Global True Lithuania Lithuanian communities and heritage worldwide

United States of America

According to the US census of 2001, there are some 700 000 Lithuanian-Americans. This is the largest Lithuanian community outside Lithuania and the most important one. There is much Lithuanian heritage in the USA, especially in the New England, Mid-Atlantic and the industrial cities of the Midwest.

Lithuanians settled in the USA in three separate eras, so-called "waves". The first wave arrived in the late 19th century (when Lithuania was occupied and discriminated by Russian Empire). Some 300 000 Lithuanian peasants left their agricultural lives for workplaces in Pennsylvanian mines, slaughterhouses of Chicago and factories in other major cities. Speaking little English they formed their own districts and communities, founded Lithuanian newspapers and orchestras, funded extremely lavish churches (for their humble lifestyle) and now lay in cemeteries covered by massive tombstones.The first wave was curbed by the limits on immigration imposed in 1908 by the US government but its legacy continued.

The first wave Lithuanian-Americans campaign for the liberty of Lithuania in the 1910s. Some of them returned after 1918 independence to help their homeland get on its feet.

The second wave came after World War 2. People who managed to escape the Soviet regime were finally able to leave overcrowded refugee camps in Germany in some 1948. The USA welcomed up to 100 000 of them, never having recognized the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. These refugees were primarily intellectuals, artists, and the elite. Feeling to have been forced from their homeland rather than leaving it due to economical reasons they were/are very patriotic, taking part in various Lithuanian groups and social gatherings, Lithuanian churches being among the most important. Even many people born in the USA to such Lithuanian parents are more attached to Lithuania than to their new homeland. The massive second wave of immigrants fought hard to advance the Lithuanian cause and established an entire nation of Lithuania-in-exile, with its government in Washington, DC and all the necessary institutions. Their tireless work contributed to the restoration of Lithuanian independence in 1990. This event came just at the time when time started to take its toll on the second wave Lithuanian-American communities. However many were still in good health in the 1990s and some left their comfortable American lives for restored free Lithuania using their experience and money to help rebuild their homeland after decades of Soviet misrule. Among these returnees was president Valdas Adamkus (1998-2009), two presidential candidates and multiple businessmen. In a sense, this helped to make Lithuania of the late 1990s more American than European in various ways.

Lithuanians DPs in a ship which moves them from refugee camps in Germany to a new world (left image). They later established cohesive communities, such as the one centered around this new (1950s) Nativity BVM church in Marquette Park, Chicago (right image).

The third wave immigrated after the restoration of independence opened the borders yet again. The reasons for migration were economical as years of Soviet rule left Lithuanian economy shattered. At one time some half of Lithuanian US tourist visa holders would not return home. After Lithuania joined the European Union in 2004 this migration diminished as more people opted for Western Europe instead. Third wave immigrants are generally less attached to their native culture than the previous waves. Influenced by long Soviet state atheism they are also less religious. They failed to replenish Lithuanian churches and therefore American dioceses went on to Lithuanian church closure and demolition spree in the 2000s. The number of people that consider Lithuanian culture important also decrease as the older generations pass away. Some of the things you can see today may no longer be there after a couple of years, so be quick.

Mini-museum of Lithuania at St. Anthony church in Detroit (closed 2013). Old Lithuanian American parishes, clubs, and other institutions typically include memorabilia such as Lithuanian flags, emblems, anthem texts, ethnic clothes, religious symbols, historical and modern images, names of important people and freedom fighters. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Chicago is regarded to be the capital of Lithuanian Americans. There were several Lithuanian neighborhoods and two streets are still named after Lithuania. Lithuanians constructed many churches, the most elaborate being Holy Cross in the Back of the Yards (1913). There are two extensive Lithuanian cemeteries: the Roman Catholic St. Casimir and multidenominational Lithuanian National Cemetary. Several monuments and plaques exist, the most famous being the memorial for pilots S. Darius and S. Girėnas, the first Lithuanians to perform a transatlantic flight. The world's oldest Lithuanian language newspaper Draugas is published in Chicago since 1909. There are opportunities for tasting Lithuanian dishes (even though they are less common than in the 1990s or before). You may also visit the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian culture, the only such institution outside Lithuania.

The rule of the thumb is that in every city that used to be major in early 20th century exist be Lithuanian communities and heritage, primarily churches and cemeteries. This can be said about Cleveland and Detroit near the Great Lakes as well as Boston, Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia on the Eastern coast. Los Angeles is the only city in the west to have a sizeable Lithuanian community (and a church). Ater all the America's West was much less populated at the time of second and especially the first waves of Lithuanian immigration.

Pennsylvania has a large population of Lithuanians in its small Coal Region towns, in some places exceeding 10%. Shenandoah used to be called Vilnius of America. Here you may also find Lithuanian churches and cemeteries (unfortunately many churches, such as the 19th century one in Shenandoah, were condemned to demolition or are no longer used for religious purposes). Lake Kasulaitis in Pennsylvania is a rare Lithuanian toponym on the American continent.

Washington DC has a Lithuanian embassy that served like a shadow government in the years of Soviet occupation.

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