Latvian Emigrants in the United States: Different Waves, Different Identities?
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This chapter studies the relationships and interaction among the Latvian emigrants from different migration waves in the United States. It specifically examines reasons for the inability of the existing and politically and culturally active Latvian diaspora community in the United States to integrate newcomers from Latvia. The diaspora community is formed mostly of migrants who left Latvia after World War II. The research is based on a mix of two sources of information and methods – qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews with the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants in the United States in 2014, who began arriving there in 1991 and quantitative data analysis of The Emigrant Communities of Latvia survey. The study illustrates that the migrants from the most recent emigration wave distance themselves to a large extent from the previous migration wave. Additionally, the most recent migrants do not have strong social ties or active networks with Latvians back home and, therefore, cannot be considered as being a part of a transnational community, which is a characteristic of the previous Latvian migration wave. Instead, the migrants from the most recent wave base their belonging on the notion of having roots in Europe in terms of cultural heritage and identity. For this reason, they are to be considered as so-called ‘nomadic’ migrants, although this differs substantially from the way the concept is used in the academic literature so far – there is no return point back home, as they only look forward.
The United States has one of the most influential and visible Latvian diaspora organisations. The secretariat of the World Federation of Free Latvians, an umbrella organisation for the Latvian diaspora worldwide established in 1955, is located 25 miles from the Capitol in Washington DC. Additionally, there are several niche organisations, such as the Latvian National Opera Guild in the United States, which was founded after Latvia regained independence in 1991. Hence, the Latvian diaspora in the United States seems vibrant and well-organised. However, several studies have shown that these diaspora organisations do not involve a large number those Latvian emigrants who have arrived in the United States after 1991 (hereinafter, the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants). As a result, scholarship on the Latvian diaspora in the United States considers that there is more than one Latvian diaspora community – with different traditions, understanding of ‘Latvianness’ and everyday practices (Garoza 2011; Hinkle 2006).
The focus in the studies on Latvian migrants in the United States has been on identity as expressed and cultivated by the formal institutions, such as Latvian supplementary schools (Garoza 2011) or World War II refugees (Hinkle 2006) and less attention has been given on the daily practices and everyday life of the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants. What are the reasons for inability to integrate the newcomers from Latvia into the existing and politically and culturally active Latvian diaspora community in the United States? More generally, how do these ‘new’ Latvian emigrants from the most recent emigration wave interact with those who arrived shortly after the World War II and their descendants? These questions are the focus of this chapter, examining these issues based on two sources of information.
The chapter begins with a theoretical discussion on the concepts used in the chapter, such as diaspora, community, transnationalism and nomadism. Then information on methodology and data description is provided. Afterwards, we discuss several aspects of the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants’ identity, namely the reasons for emigration, social memory, use of communication technologies, attitudes towards Latvian diaspora organisations, sense of belonging and integration in the United States. The chapter ends with several concluding remarks.
10.2 Community, Identity and Globalisation
The theoretical framework for analysing the identity of the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants in the United States is based on the work of Benedict Anderson (2006) and his notion of ‘imagined community’. He discusses identity together with the emergence of nationalism and believes that the latter, as well nationality and ‘nation-ness’, are ‘cultural artefacts of a particular kind’ and form the basis for the ‘imagined community’ (Anderson 2006, p. 4). Anderson notes that these communities are closed and sovereign: closed because there are members and non-members; sovereign because they are based on idea of the existing or imagined nation state. The ways individuals identify with a particular imagined community are several and diverse. For this reason, Anderson (2006) argues that ‘communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined’ (p. 6). Therefore, in the discussion of communities it is important to explore how and to what extent individuals identify themselves culturally and socially with a particular imagined community.
Anderson’s notion of imagined community is somewhat limited because it looks at the community from the perspective of nationalism. It overlooks the possible multiple ways in which individuals can associate themselves with a particular community. Moreover, it diminishes the possibility of discovering the subgroups and/or subcultures, which exist parallel to each other in the twenty-first century because of the process of globalisation.
