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|Ethnic groups in Chicago|
Lithuanians in Chicago and the nearby metropolitan area are a prominent group within the "Windy City" whose presence goes back over a hundred years. Today the Chicago area possesses the largest Lithuanian community outside Lithuania, who have dubbed the city as Little Lithuania, and many Lithuanian Americans refer to it as the second capital of Lithuania. Lithuanian Americans from Chicago have had a significant impact on politics in both the United States and Lithuania.
Lithuanians have been documented as arriving in the US since 1918, when Lithuania re-established its independence from Imperial Russia. Although this is the first official record, Lithuanians began arriving at least two decades earlier; however, they were listed as Russian citizens. This is compounded by the fact that, prior to Lithuanian independence, most if not all official documents were written in Russian, Polish or German. Thousands of Lithuanians have since moved to Chicago, providing a good source of labor for the growing city. The Lithuanian community in Chicago was most famously immortalized by Upton Sinclair in his 1906 novel about the treatment of workers in the Chicago stock yards, The Jungle, whose story revolves around telling the life of a Lithuanian immigrant named Jurgis Rudkus.
The first and most prominent Lithuanian enclave in Chicago was called "Lithuanian Downtown" which was located along Halsted street in Bridgeport and founded by Lithuanians who settled nearby their Old World neighbors, the Poles, who were located in a Polish Patch in the vicinity of St. Mary of Perpetual Help. It was here that the Lithuanian church of Saint George was founded as the first Lithuanian parish in the Midwest, foreshadowing the prominence that Bridgeport would play as one of the key centers of Lithuanian activity throughout the United States. A large number of the early buildings of this district were built by the first prominent Lithuanian community leader, Antanas Olšauskas (pronounced Ole-shau-skas), circa 1910. Centered on Thirty-third and Halsted, Bridgeport was Chicago's leading Lithuanian neighborhood from the 1890s through the 1950s.
Although Lithuanians initially settled in areas adjacent to the ethnic group most familiar from their European homeland, the Poles, a pattern consistent with most other immigrant groups in Chicago, the Lithuanian community today is found all over the Chicago metropolitan area. There have been a number of Chicago neighborhoods in which Lithuanian immigrants have clustered during the 20th century, including Bridgeport, Brighton Park, Marquette Park area, and the Back of the Yards. The adjacent near-western suburb of Cicero had an enclave of Lithuanians in the 20th century, especially around St. Anthony's Parish.  The most recent wave of immigrants has settled in the Chicago suburbs of Lemont, Darien, Homer Glen and Woodridge, towns which all have a sizeable Polish community as well (particularly Lemont and Homer Glen). There is a small enclave of Lithuanians around the Beverly Shores area in northwest Indiana at the southern coast of Lake Michigan, where there is an American-Lithuanian Club. Some Lithuanians moved on to work in Southern Illinois coal mines.
Today "Little Lithuania" is the center of Lithuanian culture in North America. It has a number of Lithuanian restaurants, bookstores, and other shops. The former president of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus 1998-2003 and 2004–2009, is a former resident of the Chicago area as well. Chicago is home to the Consulate General of the Republic of Lithuania, and the city's large Lithuanian American community maintains close ties to what is affectionately called the Motherland. Chicago's Lithuanian heritage is visible in the cityscape through its Lithuanian-named streets such as Lituanica Avenue and Lithuanian Plaza Court as well as an Art Deco monument in Marquette Park commemorating pilots Stasys Girėnas and Steponas Darius who died in the crash of the aircraft Lituanica in 1933. The area just east of Marquette Park features such institutions as Maria High School, Sisters of St. Casimir Motherhouse, Holy Cross Hospital, and Nativity BVM Catholic Church, which have been associated with Lithuanians.
A number of the most architecturally significant churches of the Archdiocese of Chicago were built as national parishes by Lithuanian immigrants such as Holy Cross, Providence of God, Nativity BVM which is dedicated to Our Lady of Šiluva, and the now demolished St. George's in Bridgeport. Opulently decorated with a proclivity towards Renaissance and Baroque ornamentation, Lithuanian churches were designed in the spirit of the architecture of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth's heyday. Like Chicago's Polish Cathedrals, these churches were statements meant to recall an era when the Grand Duchy of Lithuania spanned from the Baltic to the Black Sea, having been built at a time when Lithuania was under Russian occupation and incorporating Lithuanian imagery in its decor such as the Vytis to invoke pride in Lithuanian culture.
