On Thursday evening, I attended the opening of an exhibit on “The First Lithuanians in Texas” at Vytautas Magnus University’s Galerija 101. Once upon a time, in the mid-1800s, a group of Lithuanian immigrants settled in Yorktown, Texas. They were soon absorbed into the larger German immigrant community and their Lithuanian origins forgotten. Fast forward 100 years or so. A woman looking for information on her great-grandparents discovers that they are buried in a section of the churchyard among a group of headstones with “funny looking names that weren’t German.” She and several other women also working on their family genealogies are surprised to discover that they have Lithuanian roots. They even get the State of Texas to put up a plaque recognizing the early Lithuanian immigrants.
A couple of decades later, a Lithuanian anthropologist working in emigre archives in Chicago (on a Fulbright fellowship, I might add) hears about these lost Lithuanians and heads down to Texas to check them out. The result — an exhibit, a book and a short documentary about the first Lithuanians to settle in Texas. The discussion at the exhibit opening about Lithuanian immigrants in Texas turned into a discussion of the Lithuanian immigrant experience in American in general and then into comments about American identity, Texas, and the experience of a “nation of immigrants.”
Next thing I knew, the director of the Emigration Institute was asking me to comment to the group on the American experience of immigrant identity and regional identity. Because, of course, I am an American and therefore can be called upon at any time to speak on anything related to America. I’ve know the director for many years, so I don’t hold it against him. Hopefully I said something reasonably intelligent, given that it was totally off the top of my head. And it was quite interesting to learn about these “lost” Lithuanians in Texas.