St. Elias Church 716 Copeland Avenue, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Addis, Elaine. Interview by Rick Brown. July 24, 2002. Audio Recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Asfoor, James R. Interview by Rick Brown. July 19, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Buschmann, Helen (Markos). Interview by Rick Brown. July 17, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Ferris, Louis. Interview by Rick Brown. February 4, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Harris, Lucy (Joseph). Interview by Rick Brown. August 8, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Markos, Richard E. Interview by Rick Brown. February 6, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Monsoor, Elaine. Interview by Rick Brown. March 19, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
This collection is the stories of children of immigrants from Greater Syria. The stories of these individuals didn’t end at a certain point. Their stories are intertwined with the larger La Crosse community to the extent that, even now, it’s not difficult to see their stories still alive. These individuals try to remember their experiences in the La Crosse community and those of their parents and grandparents as well. Religion, and especially church, plays an important role in these Syrian/Lebanese peoples’ lives. Many of the individuals speak about their past experiences in relation to their religion, Orthodoxy (Melkites) or Roman Catholicism (Maronites). They speak a lot about which churches they are associated with. As one listens to this collection, they will notice the different sects and how they relate to each church. The families that arrive are quick to assimilate as they join organizations and become heavily involved with many of the local churches in the city. In an environment where these immigrant families were not in their own community, the church was a way for them to build a community within an already existing community. Schools like St. James still teach the youth as they did almost a hundred years ago. Schools and churches aren’t the only things still standing, many of the interviewees still have shops and businesses open in the community. Richard Markos, one of the children whose families immigrated to La Crosse, owns the Markos Clothing Store on Pearl St. in downtown La Crosse!
The collection includes 7 CDs that detail the lives of both the immigrants and their children. On these CDs are two important pieces of information. First and foremost, the CDs contain the actual interview of the Syrian/Lebanese child of the immigrant but they also contain an index so one can see what is being talked about. The interviews are conducted by Rick Brown and the interviewees are 1st generation, US-born, family members, meaning they are not the immigrants themselves, rather they are the children of immigrants. Each child, who at the time of the recording is an adult, is attempting to use his/her memory to talk about people and events. This is something that is both exciting and concerning. Something that this collection offers that many others do not, is an actual voice behind the information. At the same time, however, the individuals can have a hard time remembering some things which can sometimes leave holes in the narrative. There has been much criticism over the authenticity of these kinds of sources, “At the core of criticisms of oral history in the early 1970s was the assertion that memory was distorted by physical deterioration and nostalgia in old age, by the personal bias of both interviewer and interviewee, and by the influence of collective and retrospective.”
Each interview is approximately one hour long, but with each question, one can hear the sadness, the appreciation, the happiness, and the laughter of each answer given by the interviewees. They talk extensively about church and religion and the roles that both played in the lives of the community members. The church seemed to be the best form of community-building that the Syrian/Lebanese had, and many of them will affirm this. As one listens to all of the interviews, it’s noticeable that they mention each other a lot. Richard Markos, another child of an immigrant represented in this collection, even appears in an interview with Helen Markos. This shows you how close-knit the community was.
Richard Markos’ paternal grandparents came from Syria and his maternal grandparents came from Lebanon. He explains what churches meant to the community and how Syrian/Lebanese immigrants were quick to assimilate into the community because of the church. Richard talks about how influential churches were, specifically St. Elias. He explains that the churches and priests not only offered religious services, but also a Syrian school, as he referred to it. Below is a full index of the interview:
1. Family history, emigration 00:00:47.397
2. Arne, Syria 00:02:30.054
3. Zaleh, Lebanon 00:02:43.979
4. Father’s family occupation, peddler 00:03:29.684
5. Settlement, La Crosse 00:05:07.626
6. Father’s store, wholesale and retail 00:06:40.111
7. Real estate, downtown ownership 00:07:44.883
8. Mill street, history 00:10:44.730
