Historic Migration as a Tool to Raise Understanding for Today’s Migrant
Robert Dulfer, Rozmberk Society, Trebon, Czech Republic. Contact:   dulfer@rozmberk.org

The 19-century was a century of strong upheaval and changes throughout Europe. One of the results of all these socio-economic forces was that living conditions and perspectives for a good future were low for many farmers in rural areas. Too many people tried to utilize too few lands competing against machines. At that time, the United States were opening up the new Mid-West states for settlers, offering free land and ample opportunities. Many people from rural Europe took that opportunity. They left behind families and friends but often kept their language, traditions, and customs in their new homes. The first years as immigrants were years of severe hardships in many ways. The history of those 19-century emigrants is an important, but often neglected part of the common European history.

Nowadays the situation is the opposite; Europe is receiving an every-increasing numbers of immigrants from other parts of the world. Unfortunately, this is increasingly met with racism and xenophobia. With the Czech Republic now being part of the EU, migration for jobs and influx of refugees into the Czech Republic will become a bigger problem also in rural Czech Republic

Giving voice to the experiences of 19-century European emigrants to America is one way of linking the history and the present and creating understanding for the new immigrants in Europe. The Rozmberk Society is involved as initiator and partner in two European Union (EU) projects trying to achieve that link.

Migration and Intercultural Relations – Challenges for Schools Today (2003-2005) is a Norwegian-coordinated Comenius 3 Thematic Network project funded under the EU Socrates program. The project links primary and secondary schools, teacher training institutions, research institutions, museums, and archives from seven countries into a thematic network. This project aims to help children and teachers to better understand migrants in their schools, migration problems, and the positive aspects of other cultures. The Network connects the different partners, which each addresses the topics through subprojects between Network partners or between partners and institutions outside the network.

In this project, the Society cooperates with the educational institutions to help develop new teaching material about historic migration. School children are asked to interview parents, grandparents, and others from the region to investigate if any persons from their family or from the village emigrated, if any letters, stories or pictures from those experiences exists. The results will be published on the Internet (www. migrationhistory.com and www.rozmberk.org) and used for our migration exhibitions, other migration projects, and the new education material.

The main aim of the EU Culture 2000 project EMILE: Leaving Europe for America – early EMIgrants LEtter stories (2004-2005) is to study and compare that part of our common history as told in letters from America written by early European emigrants. The project will be a joint transnational study on emigration history from individual points of view found in letters and other personal documents of emigrants from 5 different countries. The result will be published as a traveling exhibition, an emigration website, and an Internet emigration database.

First results of both projects show that knowledge about historic emigration from the region is low. Under the Nazi and Communist oppression, much material was destroyed or hidden. It was better not to mention having relatives abroad, certainly if they had emigrated to America. Elder generations did not tell children and grandchildren about emigrated relatives, but the knowledge still existed. Knowledge of contemporary migrant topics is also low.

The aim of both projects is to re-familiarize people, and in particular school children, with migration. Once they are familiar with historic migration from their own background, similarities and differences between 19-century migration, post WWII migration, and contemporary migration can than be more easily discussed. The final step is to create a better understanding for migrants, and promote a multi-cultural democracy, in a similar way 19-century Czechs emigrated to America, and help build that democracy while honoring and keeping their cultural background alive.