Part IV: The Slovak Community of Cleveland
Native Americans also found certain Slovak customs offensive and the latter had to learn to repress their true thoughts and feelings in order to placate the host culture. “Noisy” weddings, christenings, and funerals offended Anglo-Saxon sensibilities and had to be toned down. Religious processions down main streets on certain holy days suffered the same fate. Prohibition was essentially an anti-immigrant law and ethnic leaders bitterly denounced it.
Finally, the national hysteria known as the “Red Scare” of 1919-1920, led to the “Americanization” movement of the 1920’s — a blatant attempt by native Americans to destroy “foreign” cultures in this country and to turn all ethnics into “100% Americans.” Although the movement failed, it generated a lot of repression among immigrants as they stopped using their native tongue in public, told their children not to identify themselves as “American-Slovaks” but simply as “Americans” and many even anglicized their names.
This kind of repression continued until the sixties. Today the third generation is slowly rediscovering its ethnicity.
Some Slovaks, of course, refused to knuckle under to the pressure and fought to preserve their heritage. Benedictine High School, for instance, taught the Slovak language at several levels until 1972. The Benedictine monks received several cultural delegations from the Old World in the 1920’s and 1930’s and worked with them to establish the monastery as an active center of Slovak culture in America. Original members of fraternals continued to employ their native language at meetings and in church and never really accepted the “American way” as superior to their own. Among the second generation there were those who did carry on in the tradition of their fathers. Gymnastic organizations and social clubs attracted them the most, and, although these were no longer as ethnic as before, they did, nevertheless remind the members of their origins. Finally, a few individuals such as Joseph Paleš, Alex Mikula, Michael Beňo and John Biro developed Slovak-language radio broadcasts and music on various Cleveland stations and contributed to the preservation of Slovak culture in this way. Meanwhile, the ethnic press never gave in to nativists, although by the 1950’s English began to replace Slovak in many columns for practical reasons — the second and third generations could no longer comprehend the tongue of their ancestors.