Volume 38, No.2 - Summer 1992
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas, University of Rochester 
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright 1992 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Lithuanians in the USA: Aspects of Ethnic Identity, David Feinhaus, Lithuanian Library Press, Chicago, III. 1991.

Well over a hundred years has passed since one of the most important events in Lithuanian history began the massive emigration of its people throughout the world. Most of these emigrants ultimately settled in America. There they created a myriad of "little Lithuanias," setting up their own religious, educational, artistic and cultural institutions. In time, they were even instrumental in creating the modem Lithuanian state. And so it is appropriate that in this time of euphoria at the regaining of independence of Lithuania that we reflect on the relationship that the emigrants had with their homeland.

"Lithuanians in the USA: Aspects of Ethnic Identity" attempts, quite successfully, to achieve that goal. Writing in English, author David Feinhauz analyzes early Lithuanian immigration in the United States from its incipient stages to the Immigration Act of 1924, at which time mass movements were stopped by imposition of quotas. Although Feinhauz states that the book is not a history or Lithuanian-Americans in the strict sense, it does read as a history, and, most importantly, it utilizes a wide variety of sources. From this perspective the book is a welcome addition to the literature of the early Lithuanian immigrants, especially for non-Lithuanian reading scholars.

Strictly speaking, "Lithuanians in the USA" is neither an historical work nor a sociological analysis of immigrant adaptations. Feinhauz avoids a rigid chronological format, organizing his book along thematic lines. The first two chapters examine the Lithuanian immigrants' expectations and hopes for their new life, and the reality that they ultimately faced. The third chapter is devoted to an examination of the evolution of ethnic and national consciousness in the new environment. Chapter four depicts institutional development in the arts, education, religion, and the press. The final chapter documents changes in ethnic identity in second and third generation Lithuanian-Americans.

The strengths of the book are many. As mentioned, the author uses a variety of source materials, relying not only on immigrant literature itself, but also on sources outside of the ethnic group. Because Feinhauz often employs a comparative perspective in understanding Lithuanian group adaptations to the new society, the book will be of particular interest to the sociologist also. The work is not limited to a specific segment of Lithuanian cultural or social adaptations. It attempts to be as general as possible. As such it is similar to the histories of Zilinskis and of Michelsonas. Up to the present there were no such general works on Lithuanian-Americans, and if only for that reason the book is a valuable addition to the literature.

Special metion should be made of Feinhauz's treatment of the evolution of ethnic and national consciousness in the United States. In his view, the birth of nationalism (and of ethnic consciousness) occurred simultaneously in America and in Lithuania. Further, he believes that such a development would not have been possible without Lithuanian-American contributions. These contributions took the form of a feedback mechanism involving both sides of the Atlantic. The freedom of press found in the United States enabled Lithuanian language newspapers to be distributed in the homeland, where language and press restrictions were severe. Returning emigres brought back the conception of individual freedom, without which an independence movement would have struggled. The American social system forced Lithuanian-Americans to conceptualize their identity in the context of a multicultural structure. Certainly such ideas are not new. Jonas lipas himself, one of the prime movers of nationalism in the United States, recognized the contributions that American-Lithuanian emigre population had for the rebirth of the Lithuanian nation. But what Feinhauz offers in this regard is a well reasoned and well documented argument.

Despite these strengths, "Lithuanians in the USA" is not without its weakneses mostly minor. It must be assumed that this work will be valued by scholars for its extensive source materials. Yet the bibliographical referencing system employed by Feinhauz is truly burdensome at times. A citation in the latter part of the book may be bibliographically referenced in the first chapter, necessitating an inordinate amount of search time. It would have been so much easier had the bibliographic references been located in the back of the book.

Two other minor points should be mentioned. Writing about Lithuania in the Tsarist period, Feinhauz employs Russian titles for provinces and regions, while he uses Lithuanian titles for cities and villages. Thus one might read of Kovno rajon, but the city of Kaunas. While this convention does not detract from the basic strengths of the work, nevertheless for the Lithuanian reader (and potentially for others) it evokes a certain negativity.

Finally, the author himself states that the study was originally intended to overview the Pennsylvania coal mining region. Seeing similar adaptive processes in other Lithuanian communities, he determined to broaden his study to include, as the title suggests, the whole United States. However, the empirical data needed to support many of the author's observations tend to be extracted from the Pennsylvanian communities, and then generalized to the larger sphere. In many cases there is good jusification for taking such an approach. After all, as Feinhauz himself states, these Pennsylvanian communities were indeed the core of immigrant life in the United States for a substantial period of time. But the scholar might find some uneasiness with accepting some of these generalizations.

Despite these relatively minor points, "Lithuanians in the USA" has the potential for being the prime English source for early Lithuanian immigrant history. Written clearly and cleanly, it will be useful not merely to the scholar, but to the general public as well.

Aleksandras Gedmintas
SUNY Delhi