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South Boston Organization Gives Lithuanian Immigrants Place to Celebrate Heritage

By Kelly Church

Built to promote unity and citizenship between Lithuanian-American immigrants, the South Boston Lithuanian Citizens' Association (SBLCA) is located in one of South Boston's most historic neighborhoods. The four-story building is home to offices, banquet halls, and a Lithuanian restaurant and bar. The association has about 400 active members and Gintaras Subatis, Treasurer and board member, says these members take advantage of what the Lithuanian association has to offer.

"To this day, the club mission provides Lithuanian-Americans with social, cultural and educational activities and hosts many Lithuanian-American cultural and social events during the year for members of the community," Subatis says.

The Lithuanian restaurant and bar in the facility is known to locals as the Lithuanian Kitchen or Lietuvi?ka Virtuvė and is the only restaurant in the New England region that cooks traditional Lithuanian grub. The restaurant is only open on the weekends, and the bar and lounge are open until the last person leaves. The banquet halls are available for any event, including weddings, receptions, concerts and parties.

The association was founded in 1899 after what Subatis says was the first significant wave of Lithuanian immigrants to the United States. After the Civil War, roughly 300,000 Lithuanians came to the U.S. until World War I broke out. This major event created another large immigration partially due to Lithuania's 1918 declaration of independence. Subatis says while there is a general estimate of the number of immigrants that came to the U.S. during that time, it's hard to pinpoint exactly.

"This number is hard to document fully because census records did no officially recognize Lithuanians as a separate nationality until the twentieth century and the country's people may have been reported as Russian, Polish or Jewish," Subatis says.

"Several key factors brought about the first surge or wave of Lithuanian immigration to the United States. These included the abolition of serfdom in 1861, which resulted in a raise in Lithuania's free population, the growth of transportation, especially railroads; and a famine that broke out in the country in the 1860s. Later, other conditions, such as a depressed farm economy and increased Russian repression, prompted even more Lithuanians to leave their home soil."

Subatis continues to explain that there were more waves of Lithuanian immigrants later on, coming after World War II when a flood displaced refugees and they fled Russian occupation of Lithuania. Then, in the 1980s, as the area struggled with communism before declaring independence again in 1991.

As Lithuanians immigrated to the U.S., they primarily settled in the industrial areas of the Northeast, coal mining areas of Pennsylvania, southern Illinois, and larger cities throughout the Northeast and Midwest. Specifically, in Boston, immigrants migrated towards the neighborhoods of Dorchester, South Boston and the Worcester area.

"The United States is a country of immigrants," Subatis says. "We all eventually assimilate and become American citizens. However, it is critical to maintain our heritage and remember where we came from and where our roots are? We contribute in a small way by providing the facilities and place where the Boston Lithuanian American community can meet and carry on the traditions of our native country."

To become a member of South Boston Lithuanian Citizens' Association, review the list of requirements, which includes proving Lithuanian descent. There are annual dues that cost $24 per year. Lithuanian-Americans can join the association at any time of the year. The restaurant is open to the public. You can also visit their website at www.sblca.org for more information.

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