Vol. 15 Luxembourgers in the United States: Jean-Baptiste Merkels

Jean-Baptiste Merkels was a Luxembourg-American author. He was born on 10 October 1860 in Hollerich, Luxembourg. After completing secondary education, he briefly worked at the public prosecutor's office and for various Luxembourg and foreign companies.

Merkels emigrated to the United States in 1889 and initially settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1890, he set out on a voyage to the Pacific coast and spent six months in San Francisco. On his return from California, he published Bunte Skizzen aus Californien, reports chronicling the construction of the railroad and the thirst for gold, in Luxemburger Zeitung and the Freie Presse.

In the spring of 1892, Merkels returned to spend a few weeks in Luxembourg before moving to Chicago, where he first worked for the organizing committee of the World's Fair. Working as a post office clerk in Chicago, from 1894 to 1927, he wrote a number of poems in Luxembourgish, German and English that published in Luxembourg expatriate newspapers such as Luxemburger News (Dubuque, IA), Francisco Abendpost, Luxemburger Post (Chicago) and Alleghenier Sonntagsbote. Merkels' most important poetry collection is Blummen aus Amerika (Flowers from America). He underlined the importance of the Luxembourgish language, which serves as a cultural link between the Grand Duchy and the people, which is the basis of national identity.

Merkels' poems were patriotic, their main subject was the independence of the Grand Duchy, particularly in times of crisis like the First World War. Through his poems, he sought to mobilize the Luxembourgers of America, but also the American population, for which he wrote about twenty poems in English in order to explain the political situation in Europe. Among these poems is the pastiche entitled De Preiß huet Letzeburg gestuel, which he printed in five hundred copies for distribution at events, notably at the Schobermesse parade in Chicago.

From 1922 Merkels held the post of vice-consul of Luxembourg. As part of his duties, he was committed to improving the living conditions of expatriates and was member of the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce in Chicago.

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