Our understanding of globalisation is close to that of the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who describes it as a phenomena which helps to characterise ‘a process, not an end-state’ (Habermas 2001, p. 65) This process is based on the increased usage of technologies and the high intensity of ‘the circulatory process between humanity, technology and nature’ (Habermas 2001, p. 66). In the words of Habermas, the pressure of globalisation challenges the basis of the nation state when the emergence of multiculturalism is inevitable. At the same time, there is a strong desire for community, but these emergent communities are formed on a smaller scale than the state in which ‘the tendency of supposedly homogenous subcultures to seal themselves off from one another may be due in part to attempts to re-appropriate real communities, or to invent imaginary ones’ (Habermas 2001, p. 76). In other words, the imagined community is no longer a replica of the nation state, as the notion of ‘state’ has lost its integral meaning. Hence it is reasonable to discuss the presence of several imagined communities which exist side by side and are not mutually exclusive. Some of these imagined communities can be associated with the idea of a nation state, but it is not a crucially defining factor of the imagined community, as the reference to the nation state is not obligatory.
Anderson has noticed the emergence of migration and communication in his writings. In fact, these processes are the departure point for his argument of ‘long-distance nationalism’ when he discusses identity among the emigrants (see Anderson 1992). He notes that because of the regular communication between emigrants and relatives in the homeland, as well as because of the availability of media products ‘the mediated imagery of ‘home’ is always with them [the emigrants]’ (Anderson 1992, p. 8). However, the development of long-distance nationalism has taken different trajectories in Europe and the United States. While in Europe there is a lack of political integration (‘Will it really be possible to imagine oneself politically as a ‘European,’ in the way that it was for long possible to imagine oneself as an ‘American’?’ asks Anderson (1992, p. 11), in the United States long-distance nationalism has created several subcultures, which are based on associative ties with the country of origin, diminishing the ones with the country of residence, namely the United States. For this reason, Anderson concludes the following: ‘The national institutions and national identity forged during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries no longer have their old commanding power. Hence the emphasis has been shifting from say, Irish-American to Irish-American’ (Anderson 1992, p. 10). Thus, for Anderson, because of long-distance nationalism, ethnic identities have become much stronger, while political ones have lost their influence.
Nevertheless, long-distance nationalism is only one way in which individuals can associate themselves with the imagined community. Nina Glick-Schiller (2004) emphasises that long-distance nationalism differs from other ways of identification with the imagined community because of its political dimension. ‘Long-distance nationalists are engaged in some form of political project oriented specifically toward the territory they designate as the homeland,’ notes Glick-Schiller, distinguishing the term from the notion of diaspora, which is ‘used for a range of experiences of identification with a dispersed population.’ (Glick Schiller 2004, p. 571). The diaspora community can organise its activities with or without the reference to the nation state and its identity can be based mainly on a collective memory.
To sum up, it has to be noted that the formation of identity is influenced by various factors, including – but not limited to – the developments in communications and technologies. Additionally, it is not crucial for the community to have political aims, but the identification could be based solely on cultural or social grounds. Nevertheless, it is crucial to have a common understanding of the social history and memory.
On the other hand, because of globalisation, the boundaries of identity have expanded. Partly, this has been a reason why many scholars look at migration processes through the notion of transnationalism, which explains why migrants could have more than one identification, for example with both the place of origin and place of residence. As sociologist Thomas Faist (2010) notes, transnationalism studies focus on mobility and networks. The members of the transnational community could be in both the country of origin and the country of the host. For this reason, ‘transnational community’ is not a synonym for ‘diaspora community’. Distinguishing the two, Faist notes that ‘diaspora and transnationalism are crucial elements for questioning and redefining essential terms of the social sciences, for example, ‘community’, ‘social space’ and ‘boundaries’ (Faist 2010, p. 33).