9. Syrian Diaspora 00:11:39.047
10. Syrian federation 00:12:19.906
11. Childhood 00:13:10.856
12. Syrian perceptions 00:15:00.138
13. St. Elias Orthodox Church 00:16:39.432
14. Arabic language 00:19:00.113
15. Syrian culture, assimilation 00:20:34.791
16. Sahrah, social gathering 00:23:07.745
17. Race riot, 1902 00:24:49.984
Elaine Monsoor’s family came from Blat and Ibbil, Syria and she, like many of the other people in this collection, went to school at the St. James School. Elaine’s interview is especially great because she also knows a lot about about Our Lady of Lourdes church because her family lived right next door. She talks about how the priest at this church not only gave mass to the Catholic community, but also to other denominations. So, the church wasn’t only important in the Syrian community, but it seems that other communities also revolved around the church. Interestingly, she remembers both attending, and helping to eventually tear down the building. Below is a full index of the interview:
1. Personal history 00:00:18.085
2. Monsoor name 00:00:50.302
3. Copeland Avenue 00:04:45.663
4. Lumber mills 00:07:36.263
5. Copeland Avenue 00:09:14.326
6. Syrian community in La Crosse, 1930s 00:10:27.589
7. Education 00:17:58.242
8. Marriage 00:31:22.517
9. Our Lady of Lourdes 00:39:39.630
Helen Buschmann’s parents came from Syria and have an interesting immigration story. Their route to the United States had them stop in South America, and in the process of moving from South America to the United States, Helen’s father was forced to change his name from Shaheen to Charles. Helen also speaks about her experience with religion and church, specifically with St. Elias Church. She explains the cultural norms of church going and what activities, outside of religion, St. Elias offered the community, like writing and reading Arabic. These activities were offered because they helped to keep the Syrian/Lebanese culture alive. Also, many people needed Arabic and English lessons because they had difficulties with the languages. Below is a full index of the interview:
1. Personal history 00:00:33.459
2. Markos surname 00:05:05.985
3. Immigration 00:06:32.752
4. Coming to La Crosse 00:10:24.566
5. Peddling 00:11:03.034
6. Siblings 00:13:18.997
7. Religion 00:20:07.476
8. Marriage 00:21:39.066
9. Property 00:23:53.141
10. St. Elias church 00:26:30.835
11. South side of La Crosse 00:34:24.021
12. St. Elias 00:37:54.136
13. Interfaith marriage 00:48:40.596
Lucy Harris’ parents came from Lebanon, most specifically an area outside of Beirut, the current capital. She speaks specifically of her time at the St. James School and church, and she shares which churches the community liked the most. Her father would always go to St. James, so that’s the only church that she really knows about. She also talks about the difficulties that the immigrant community had to face, like prejudice. She bravely recalls the name calling and racism that she had to endure from other kids, some even going so far as saying “go back to where you come from.” Below is a full index of the interview:
1. Parents 00:00:31.506
2. Syrian neighborhoods 00:14:06.692
3. Childhood 00:16:18.934
4. Syrian cooking 00:23:00.665
5. Arabic 00:23:46.235
6. Prejudice 00:23:53.592
7. Our Lady of Lourdes 00:25:15.263
8. Dating 00:29:47.709
9. Parents 00:31:26.738
10. Working 00:31:41.921
11. Marriage 00:33:52.926
12. Opinions, Syrian community 00:48:10.775
Louis Ferris’ family also came from Syria but his interview is special in the sense that it has the most information. Among also being a child of a Syrian/Lebanese immigrant, he is also a WWII veteran of the United States. He’s able to talk on how interfaith marriages played a role in the community and how the different sects and religions interacted with each other. Louis speaks about how he wasn’t personally invested in the church, but that he helped out a lot, especially by providing the church with donations and food during big events. Even though Louis wasn’t directly involved in the church, he still felt a commitment to the greater community through it. Louis actually has two interviews and the index for interview one is listed below:
1. Personal history 00:00:28.878
2. Monsoor surname 00:02:27.051
3. Technology 00:07:20.239
4. Arabic 00:08:16.120
5. Marriage 00:11:53.107
6. Religion 00:16:41.025
7. Parents’ employment 00:21:40.953
James Asfoor’s parents came from Syria and his father, like many other immigrants, was a peddler. He speaks of Our Lady of Lourdes, a church that was so poor that it eventually closed, leading many people to St. Elias. He explains that a lot of Syrian/Lebanese children were forced to attend St. James because St. Elias and Our Lady of Lourdes didn’t have official schools attached to them. James provides good information about what education meant to the Lebanese/Syrian community. Many people chose their church based on the activities that the church offered to the community, and since education was so valued, St. James was a practical choice for many. Below is a full index of the interview:
1. Personal history 00:00:19.108
2. Syrian neighborhoods 00:06:26.182
3. Syrian and Irish conflict 00:07:11.893
