This week we take a look at the Croatian Fraternal Union, the largest and most successful organization catering to the Croat diaspora community in both the United States of America and Canada, as they celebrate their 125th anniversary.
The Croatian diaspora in the United States of America is one of the largest in the world and is one of the traditional destination countries of Croatian immigrants. According to estimates, there are approximately 1.2 million Croats and their descendants currently living in the United States. The largest Croatian communities, 150 thousand strong, are located in and around the city of Chicago, Illinois; some 40 thousand live in St. Louis, Missouri; about 7 thousand in Detroit, Michigan; about 35 thousand in San Pedro, California, about 5 thousand in nearby San Jose; while about 80 thousand persons of Croatian descent reside in the Tri-state area made up of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The first Croatian immigrants to the United States came in large groups at the end of the 19th century between 1890 and the First World War, when an estimated half-a-million Croats emigrated to the United States during that period. Many of those Croats found employment in coal mines, ironworks factories, railways, and constructing vast road networks and infrastructure across the country. For a brief period, the First World War interrupted the mass emigration of Croats, but after the war, immigration continued.
With increased immigration to the United States, the first charity organizations catering to growing Croat communities were founded in 1857 in San Francisco, California, and in 1874 in New Orleans, Louisiana. During the interwar period, Croatian immigrants in the United States built numerous community centres and founded folklore groups featuring traditional music, singing, and dancing.
After the Second World War, Croatian immigrant associations in the USA were, first and foremost, led by the Croatian Fraternal Union. That powerful, supportive, and non-profit organization, became the most important cultural, humanitarian, and patriotic organization for Croatian expatriates in the USA and Canada.
And while the organization was led by some of the community’s brightest minds, the most successful leader of the expat community of the 20th century, Bernard M. Luketić, elevated the Union to become not only a business giant, but also an influential humanitarian, patriotic, cultural, educational and sports organization.
On September 21st, 2019, the Croatian Fraternal Union held their annual convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and held a celebration marking the 125th anniversary of the group’s founding. It is the oldest, most numerous and most influential Croatian immigrant organization anywhere in the world. The Croatian Fraternal Union is a cultural and humanitarian community, but also a non-profit insurance company with more than fifty-thousand members and assets in excess of half a billion US dollars.
“We are celebrating the 125th anniversary of our society, whose core business is an insurance company that invests its profits in the needs of community members,” said Secretary General Bernadette M. Luketich-Sikaras. “We are one of the largest and oldest organizations of this type and the largest association of organized Croats abroad. The Croatian Fraternal Union has about 50,000 members and our assets are valued at more than half-a-billion dollars, which means we are in a serious business that is returning its profits to members and I think we have a very bright future,” she concluded.
At the heart of the Croatian Fraternal Union is the "Open Door Day" and a tour of the "Bernard Luketić Croatian Museum", which preserves the valuable legacy that the community has collected over its 125 years of existence.
When it was founded in 1984, the community had about 300 members, its motto was solidarity, and its mission was to raise money for the medical treatment and funerals of Croat workers living in the United States.
Vice-President Franjo Bertović explained that in celebrating the Union’s 125th anniversary, “we can proudly say that not only is the Croatian Fraternal Union the oldest, largest and most economically strong organization of its kind in the world, but it is also one that holds on to its culture and works hard to pass it on to the next generations; to promote sports, to enable our children to demonstrate their various talents and, in a way, to show it on stage at our many festivals.”
This year, Bertović added, that President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman had joined respected delegates from around the US and Canada in helping to celebrate the monumental anniversary.
“For generations of Croatian expatriates, the Croatian Fraternal Union has been the central gathering place for listening to the Croatian mother tongue, learning the history, culture and national identity of the Croat people. It is a place where life experiences on the new continent are exchanged, a place where help and solace were sought and received,” said the President of the Republic of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. “With its organization, duration, community and solidarity, the Croatian Fraternal Union has become a symbol of the Croatian people on the American continent and beyond,” she added.
Throughout the year, the Croatian Fraternal Union will be organizing commemorative events to mark their monumental 125th anniversary.
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