Although diaspora and transnationalism are terms of a similar nature, Michel Bruneau (2010) distinguishes diaspora from transnational communities. He considers four types of diaspora communities: religious, enterprise, political and a combination of race and culture (Bruneau 2010, pp. 40–42). In comparison to diaspora communities, the transnational ones are unstable and relative. ‘There is no strong desire to return, because transmigrants never actually leave their place of origin, in which they retain family and community ties that are greatly simplified thanks to the growth, regularity and safety of communications,’ notes Bruneau (2010, p. 44). In what follows, we are not trying to categorise the existing community or communities of Latvians in the United States under the term either of diaspora or transnationalism. The study of the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants in the United States in this chapter takes a critical approach towards both concepts in order to reconsider the notion of community. As such, we will look at mobility, social networks and social memory as crucial aspects for an individual’s willingness to identify with a particular imagined community. We do believe that there exist a diasporic community of Latvians in the United States, but its existence highlights the difference between different waves of migrants from Latvia. To some extent, these differences could be founded in the differences of the place of birth. As Roger Waldinger (2012) points out, there are different identities among the immigrant offspring and the recently arrived ones in the United States. The case is evident among Mexicans, Chinese and other nationalities in the United States (Waldinger 2012, p. 96). For Waldinger, the recent migrants should hold stronger transnational ties with the homeland than the offsprings. However, as previous studies have shown, the case of Latvians is rather the opposite one. While those, who arrived in the United States shortly after the World War II, engage with the diaspora organizations, these diaspora institutions lack to attract the newcomers (Garoza 2011).
Transnationalism, globalization and long-distance nationalism, taken together, are the concepts, which we find helpful to expand the study of migration and belongingness outside the institutionalism and nation-state. We are more interested in everyday practices, which are as important as institutions in shaping the patterns of migration.
The findings of this chapter are based on both qualitative and quantitative data. The qualitative data was gathered during the period from July to September 2014 when 15 interviews were conducted with Latvian emigrants. These interviews took place in three cities – New York, Chicago and Washington DC. Some of the interviews were held in Riga, during the emigrants’ visits to relatives and friends in Latvia.
The youngest respondent was 26 years old at the time of the interview and the eldest was 60 years old (the median of ages is 31 years). The gender balance in the sample was almost even, as eight of the respondents were women and seven were men. The ethnic background of the respondents was relatively diverse. Although the majority were Latvians, three of them were members of ethnic minorities in Latvia – Russian, Ukrainian, and Jewish, of which one was not born in Latvia, but Ukraine. All other respondents came from Latvia. The majority, ten participants, were from the capital city Riga; the others were from other major cities and rural areas. The time spent abroad differed too, from 2 to 19 years, with the median of 8 years. The names of all the respondents have been changed to ensure their anonymity.
In parallel with the interviews with the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants, the study looked at the data from the survey of Latvians abroad carried out in the framework of the study The Emigrant Communities of Latvia: National Identity, Transnational Relations, and Diaspora Politics. The survey was carried out online from August 4th, 2014 to October 30th, 2014. It consisted of 14,068 emigrants from 118 countries. (For details on survey methodology see Mieriņa in this volume). The sample in this chapter excludes emigrants who departed from Latvia prior to 1991. Therefore, it focuses exclusively on the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants.
The survey was used to explore more broadly the findings from the qualitative interviews. It was based on logistic regressions in which survey weights with imputations were used to generalise the results on all Latvian emigrants, including those who did not have a Latvian passport. The survey allowed the examination of whether respondents in the United States are distinct from Latvians in other countries of residence. For this reason, the data from the survey used in this article includes those countries which have the largest Latvian migrant communities: the United States (~96,000), the United Kingdom (~100,000), Canada, Australia and New Zealand (>51,000), Ireland (~25,000–30,000), Germany (~30,000) and Nordic countries, i.e., Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden (>41,000) (Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2014).
We were interested in two variables from the survey. First, the reason for emigration, which was the dependent variable for the multinomial logistic regression with standard robust errors. Each respondent could choose one of four possible answers: (1) work, (2) study, (3) To join a family or to start a family and (4) other. The main independent variable is the respondent’s country of residence. We discuss the results of the regression together with the qualitative data analysis in the Sect. 10.4.1.
Variables used in regressions
Main purpose: What was the main purpose of your leaving Latvia?
(1) Work (2) Study (3) To join my family or to start a family; (4) Other (fill in)
Dependent variable for regression models in Table 10.2
How many of your friends are from Latvia and live in your country of residence?
(0) None (1) One; (2) Two; (3) Three or more
Dependent variable for regression models in Table 10.3
Country of residence
(1) USA (2) Australia, Canada and New Zealand (3) Ireland; (4) The United Kingdom; (5) Germany (6) Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland)
Diaspora: Are you involved in diaspora organizations?
