Today I met up with a lovely new friend, Katie – a Language House grad and former Prague resident, and current Czech Republic specialist for a study abroad company here in Austin, ISA. We met at the farmer’s market downtown, planning to meet at the “Texas Czech Brunch Truck” that is there every Saturday. Or, it was supposed to be. Because today it was not there! I was really bummed I didn’t get to try out their “Czech Benedict” – perhaps another time. But I didn’t let the lack of kolaches stop me from quizzing Katie nonstop with questions about The Language House, life in Prague, and working as an English teacher. She was great with helpful advice and interesting anecdotes, and we quickly decided not to let the missing brunch truck ruin our adventure for the day.
Our mission: to see if we could shake some Czech culture out of Austin.
You can see some photos of the first part of our adventure here if you’re interested – we visited the fantastic Alice in Wonderland exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center. This was one of my favorites as a child, so it was great to see all the different renditions of it, as well as original drawings by Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson). But best of all, we found a Czech Alice! I mean, Alenka.
And I learned the word ‘prosim‘ (means please – useful!) , bringing my Czech vocabulary to a jaw-dropping three words. (Don’t worry y’all, I have no intention of letting it remain that way!)
But other than little Alenka, we didn’t really come across any Czechabilia until we stumbled into a liberal arts conference room…
Of course, when I say “stumbled” I mean I discovered it a few days before on the internet, and thought it would be fun to czech it out!
We found the correct building and conference room, and walked in during the tail end of the symposium’s lunch break. We found a table of photographs and other memorabilia of the Czech language program at UT over the last century. Within a moment an amiable woman named Ginny came over and began talking to us. She showed us her father’s Czech primer from the 1930’s (bottom right of the photo) and pointed him out in these Czech Club photos. A brief aside – Can I just take a moment to say how much I love the hair styles of the women in these photos? Not really on topic, I know, but the ladies of the ’20s and ’30s had a really gorgeous look going for them, and I can’t help but want to admire it out loud. Beautiful.
An amiable lady named Diane who worked with the Czech Education Foundation of Texas was happy to talk to us, told us about CEFT’s mission to promoting Czech culture and language in Texas through higher education. She warmly enthused upon learning I was heading to the Czech Republic myself, and gave me the name of her Czech niece Eva, an English teacher in Olomouc at Palacký Univesity. This prompted a comment from Katie about the ubiquity of the name Eva, and I learned another nugget of Czech culture – apparently, there is distinct lack of diversity in first names amongst the Czech people.
I’ll let Wikipedia (Czech names article) explain, as they are likely to be far more accurate than my paraphrasing ever could be.
“During the Communist era, parents needed a special permission form to give a child a name that did not have a name day on the Czech calendar. Since the Velvet revolution in 1989, parents have had the right to give their child any name they wish, provided it is used somewhere in the world and is not insulting or demeaning. However, the common practice of last years is that most birth-record offices look for the name in the book “Jak se bude vaše dítě jmenovat?” (What is your child going to be called?), which is a semi-official list of “allowed” names. If the name is not found there, authorities are extremely unwilling to register the child’s name.“
Just another reminder of how much history and culture there is for me to learn!
The symposium was in full attendance – lots of supporters of Czech language at UT! – and the conference room was standing room only. Katie and I lingered in the hallway outside, listening to the tail of the lecture by Brian Vanicek, the Honorary Consul for the Consulate of the Czech Republic. Sadly we missed most of his talk, but some seats were freed up and we were ushered inside for the next speaker, Retta Chandler from the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center – another new place for me to explore in the future!
During her talk, I learned the first Czech language club, began at University of Texas in 1909, by small group of Czech-Texans who wished to preserve their heritage. By 1915 their small group had grown and with the help of language professor Dr. Eduard Micek (the man standing in the photo to the left), they established the Czech Language Department that persists at the University to this day.
She played a short video about the history of the Czech people in Texas – they came over from Bohemia and Moravia in the mid-nineteenth century and established communities of farmers in rural central Texas, united by common culture, language, and faith that has been passed down to current generations of Texans of Czech descent.
It was really lovely to hear how long the department has been running at the school, to learn some of the history of Czech people here in my own country, as well as discovering a whole community of people passionate about their culture and heritage. I wish we could’ve stayed longer and talked to more people, but we had to get going.
Today was only the beginning of my adventures here in Texas before I head out to Prague. I managed to grab a flyer while I was there for another Czech event in Texas, that I am pretty excited about attending. It’s a film screening of three Czech language films (with English subtitles), through festival called Czech That Film. They’ll be playing in May in Houston and Dallas, and I think this will be an excellent excuse for a visit to my family living in those respective cities, and with a stop in a Czech bakery along the way for good measure! I have a lot to look forward to!
Special thank you to Katie! And thank you to everyone at the Centennial who welcomed us so warmly and shared with us their passion for Czexas!