Some of us were born in free Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania before World War II; some of us were born in one of the three Baltic countries during the Soviet occupation; some of us were born during the flight to freedom; some of us were born in refugee camps; some of us were born in the USA; and some of us were born in the once again free Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — what brings us all together as one is the fact that we are all proud to be Americans and proud of our Baltic Heritage as Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians.
Three years ago, we came together under the auspices of the Baltic American Society of New England to plan and organize the Baltic Centennial in Boston 2018 with the goal of showcasing and honoring our rich cultural heritage during a weekend full of exciting events to recognize and honor the 100-year anniversary of Baltic independence.
The Lithuanian American Community is the largest Lithuanian emigrant community in the world. Its activity is founded on the principles set forth in the 1949 Lithuanian Charter of the Supreme Committee for the Liberation of Lithuania, urging every Lithuanian to preserve and promulgate his or her cultural heritage, language, and traditions and to pass on “Lithuanian spark” to future generations.
LAC in the USA has a well-organized structure and thanks to its gregarious leaders, it is able to support and establish Lithuanian schools, organize cultural events, song and dance festivals, athletic competitions, sport events, science symposiums and foster other numerous Lithuanian activities in the USA.
Lithuanians residing in the USA are affiliated with 10 districts, based on the place of residence. A region can cover one or several states. Regions are subdivided into local chapters, at this time there are 52 active chapters where Lithuanian traditions and culture are fostered - overall in 27 states and in Washington D.C.
The Lithuanian American Community functions under the leadership of Lithuanian Community Council body. Usually the Council has 70 members - 60 elected representatives from various chapters and 10 regional chairs. The LAC National Executive Committee consists of 20 members who are responsible for different areas of activity. The Committee executes actions planned by the Council. All who participate in the activity of the organization do so on voluntary basis.
This organization, uniting all American Lithuanians, has not only ties with other Lithuanian organizations in the US, but also with governmental and public organizations in Lithuania. It contributes to promulgation of Lithuania’s name in diaspora, helps Lithuania to establish and develop contacts with the US government and business representatives.
LAC tries to involve Lithuanian youth – it collaborates with the Lithuanian American Youth Association, organizes seminars, and encourages youth to join LAC and get involved into communal activity. LAC has been providing internships for US born Lithuanian youth in Lithuania based on their chosen profession. Internships in Lithuania help students to improve their Lithuanian language skills and they are exposed to culture of their ancestors’ homeland. The goal of this program is to introduce American youth of Lithuanian origin to Lithuania, to encourage to take interest in their roots, their cultural heritage, and Lithuanian language.
LAC broadly introduces their activity through social network, publications, US and Lithuanian media. Many LAC chapters have their own websites where people can find specific information on Lithuanian community, its activity and events. LAC publishes magazine JAV Lietuvių Bendruomenės naujienos, for those who do not read or speak Lithuanian there is a publication in English called Bridges, and for elderly there is a magazine Pensininkas. Other Lithuanian newspapers in the USA like Draugas, Cikagos aidas publish LAC news as well. Another great source of information is LAC website www.javlb.org or check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JAVLietuviuBendruomene/
The biggest financial funding for the activity of this organization comes from Lithuanian Foundation Inc. LAC is a part of World Lithuanian Organization which unites Lithuanians who live in 42 countries all over the world. On March 7, 2018, during festive Lithuanian Centennial Gala at Washington DC, Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevicius awarded Lithuanian American Community the honorary award – Lithuanian Diplomacy Star for fostering Lithuanian cultural identity and spreading Lithuanian culture. “Today we are celebrating Lithuanian Independence and Lithuanian-American partnership amongst large group of friends. I would like to thank each of you personally, but my special thank you goes to Lithuanian American Community who has always been working and fighting for Lithuanian independence, for the preservation of our traditions and culture. I want to express my gratitude from the bottom of my heart”.
Today one can boldly state that without numerous and active Lithuanian American Community, there would not be any special Lithuanian relation with the USA, therefore main LAC goal these days is to encourage the collaboration between different Lithuanian American generations, to encourage them to work together, join this biggest Lithuanian American organization and work together to preserve Lithuanian heritage .
Excerpt from an article in Latvian newspapers Laiks and Latvija Amerika in April 2010, by Juris Šlesers, about the Baltic American Society of New England.
The Baltic American Society’s origins date back to the Second World War. Before that Baltic immigrants in the United States generally organized themselves with each nationality separately – each community cultivating its own national cultural heritage in the new homeland. The new World War and the Soviet occupation of their native lands changed the situation abruptly, explained the organization’s president Dr. Keto Soosaar (Estonian). Soviet invasion and the deportations and brutal repression of the inhabitants of the Baltic countries demanded united action – to explain these events to the government and the public of the United States. Realizing this, representatives of Baltic Americans living in the greater Boston area jointly established the Baltic American Society of New England, which was incorporated on September 21, 1941 – by which time one occupation in the Baltics had already been replaced by another, equally brutal occupation. The Society’s goal was to strengthen ties among our three communities and promote mutual understanding with other immigrant groups making up the American society, enlisting them in a common struggle to regain freedom for the Baltic countries – by educating the local public about their culture and their brutal foreign occupation. Anthony O. Shallna (Lithuanian) was the first president to be elected, and was succeeded by Ludwig Juht (Estonian) and later by Jēkabs Graudiņš.
The end of the war gave rise to a tidal wave of refugees that soon reached the American shore. Among them was a large number of musicians and artists, many of whom settled in New England. Naturally, they need a chance to perform in the new land. On the initiative of the Estonian violist and conductor Endel Kalam, in 1956 this role is taken on by the Baltic American Society by establishing its Baltic Concert Series. With few omissions, it continued yearly to enrich the cultural life of New England. Likewise the Society organized a variety of exhibits. With the end of its anti-Communist political agenda, the Society’s leading motive became Baltic cultural cooperation.
To increase knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Baltic culture and history locally in New England by sharing traditions from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with all centennial participants.
To connect the younger generations to their Baltic heritage and for them to carry on the traditions and culture.
To strengthen ties among our three communities and promote mutual understanding with other immigrant groups that enrich the mosaic of American society.