4. Our Lady of Lourdes 00:10:04.716
5. St. Elias orthodox church 00:11:27.856
6. Gender roles 00:15:44.643
7. Syrian immigration 00:21:45.476
8. Religion 00:22:26.525
9. Marriage 00:35:33.584
Elaine Addis’ parents immigrated to the US from Greater Syria, but she actually identifies as Lebanese. They came from a village known as Rashaya al Fakkar and became heavily involved in the church. She talks a lot about Our Lady of Lourdes because her family was one of the first in the area and Addis’ dad actually was the one to help find a priest for Our Lady of Lourdes. She speaks about how the different religious sects related to each church because she also later attended St. Elias Church. An interesting part of her interview is that she can actually recall Elaine Monsoor helping to tear down Our Lady of Lourdes! Below is an index of interview one:
1. Syrian vs. Lebanese nationality 00:00:30
2. Addis surname 00:03:20
3. Parents’ immigration 00:03:50
4. Attraction to La Crosse, job opportunities 00:09:00
5. Establishing property and rental spaces 00:16:50
6. Gender roles 00:19:00
7. Syrian and Lebanese community leadership 00:26:15
8. Our Lady of Lourdes Church 00:26:50
9. Roman Catholic conversion from Maronite 00:30:30
10. Our Lady of Lourdes church structure 00:34:30
11. Father Salomone, Our Lady of Lourdes 00:38:25
12. St. James schooling, 1930s 00:42:25
13. Ethnic prejudice, 1930s 00:48:45
Reviewed by: Aaron Bhatoya
Murphy’s Area Research Center (ARC)
William Koch was born in 1882 in La Crosse to a family that lived on the North Side. He left school at the age of fourteen to begin working and help support his family. Throughout his life, Koch worked many jobs in La Crosse, including at the lumber mills, the railroad, and the Pearl Button Factory. He was married in 1910 and had two children. This interview was done in 1971-1972, when Koch was about 90 years old, however, Koch speaks very clearly about his whole life and is never shy to give his opinion!
This interview touches on many many subjects, however, this finding aid focuses on two major topics discussed by Koch:
The whole transcript is typed and a total of 348-pages long! But never fear, this finding aid lists just the pages needed for the two topics above.
Pages 2-14: In this opening section of the interview, Koch describes his German immigrant grandparents and other family background. He tells what his childhood was like growing up on the North Side of La Crosse in the late 1800s, including information on his education, all of the jobs he and his family members had—including his young sisters—and interactions he had with some nearby Ho-Chunk children. Koch started working when he was 14-years-old, and his early jobs included the Milwaukee Coal Chutes, the railroad, La Crosse Rubber Mills, Pearl Button Factory, Coleman Lumber Co., and even picking potatoes in South Dakota. Koch also remembered hunting with his Dad and seeing passenger pigeons (now extinct)!
On pages 75-82 Koch talks about lumber production at the sawmills. Never one to shy away from expressing his opinion, Koch also shares is view on harvesting logs in Wisconsin, the building of a road through the La Crosse marsh, and the effect logging had on Native Americans in Wisconsin.
Pages 84-94 cover ”river pirates.” These are people who stole logs right off the river from the lumber companies. In addition, Koch also brings up log jams, logging accidents, and his memories of the rowdy lumbermen in La Crosse. In this section Koch also discusses La Crosse’s Redlight district and other memories of downtown in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
On pages 95-100 Koch describes the rivalry between the North and South sides of La Crosse. He discusses other La Crosse memories as well, including farm animals and community pastureland right in town! He gives his opinion about the Ho-Chunk in the area, and why many lived on “Indian Hill.” Koch eagerly shares his opinion on the sale of liquor to local Native Americans, and the role whites played in bringing liquor and disease to Native Americans. It is important to note that during this part of the interview, he makes anti-Native American racist remarks. In your notes make sure to put all his questionable language in quotation marks. That way people won’t think his language is your language.
Page 122-142: In this section, Koch talks a lot about helping fight fires with the firemen as a kid—not unusual at the time. He had fond childhood memories of horses being used in town, which he describes, but he also recalled common diseases and dangers faced by La Crosse youth. (Just a hint, some of the diseases and dangers were connected to the river.)
On pages 15-41 William Koch begins to talk about his job at the Pearl Button Factory. (Most of this 348-page interview is about the Pearl Button Factory!) He describes exactly how the button factory worked: first how cutting buttons worked, then what the clam shell industry was like, then clamming along Wisconsin rivers and the Mississippi River. He also uses great detail describing how pay worked at the factory for the various jobs. He remembers workers rioting because of their pay.
