Alice Lunakova spoke to packed rooms at all three Texas Czech museums on her lecture tour this month. Alice is a recent graduate of Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. She is presenting her bachelor's thesis on Czech immigration in the early 1900s, for which she researched while in Texas last year. She is speaking at the Brazos Valley Czech Heritage Center tonight at Texas A&M University, College Station and will complete her tour on August 30 at the Keston Center, Baylor University in Waco.
Want to read Alice's viewpoint on her Texas tour? Visit www.alicelunakova.me
All the stars seem to have aligned for Alice concerning this topic and this tour. Although she is from Prague, she chose to attend college in the Moravia region, the area from which most of the first immigrants to Texas originated. At the time, Alice was completely unaware of the many enclaves of descendants of Czech immigrants living here.
An English and French major at Masaryk, Alice sought an opportunity to study American English, but her school offered only one option for studying English abroad: McLennan Community College in Waco. So, Alice moved to Waco for the summer of 2014. While there, her Spanish professor took the two Czech transfer students to West, Texas. She was surprised to see menus in her native language at the Village Bakery and hear Czech spoken there. Unfortunately, it was at the end of her summer and the extent of her exposure to Texas Czechs at the time.
When she returned to Brno, Alice realized that Czech immigration to Texas would provide a unique research topic for her thesis. The problem was she could find very few source or academic documents in the libraries there. So, she returned to Waco in 2015 to conduct her research.
Here is where the stars started to add up. While attending a YMCA yoga class, she met John Hillman, a semi-retired CPA, and his wife Kathy Hillman, a librarian and director of the Keston Center at Baylor University. Kathy assisted Alice with her research. John drove Alice around Texas to the many Czech communities and venues.
John and Alice visited the Czech Heritage Museum several times last summer, where Alice took advantage of our library and books on Texas Czech immigration. One of those books, Krasna Amerika: A Study of Texas Czechs, 1851-1939, by Clinton Machann and James Mendl* was especially valuable to her research.
I invited Alice to come back to Texas for to lecture on it once she had completed her thesis. She brought her classmate and now colleague Anna Kabelkova of Olomouc, Moravia, Czech Republic.
Anna was the perfect companion to bring. After Alice gave her presentation at our Svacina Social Hour, she and Anna engaged in some lively conversation with the audience. For most of the members of the Svacina Social Hour group, the Moravian dialect was their first language, spoken by their parents at home, here in Texas. Alice and Anna pointed out some of the differences of the Moravian and Bohemian regional accents and dialects. Some of the words that Texas Czechs used were not to be found in Czech dictionaries. However, Anna said that these words were still used in Moravia.
Alice’s presentation at the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center in La Grange was also successful. The beautiful Hanslik Hall banquet room was packed and some of the audience members shared their family memories. Retta Chandler, president of the TCHCC, hosted the event and screened a short video on Czech immigration produced by the Center. Afterward, Alice and Anna toured the Center’s library, exhibit hall, historic village and amphitheatre.
Even Houston’s traffic and rain did not discourage friends of the Czech Center Museum Houston from driving to the museum district for Friday night’s event. Almost every seat was filled and the audience brought intriguing questions for Alice to answer after her lecture. Effie Rosene, chairman of the board, hosted the event at the elegant chateau-inspired museum, which houses three floors of Czech art, literature and artifacts.
Jan Benes, a graduate student at Masaryk University and also from Olomouc, attended Alice’s lecture in La Grange and invited her to speak at his Czech class in College Station. Benes is studying at Texas A&M University under the William J. Hlavinka Fellowship, sponsored by the Czech Education Foundation of Texas. He has arranged for Alice to meet Dr. Machann, whose book was so crucial to her research.
Alice will come full circle to close out her tour in Waco. Her sponsors, John and Kathy Hillman have arranged her presentation at the Keston Center. As part of her duties at the Keston Center, Kathy reports to Oxford College in England regularly, so earlier this year, the Hillmans visited Alice and her family in Prague. This trip inspired Kathy to begin preparations for an event in the future on Czech topics at the Keston Center. Stay tuned!
*James Mendl and his father and siblings also visited the Museum this month. Watch for an upcoming blog post on that visit!