back then) to Siberia but managed to escape from there, eventually reaching Argentina in 1877, receiving land in Patagonia and settling there with his family of 10.

Later, Šlapelis invited more Lithuanian families into Patagonia and the Šlapelis family itself gave Sarmiento and Argentina more great personalities who inscribed their own names into the maps of Argentina. Sarmiento has a monument to Kazimieras Šlapelis (without any name marked, however). Kazimieras was a daredevil pilot grandson of Izidorius who, according to local histories, used to fly patients for free to the far away hospitals, throw candies to the local kids out of his airplane. He also had many books about Lithuania and its freedom struggle. Sarmiento has Šlapelis street (written as Szlapeliz; because Šlapelis emigrated at the time there was still no standard Lithuanian orthography, the spelling of his name varies), Šlapelis district.

 The bust of Kazimieras (Casimiro) Šlapelis in Sarmiento

The bust of Kazimieras (Casimiro) Šlapelis in Sarmiento

Not far away from Sarmiento, there is a V. Šlapelis petrified forest (an open space full of fossilized trees), a hill known as Cerro Szlapelis. These sites are more difficult to visit as paved roads are rare in Patagonia and the gravel roads to far-away places are difficult to pass without an SUV.

Sarmiento museum has a multitude of Šlapelis-related exhibits. Kazimieras gifted many of his family items to the museum. There is even a poem dedicated to him (called “Condor of the skies”), family photos, newspaper clippings about his flights (among the first ones in entire Patagonia), etc. Kazimieras Šlapelis became somewhat of a legend of Sarmiento. Stories about him have been printed in the city history book and even mentioned in adverts of the local candy shop.

 Šlapelis family pictures in Sarmiento museum. Pictures of this type were popular in the 19th-20th turn-of-the-centuries

Šlapelis family pictures in Sarmiento museum. Pictures of this type were popular in the 19th-20th turn-of-the-centuries

Like many cities and towns of Patagonia, Sarmiento has an Immigrant square with flags from the countries that gave the most immigrants to the area (one of those flags is Lithuanian). The masts of the flags are like rays from a center where Argentine flags waves.

Another Kazimieras Šlapelis street is in Comodoro Rivadavia city (the closest larger city to Sarmiento). Kazimieras Šlapelis used to fly to Comodoro Rivadavia with his plane. By the way, even the street name plaques on the same street have different variants of his name: one plaque writes it as “Casimiro Szlapelis”, another one as “Casimiro Slapelis”.

 Kazimieras Šlapelis street in Commodoro Rivadaivia. Casimiro Slapelis version of his name (on the other crossroad, Szlapelis version is used)

Kazimieras Šlapelis street in Commodoro Rivadaivia. Casimiro Slapelis version of his name (on the other crossroad, Szlapelis version is used).

Šlapelis street in Sarmiento

Šlapelis street in Sarmiento

Another city where Šlapelis used to fly to was Alto Rio Senguer, a town even more remote than Sarmiento (population ~1500). The local airport has been named D. Casimiro Szlapelis Airport and the town also has Casimiro Szlapelis agricultural school

Among the families invited to Patagonia by Izidorius Šlapelis were Baltuška family. Two farms in the area are still named after it.

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Map of Lithuanian heritage in Southern Latin America

Map of Lithuanian heritage in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

More information on the Lithuanian heritage in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay.

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