All this talk about immigrants lately had me wondering about my European roots, so I did a little bit of digging.
My father’s side of the family is hopeless. I think they came over to the Americas from England and the Netherlands in the bilge, along with the rats, and almost immediately lit out for the frontier, where ever it was, probably because they were all ruffians and scalawags who got chased out of any civilized settlement. They were immigrants, all right, but I don’t know of any reliable records. They’ve been here since the 17th century, I think, and probably up to no good.
My mother’s side is easier: all Scandinavian farmers. I knew my great grandparents with their strong accents and their house decorated with Swedish and Norwegian accents, and that’s where I learned to recite the Lord’s Prayer in Norwegian (don’t ask me now, I’ve completely forgotten).
My great grandfather, Peter Westad, was born in 1880, in Minnesota. He was American by birth! My great-great-grandfather, Jens Westad, was also born in America in 1850, also in Minnesota. It clearly took them several generations to acculturate. My great-great-grandfather, Dyre Westad, was apparently born in Norway, but that’s all I know about him.
The surprise, to me, was that it was the women who were all more recent immigrants. I guess those Norwegian bachelor farmers who were living the hard farming life in frigid Minnesota had to write off to the old country for their brides.
So, my great-grandmother, Christina Stephenson, was born in 1884 in Transtrand, Sweden, and came over to the US in her early 20s to marry Peter. I had to look up Transtrand: current population is 386, so I guess it wasn’t too great of a shock to move to northern Minnesota.
My great-great-grandmother, Marit Olsdatter, was also an import, born in Flesberg, Norway in 1849, and brought to the US to marry Jens. Flesberg seems a bit more cosmopolitan now, with a population of 2500.
I hadn’t realized what a lovely example of chain migration was in my family history, where one or a few pioneers establish a foothold and then bring in friends and family at later dates to build up a community. It’s also an example of how immigrant families adapt over time, where time is several generations.
It’s also what’s going on with families from Somalia and Syria and all those other countries our government wants to ban — which is nothing less than an effort to disrupt that pattern of chain migration which is so important to accommodating people to a new country. There’s no difference in the general pattern between a Scandinavian family in the 1850s and a Somali family in the 2000s — let ’em live and grow and they will be a productive part of the American culture.
What part of your family would have been wrecked by current policies?
I had another thought: those radical immigrants, coming in and challenging the established order, are one of the concerns of the powers-that-be. The Scandinavians had them, too, like Joel Emmanuel Hägglund from Gävle, Sweden, better known as Joe Hill. A labor activist and songwriter, he was killed by The Man in 1915.
We need more Joe Hills. Maybe they’ll come from those Muslim countries this time around.