Pages 42-74 covers why Koch eventually left the Pearl Button Factory. He shares information about the people he worked with, including many female factory workers. He also describes the social life of the factory, like the breaks the workers were allowed to take, and other changes that made the workday more enjoyable. In this section Koch also describes further how the factory ran, including the machinery they used. Eventually the topic turns to how the invention of plastic helped lead to the factory’s closure.
Pages A-Z: These pages are different. They are lettered, not numbered, and are inserted right between pages 74 and 75 of the transcript. (Weird) This section is a kind of “grab bag” of a whole bunch of topics, some new, and others touched on previously. Here is a highlights list: Koch talks about how river pollution made it hard to find clams for the factory. He further describes some of the people he worked with, including his fellow female factory workers. In particular, he discuses their work roles and wages at the factory. He vividly remembers innovations made at the La Crosse factory and how these helped the button industry nation-wide. Finally Koch also mentions attitudes towards Germans during WWI.
On pages 176-190 Koch remembered how the Pearl Button Factory ground up extra shells and sold them to be used as chicken feed. He again described the machine he designed, his career at the factory, and manufacturing at the factory
Pages 209-214 give more information about the making of buttons.
Pages 237b-242 address Koch’s memory about unions, strikes, and labor organizers at the Pearl Button Factory.
Pages 302-304 return to the subject of the Ho-Chunk. This time Koch mentions their role digging shells for the Pearl Button Factory.
Reviewed by: Jennifer DeRocher
Created by Kaley Brown
Thai Vue was born around 1953 near the Vietnam border in Laos. He grew up during the Vietnam War era and the American funded “Secret War” in Laos. The Hmong supported the Americans fighting against the communists during the war, but because it was secret, few Americans knew about what the Hmong did. America lost the Vietnam War, and so Thai Vue and the rest of the Hmong population had to go into hiding to avoid being killed by the new government. As a result, thousands of Hmong risked their lives to escape Laos, and many, like Thai Vue, immigrated to the United States.
UWL professor Charles Lee interviewed Vue during the summer of 1994. The interview covers all of Vue’s life until that point. He discusses everything from his childhood in Laos, to hiding from the Communists and escaping to Thailand, to his experiences in America after immigrating in 1978. The recorded interview lasts for over six hours! This finding aid concentrates on the interview’s written transcription and digital version, and covers just the sections that relate to Thai Vue’s life during the war, escaping Laos, the refugee camps, and the cultural differences between America and Laos.
The collection consists of a 160 page typed transcript, several tapes, and a digital audio recording.
Listening to oral histories allows the researcher to become more familiar with the subject. Thai Vue shows a lot of emotion and laughs a lot during the interview, and the transcript does not capture that. He also repeats words or phrases that are important to him, and the transcriber cut a lot of those out. However, listening to the tapes can be difficult since they are frequently recordings of earlier recordings. The tape numbers do not match up with the ones written in the transcript and they can be very fuzzy at times. Tape players are also difficult to use if you are not familiar with them. The digital recording might be easier to use since it is on the computer and allows the user to jump to a specific spot in the interview.
If you decide to listen to the interview, the numbers below will help you locate topics on the digital version. Use the numbers to pick sections for listening – listed below – and quickly jump from subject to subject.
1. Personal Background (pgs. 1-5)
3, 10. Vietnam War (pgs. 5-8 and 26-28)
5. Education (pgs. 8-12)
6, 7. Parents (pgs. 12-17)
8. Leaving Laos for Thailand/ Living with Communists (pgs. 17-24)
11. Communist Soldiers
12. American Evacuation (Fighting Communists) (pgs. 32-53)
13, 14. Hiding in the Jungle and Deaths (pgs. 53-57)
15. Marriage (pgs. 57-65)
24. Hmong People and the Government of Laos (pgs. 95-96)
8. Leaving Laos for Thailand/ Living with Communists (pgs. 17-24)
9. Experiences, Prison Camps (pgs. 24-26)
16, 17, 18. Leaving for Thailand, Prison and Refugee Camps (pgs. 65-86)
21. Resettlement Interview (pgs. 86-92)
23. Refugee Camps and Thai People (pgs. 92-94)
25. Finances, Family separation (pgs. 97-98)
4. American Impressions (pg. 8)
25. Finances, Family Separation (pgs. 97-98)
26. United States (pgs. 98-101)
27. Cultural Differences (pgs. 101-105)
30. Employment/ English/ Winter (pgs. 105-109)
35. Opinions, La Crosse (pgs. 115-122)
36. Parenting (pgs. 122-131)
37. Shamanism (pgs. 131-132)
38. School Board Membership/Hmong in Public Schools (pgs. 133-153)
39. Social Issues, La Crosse (pgs. 153-159)
Reviewed by: Kaley Brown
Family of Robbie Moss
Robbie Moss was an African American woman that lived in La Crosse from the 1930s through to her death in 2004. She was born in Mississippi in 1912 and moved to La Crosse when she married Orby Moss, the grandson of Zacharias Louis Moss, one of the first Black American settlers in La Crosse. He settled here in 1852 and opened a barbershop. (This was just two years after La Crosse became established as a town, making the Moss family one of La Crosse’s pioneer families.)
