"From Praha to Prague" follows the immigrants as they settled east-central Oklahoma as a clannish group of farmers and their subsequent struggle to both assimilate with their adopted country but also maintain their cultural heritage.
“I chose Prague, Oklahoma, because it was first settled by Czechs during the 1892 land run on the former Sac and Fox reservation,” says Smith. “I also became intrigued by the Prague Czechs because they still have a fraternal association (called Bohemian Hall) that began in the 1890s. Add to that, their allowing me unfettered access to all of their records, which until after WWII were written in Czech.”
Smith says the Czechs differed from most immigrant groups in several ways. The geographic isolation of Prague forced them to participate with other settlers as the town incorporated and grew, and that interaction was met with acceptance.
“They overwhelmingly interacted with the non-Czechs in economic activities,” says Smith. “They also participated in the social and cultural affairs of the fledgling community in areas like school activities, sports, politics, the big 4th of July celebration, and the annual county fair. The experience of the Prague Czechs diverged from the urban experience of most immigrant groups who primarily huddled together in ethnic neighborhoods.
“What I wondered – and still do – is how other rural ethnic groups adjusted in their surroundings? Were the experiences of Polish, or Swedish, or Italian farming communities similar or did they diverge from the Czechs?”
Smith’s connection to the Czechs began while he served in the U.S. Army as a Special Operations interrogator during the early 1980s. He studied the Czech language for 13 months, created propaganda for the Department of Defense, and interviewed Czechs who escaped communist Czechoslovakia.
Smith began his research during graduate school, writing his master’s thesis on Czech immigration to the U.S., and his doctoral thesis on Czech immigrants and ethnic identity. The book is natural progression of his work. Smith’s work is also an example of the Higher Learning Commission’s expectation that faculty contribute to “scholarship, creative work, and the discovery of knowledge.” (3.B.5)
“From Praha to Prague” is available online and in bookstores.