From Ohio History Central
Yugoslav Cultural Garden in Cleveland
Numerous Ohioans are descended from Croatian ancestors. Today, Croatian Ohioans continue to enhance Ohio's cultural and social landscape.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millions of immigrants migrated to the United States of America, hoping to live the American Dream. Before the American Civil War, most immigrants arrived in the United States from Great Britain, Germany, and Ireland. By the 1880s, the home countries of immigrants began to change. Many of the new immigrants to arrive in the United States came from Eastern European countries or regions, like Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, and Czechoslovakia, rather than from Western European countries, like Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany.
In 1860, 328,249 immigrants lived in Ohio. These people accounted for fourteen percent of the state's population. By 1900, the number of immigrants in Ohio rose to 458,734, but the percentage of the population that was foreign-born declined to eleven percent. Most of these immigrants in 1900 came from Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland, yet a growing number of Eastern Europeans were also migrating to the state.
In 1900, fewer than ten thousand Croatian immigrants resided in Ohio. By 1920, more than thirty thousand Yugoslavians resided in Ohio. Croatia was part of Yugoslavia at this time. Most of these Yugoslavians and Croatians settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland, where they found low-paying jobs in factories or as day laborers. In 1920, approximately twelve thousand Croatians resided in Cleveland alone. More successful immigrants established businesses that supplied their fellow migrants with traditional Croat products. In Cleveland, the Croatian immigrants tended to settle in their own communities or with other Southern Europeans, including Slovenes and Serbs, preferring to live among people who shared similar cultural beliefs and spoke the same language as they did. By the mid 1900s, Cleveland claimed at least five Croatian communities. Most Croatian immigrants were followers of the Roman Catholic Church, but some Croats were Byzantine or Muslim. In Cleveland, by 1920, Croatians had also formed several social and cultural institutions, including the National Croatian Society. Although they now resided in the United States, Croats continued to practice traditional customs and beliefs.
Croatian immigrants congregated together partly out of camaraderie but also out of fear. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many native-born Americans feared outsiders. Some of these people objected to the immigrants' religious and cultural beliefs, while others believed that the foreigners would corrupt the morals of United States citizens. These people also contended that the quality of life within the United States would decline, as there were not enough jobs to employ the millions of people migrating to America. Many native-born Americans hoped either to limit immigration or to force foreigners to convert to American customs and beliefs. The leaders of this movement were the Progressives of the late 1800s and the early 1900s. To accomplish their goals, the Progressives implemented numerous reforms, including settlement houses, which taught foreigners American practices. The Progressives also called for laws that would either limit or ban the cultural practices of recently arrived immigrants. It would take several generations before the immigrants became truly accepted by the vast majority of white Ohioans.
Croatian immigrants came to the United States in two distinct waves. The first wave started in the late 1800s and continued to World War I, as many Croatians fled Europe due to financial difficulties or because of Austro-Hungarian rule. Following World War II, an additional wave of Croat migrants arrived, as these people sought to escape their destroyed homeland. As a result of World War II, numerous Croatian homes and businesses were destroyed. Croatian migrants came to the United States, hoping to improve their financial lives. During this same era, other Croat migrants fled communism, preferring the democratic and capitalist system in the United States. Croatians continue to immigrate to the United States today, as political turmoil still grips the Croats' homeland.
By the 1980s, Ohio's traditional Croatian communities began to lose their cohesiveness. As other Ohioans became more tolerant of the Croats, many Croatian communities began to disintegrate. Many Croats moved into other communities, while non Croatians began to infiltrate the traditionally Croat neighborhoods. This does not mean that Ohio's Croatian population has lost its ties to its traditional cultural beliefs. As late as the 1980s, Cleveland's population included ten thousand Croatian-born people. Another fifteen thousand people claimed Croatian ancestors. Croatian Ohioans continue to participate in various social and cultural groups that serve to promote Croatian beliefs and customs.
- Van Tassel, David D., and John J. Grabowski, eds. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.