The Lithuanian Museum, owned by the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center, operates at the Lithuanian Youth Center (Lietuvių Jaunimo Centras, 5620 S. Claremont Ave.) The Museum is open and accessible when the Youth Center is open.
Opened in 1966, the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture is located in south Chicago, at 6500 South Pulaski Road. The purpose of the museum is to celebrate and preserve the Lithuanian culture. As a non-profit organization, the museum began its collections from donations from within the community—such as limited antiques from the Balzekas family. Today, the museum offers a variety of exhibits for both children and adults. Every two years the museum organizes tours to Lithuania, where the groups visit the most well-known places in Lithuania.
The Lithuanian Folk Art Institute of Chicago can be found at the Lithuanian World Center, which is located in Lemont. The museum contains a variety of wood carvings, amber jewelry, Lithuanian national clothing pieces, sculptures, and many other traditional folk art.
The Lithuanian cuisine options in Chicago are widespread. Opened in 1938, the Healthy Food restaurant was one of the first well-known Lithuanian restaurants in Chicago located on Halsted near 32nd street, in the Bridgeport neighborhood, a historically Lithuania community. The restaurant created an atmosphere that resembled Lithuania by decorating the place with a variety of traditional art. They were well known for making their meals "consistent, as mom used to make at home." The restaurant closed its doors in 2009.
About a block away from the now-closed Healthy Food restaurant is Bernice's Tavern which has been in the care of the Badauskas family for just over 50 years. To this day it is one of the few places you can find Švyturys beer in Chicago. The namesake of the bar passed away in 2017.
A more recent Lithuanian restaurant Grand Duke’s opened in 2005 located on Harlem Avenue. Grand Duke’s has created a special medieval Lithuanian environment. They are known for their traditional comfort food and the entertainment as well. Grand Duke’s has been featured on Check, Please!, PBS, ABC news Hungry Hound and Chicago’s Best. In 2019, they were replaced with Thirsty Pig BBQ & relocated to Downers Grove. In 2012, Grand Duke’s opened up a sister restaurant Old Vilnius located in Darien.
There are a number of Lithuanian schools established in or near Chicago. At the Chicago Lithuanian Youth Center, the Lithuanian School of Chicago (Lith.: Čikagos Lituanistinė Mokykla), a private school for Lithuanian immigrant children, was founded in 1992. Other Lithuanian schools include Maironis in Lemont, Gediminas in Waukegan and Rasa in Naperville.
First published in 1903, the Draugas (Friend) is the first Lithuanian newspaper in the United States and is printed by the Lithuanian Catholic Press Society in Chicago. Other Lithuanian publications include Amerikos Lietuvis (Lithuanian American), Vakarai (The West), and Čikagos Aidas (Echo Chicago). These newspapers not only provide news and current events that involve Lithuanians living in Chicago, but also stories from around the entire world, such as economic, political and social trends relevant to Lithuanian-speaking peoples. These publications can most often be found in local stores in which Lithuanians shop at, some examples are Brookhaven in Darien, Peter’s Deli in Lemont, and Lassak Deli in Willowbrook and these are also found online.
Naujienos was printed from 1914 through the 1980s.
Years ago, the Lithuanian Song festival (Dainų Šventė) and Dance Festival (Šokių Šventė) have been held at the now-demolished International Amphitheatre, originally near the Stockyards on the south side of Chicago. In 2015, the Song Festival has been held at the UIC Pavilion a couple of times and the Dance Festival held in the suburb of Rosemont, not far from Chicago O'Hare Airport.
The Lithuanian Opera Company of Chicago was founded by Lithuanian emigrants in 1956, and presents operas in Lithuanian. Lithuanian operas were sometimes held at Maria High School in Chicago, a school that has been associated with Lithuanians, and such operas are now sometimes held at Morton East High School in Cicero.
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