(0) No, (1) Yes
(0) Male; (1) Female
(1) Low; (2) Middle; (3) High
Knowledge of local language: How would you rate your skills/proficiency in the local language now?
(1) Very poor or none; (2) Poor; (3) Mediocre; (4) Good; (5) Very good, fluent; (6) Native language
(1) 15–24; (2) 25–34; (3) 35–44; (4) 45–54; (5) 55–64; (6) 65+
Time abroad: Approximately how long (in total) have you lived outside Latvia?
(1) Less than 1 year; (2) 1–2 years (3) 3–5 years; (4) 6–10 years; (5) More than 10 years
(2) 1991–1999; (3) 2000–2003; (4) 2004–2008; (5) 2009–2011; (6) After 2011
Occupation: What is your current occupation?
(1) Employed (2) Economically inactive; (3) Student (4) Retired (5) Other
Wealth: Taking into account your household’s total income, is your household ableto make ends meet (i.e., pay for the necessities of everyday life)?
(1) With great difficulty; (2) With difficulty; (3) With some difficulty; (4) Fairly easily; (5) Easily;
Kids: Do your kids currently live with you in your household?
(0) No; (1) Yes
Partner: What ethnic group does your spouse belong to?
(0) No partner; (1) Latvian/Russian; (2) Other
(1) Latvian (2) Russian
What was the main purpose of your leaving Latvia? (Multinomial logistic regression)
Join a family or to start a family
Country (baseline: USA)
Australia, Canada and New Zealand
The United Kingdom
Country (baseline: USA)
Australia, Canada and New Zealand
The United Kingdom
Education (baseline: Low)
Knowledge of the local language (baseline: very poor or none)
Age (baseline: 15–24)
Time abroad (baseline: less than a year)
More than 10 years
Emigration wave (baseline: 1991–1999)
Occupation (baseline: employed)
Wealth (baseline: with great difficulty)
With some difficulty
Kids (baseline: none)
Partner (baseline: none)
Language of questionnaire
The use of both qualitative and quantitative methods is complimentary in this chapter. Qualitative data allows us to explore how Latvians have integrated in the United States and how well are their relationships with diaspora organizations. Quantitative data gives the opportunity to contextualize the findings from the interviews, as well as to examine the statements by respondents whether they hold true on a larger population. We believe that this approach gives us the most accurate picture of Latvian migrant community in the United States, as well as provide comparative look at Latvian emigrants in other countries of residence.
10.4.1 Reasons for Departure and Its Meaning for Emigrants
The scholarship on the recent Latvian migrants in the United States considers them as a common social group with a particular identity, specific interests and lifestyle. This identity is based on a common understanding of Latvian traditions, use of language and specific customs (Garoza 2011; Hinkle 2006). However, it is worth reflecting on whether it is possible to consider the group of Latvian migrants who arrived in the United States after 1991 as having an ‘identity’ – or if it is a category constructed in the minds of the scholars and not one that actually exists in the real world.
However, it would be misleading to consider the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants solely as economic refugees. The data from the survey of Latvians abroad suggest that Latvian emigrants who travel to the United States do not have work as the most popular reason for the departure and is significantly lower than emigrants to European countries (see Fig. 10.1).
Resp: I had an aunt here [in the United States], who arrived in the United States after the war, and she had eight kids. For this reason, she travelled to Latvia all the time in order to visit them during the summer, and told me all the good things about the United States. By the age of 16 I already had a belief that I would not stay in Latvia.
Resp: I don’t know, because of listening to her saying that everything is better in the United States and the grass is greener there.
Int: What was the most exciting thing in your aunt’s stories that made you willing to go to the United States?
