The Bird's Nest 11

money within the community, and approached self-sufficiency Thus economic advancement derived from neighbors' support of one another, as was the case in finding jobs and housing.

It is a comment both on the times and the nature of the neighborhood itself that in 1930 it could support over 120 businesses. There were twenty-five grocers (including four chain stores), seventeen bakers and confectioners, and eighteen retail establishments. Although prohibition made bars illegal, some enterprising bootleggers, according to oral history maintained an active trade; and at least one midwife and three undertaking establishments also served the neighborhood. Billiard parlors, bowling alleys, dance halls, a gym, and a motion picture theater supplemented the church activities.

Clearly many of these institutions brought the blessings of American popular culture to Birdtown; villagers also could experience the host culture through both suburban and downtown institutions. Despite its initial inward focus and physical isolation, Birdtowners never sought to shut out the larger society nor were they overly cut off from it.

This did not mean that villagers abandoned their own cultures for "American" culture as is often implied by the melting pot" myths. The persistence of the urban village's rich institutional life demonstrated the strength of religious and ethnic ties. In reality the urban village provided a buffer between the larger society and the immigrant community Birdtowners confronted America in the context of their own community and, through personal and institutional networks, they collectively created their own version of American culture. The important point is not that immigrants and their children resisted adopting the host culture, although each generation of villagers viewed this issue differently. Rather they selectively borrowed those aspects that seemed most appropriate and carefully integrated them into their own practices. This result multiplied by urban villages throughout the U.S. produced the incredibly complex and diverse society that we now have.

 

The old neighborhood
changes--a little

Much has changed in the ninety-five years since the Birdtown's founding. But the village continues to function despite both economic stagnation and a substantial movement out of the area. What stands out are neighbors' collective efforts to confront change through village institutions, and to adapt to new conditions. Even those who have left have often continued their involvement in the neighborhood or joined with other Birdtowners to found "new" institutions elsewhere.

The post-World-War-II period witnessed the greatest change. Increasingly villagers used "native" languages less; while Slovak continues to be spoken in most neighborhood institutions, few third or fourth generation children can join in these conversations. Villagers adapted traditional customs and cuisine to fit changed needs and merged them with "American" practices. If the first American-born generation tended to

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Last Updated May 24, 2000


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