Robbie was interviewed by Dr. Gretchen Lockett, a UWL professor who is also African American. In the interview, Moss and Lockett talk about their experiences being African American in La Crosse between the early 1940s and 1982. They also cover major national and local events, such as WWII, workers’ strikes, and the Muriel Boatlift. Prejudice – theirs and others – and segregation is addressed throughout. There is also a fair amount of discussion about the relationship between La Crosse’s African American and Native American communities. Overall, this interview is a great window into what life was like as a minority in a small Midwestern city during the middle part of the 20th century. Although Moss and Lockett are the main “voices” in this oral history, there are others who speak as well, and everyone in the room has different experiences and different opinions about the racism they faced.
This oral history interview was recorded in 1982. It consists of two cassette tapes, each an hour long, but there is also a written transcript of the interview, which is 68 pages long.
There are many people talking in this interview. The interviewers are Dr. Gretchen Lockett, a professor at UWL, and an unidentified student. Robbie Moss is the primary person being interviewed, however her granddaughter and at least three other people are in the room as well, and they all talk. Because of this, the transcript can get confusing. Many times it lists people as, “GUEST,” “GUEST 2,” or “?????.” The person who typed the transcript often mixed up who was speaking. For this reason, it is highly recommended that you listen to the interview while you read the transcript. As you listen, you will begin to recognize the voices, making the whole interview much clearer.
Pages 1-7 are the part of the interview where Lockett and Moss talk about the Moss family and Robbie’s childhood. In addition, she talks about her experience being one of the few African Americans in La Crosse. In particular she remembers being refused service at places of business, segregation signs during World War II, Black soldiers at Fort McCoy (previously named Camp McCoy), and a La Crosse woman that was involved with in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Especially interesting is the part where Moss reflects upon her own prejudices against Native Americans.
On pages 10-22 the other people in the room begin to talk more. They share common experiences of racial discrimination. In particular, Moss remembers Black American soldiers being refused service in downtown La Crosse, which she compares with her own experience being turned away at a La Crosse drugstore. In addition, this section covers a number of very important local and national events. For example, Moss remembers the time during the 1980s when there were Cubans (many who were Black) in La Crosse due to the Mariel Boatlift. She remembers community backlash against Black Americans and Native Americans, and the La Crosse Telephone Company Strike of 1977. When the workers went on strike, the company responded by finding replacements – Black and white – from the South willing to come up and work. Robbie shares her theories of La Crosse’s prejudices at this time.
A very interesting part of this interview is the conversation about Black organizations in La Crosse, like the NAACP, the Black church in La Crosse, and Black settlements around the region, such as the one near Hillsboro. Nathan Smith is mentioned. He was a prominent Black American in La Crosse in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Pages 23-37 are all about racial attitudes and behavior in La Crosse and the Midwest. The group discusses their personal experiences and theories about race in La Crosse, but also the difference between racism in the Midwest and racism in the South. (This subject is especially interesting because for many white Midwesterners, northern racism is a subject they may have never considered. Here you get to learn about it by someone who directly experienced it.) They also talk some more about the racism Cubans faced in La Crosse in 1982, why they could not find jobs, and how the media reported about them.
On pages 37-50 Robbie Moss’s granddaughter shares her views and experiences as a Black American college students in La Crosse (mostly Viterbo, where she went to school). This turns into a discussion about religion and racism in the community. Moss weighs in as well, telling what it was like for her children in terms of school, dating, going to events like prom, and all the other typical things children do in general. This section also returns to the subject of the hardships for women of color, and what it was like to live in such a prominently white community. Robbie Moss’s memories of what it was like when famous Black musicians came to La Crosse is really interesting! (By the way, Duke Ellington, Peaches & Herb, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and Louie Armstrong – whom Robbie and her son met – all came to La Crosse during Moss’s lifetime.)
Pages 50-66 return to the subject of Black churches in La Crosse and employment challenges. Moss remembered not being able to get a job at Trane Company and the National Gauge and Register Company. They voice their different theories on the subject of jobs.