Balkan Ohioans

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Southeastern Europe.jpg
Southeastern Europe as seen from NASA's Terra Satellite

Numerous Ohioans are descended from Balkan ancestors. Balkans principally include people from Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Croatia, Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Bulgaria. Today, Balkan 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 and Southern European countries, like Bulgaria, Albania, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, 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 and Southern Europeans were also migrating to the state.

In 1914, approximately thirty thousand Balkan immigrants resided in Ohio. Most of these Balkans settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland, where they found low-paying jobs in factories or worked as day laborers. Most Balkan immigrants came to the United States to improve their financial situation, to study in American colleges, and to escape political turmoil in their native countries. Immigrants who were more successful established businesses that supplied their fellow migrants with traditional Balkan products. To help maintain their traditional culture, Cleveland's Balkans eventually established their own newspapers, including such ones as Dielli, the Macedonian Tribune and the Bulgarian Exile Monitor. In Cleveland and other communities, the Balkan immigrants tended to settle in their own communities, preferring to live among people who shared similar cultural beliefs and spoke the same language as they did.

Balkan 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.

While many Balkan immigrants arrived in the United States prior to World War I, another large wave of Balkan migrants eventually reached this country in the years immediately following World War II. World War II destroyed numerous homes and businesses in the Balkans, and many residents of this region sought a better life in the United States. Ohio's Balkan residents actively assisted these new arrivals in beginning new lives. The new immigrants tended to settle in the already established Balkan communities in the state. Once communists seized control of the Balkans, Balkan immigration essentially ceased to exist.

Over the succeeding decades, Ohio's traditional Balkan communities began to lose their cohesiveness. As other Ohioans became more tolerant of the Balkans, many Balkan communities began to disintegrate. Many Balkans moved into other communities, while non-Balkans began to infiltrate the traditionally Balkan neighborhoods. This does not mean that Ohio's Balkan population has lost its ties to its traditional cultural beliefs. Balkan Ohioans continue to participate in various social and cultural groups that serve to promote Balkan beliefs and customs. Most of these organizations are centered on the Eastern Orthodox Church, the dominant religion among Ohio's Balkans.