Streetcar Parishes: Slovak Immigrants Build Their Nonlocal Communities, 1890-1945

Streetcar Parishes: Slovak Immigrants Build Their Nonlocal Communities, 1890-1945

Streetcar Parishes: Slovak Immigrants Build Their Nonlocal Communities, 1890-1945

Streetcar Parishes: Slovak Immigrants Build Their Nonlocal Communities, 1890-1945

Synopsis

This book examines how small immigrant groups created a community for themselves if they could never control their own piece of the city, an ethnic ghetto, in which all or nearly all residents shared the same Old Country home. For many immigrants, community was not geographically circumscribed. Creative means existed for drawing widely dispersed people back into an institutionally based community centered on churches, social clubs, fraternal societies, and sporting leagues.

Excerpt

The whole area east of the Bowery and south of Houston Street
is their particular province. They have started colonies all up
the East Side from the Brooklyn Bridge to Harlem. … The New
Yorker constantly rubs elbows with Israel. The thoroughfares
abound with Jewish hucksters, selling all imaginable jimcracks; cer
tain streets are almost impassably clogged with Jewish pushcarts.
… In a word, New York is not only largely, and probably destined
to be overwhelmingly, a city of Hebrews, but a city of Asiatics.
—Burton J. Hendrick, “The Great Jewish Invasion”

The Czecho-Slovak group in Philadelphia is very hard to reach as
a group because they live in scattered neighborhoods where many
other immigrants are mingled with them– because they do not
have one center to go to.

—Christine Zduleczna, “The Czecho-Slovaks
in Philadelphia”

WHEN BURTON HENDRICK TOURED NEW York City’s Lower East Side, he might have been forgiven for assuming the immigrant “invasion” had turned the area into a wholly Jewish district. Hendrick noted, after all, that by 1907 New York was home to 800,000 Jewish “souls.” Yet as the report by social worker Christine Zduleczna makes clear, there were many other, less visible immigrant groups that never had the numbers to dominate a single enclave in America’s cities. The problem I set out to examine, then, is how a small immigrant group created a community for itself if it could never control its own piece of the city—an ethnic ghetto in which all or nearly all residents shared the same Old Country home. Small immigrant communities’ invisibility continues to be a problem, not just for magazine writers but also for historians, who to this day by and large look to neighborhood ghettos of the large immigrant groups when seeking their immigrant quarry.

This conception of the urban immigrant community as existing in bounded space began with Progressive Era reformers such as Jacob Riis and continued through the Settlement House movement. Writers and reformers had a profound interest in the pernicious effects of the urban environment on human behavior, and this impulse to regard problems as environmental strengthened a tendency to carve America into ethnic spheres of influence. Students of the newcomers’ living conditions often conceived of the immigrant as living, working, worshipping, and . . .

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