Resp: I remember she told me: ‘If you work, you will earn money. If you work hard, you will succeed.’ And she said that it is not the same here, in Latvia. (Jana, Latvian, 30 years old, emigrated in 2000)
How many of your friends are natives of your country of residence? (negative binomial regression model, incidence rate coefficients)
Country (baseline: USA)
Australia, Canada and New Zealand
The United Kingdom
Education (baseline: low)
Knowledge of the local language (baseline: Very poor or none)
Age (baseline: 15–24)
Time abroad (baseline: less than a year)
More than 10 years
Emigration wave (baseline: 1991–1999)
Occupation (baseline: employed)
Wealth (baseline: with great difficulty)
With some difficulty
Kids (baseline: none)
Partner (baseline: none)
Language of questionnaire
The variety of reasons for leaving hampers the emergence or existence of an imagined community among the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants in the United States because of the lack of a traumatic experience in the past which would unite them. As one of the emigrants argued, the fact that all emigrants ‘are not in Latvia’ is simply not enough for identification with other emigrants because ‘there is too little in common… it is not sufficient’ (Daina, Latvian, 29 years old, USA, emigrated in 2011). In other words, respondents do not feel part of a community: neither with those who arrived in the United States shortly after World War II nor with those who travelled there recently.
If we think about my situation, about the relations between men and women at my age in Latvia, [..] I was considered an old lady seven years ago in Latvia. Well, here I am not considered an old lady. I am a normal woman. It is important [..] that you are perceived as a woman. I was divorced in Latvia and for this reason… I had a job in Latvia, I liked it, I had everything. I had everything, ... which I liked, but still somehow, I felt that I cannot find a partner my age in Latvia, because all men of my age – obviously – look at the younger women. So that was one of the reasons [for the departure] ... to which others were added. (Baiba, Latvian, 55 years old, USA, emigrated in 2007)
10.4.2 Social Memory and Identity Among ‘New’ Latvian Emigrants
A crucial element for an imagined community is a more general social memory rather than the most recent one; namely, the reason for emigration. For this reason, this section deals with social memory and its role in the identity among the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants. As emphasized by Michael Lambek and Paul Antze, memory is shaped in part by the narrative forms and conventions of our time, place and position (Lambek and Antze 1996, p. XVI). They argue that any discussion of memory must examine the institutional forms, social relations and discursive spaces in which knowledge about memory is produced. In Latvia, Mārtiņš Kaprāns and Vita Zelče have described the case of social memory as ‘amnesia of memory for the period before the 20th century’ (Kaprāns and Zelče 2011, p. 45). Only the events of twentieth century are commemorated and forms the individual and collective identity.
The interviews with the respondents for this chapter suggest that the social memory of the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants does not differ significantly from those in Latvia. However, it is more common for the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants to concentrate on the very recent historical events, starting from the regaining of independence in 1991 and leading to joining the European Union and NATO. In other words, the temporal dimension of social memory for the new migrants is even shorter than that of Latvians in Latvia. It coincides with a low level of participation in traditional Latvian festivities and commemorations of events in history.
Despite the fact that all respondents mention the regaining of Latvia’s independence in 1991, no-one commemorates it on May 4th – a holiday in Latvia devoted to this occasion. Moreover, when diaspora organisations are commemorating any of the events from the official commemoration calendar of Latvia, the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants do not feel the need to take part: ‘I know there is something going on at the embassy, but I have never attended these. I have simply been somewhere else.’ (Zane, Latvian, 26 years old, USA, emigrated in 2011).
At the same time another respondent, who arrived in the United States at preliminary school age and considers herself integrated in the Latvian community which has existed in the United States since World War II, believes that the way Jāņi is celebrated in Latvia is the best way:
I have celebrated Jāņi in many places, but the best one is in Piesaule. It is in New York state, next to Boston. Some of the things they do there I have never done before. They go in circles and from one house to another to sing Līgo songs. [..] I grew up in Latvia, but these traditions were not followed there. (Elīna, Latvian, 31 years old, USA, emigrated in 2011)
In cases where respondents have attended events in the United States, organized by Latvian organizations, they feel that they have a different understanding about how the celebration should have been organised. One respondent reveals that her ideas and suggestions, which she refers as ‘my Latvian traditions in organising events’ do not find support among Latvian diaspora organisations. She believes that ‘simply the traditions [in the United States] are different and the circumstances are different, and probably for both sides [those who emigrated from Latvia recently and those who left shortly after World War II] it is hard to understand [each other]’ (Baiba, Latvian, 55 years old, emigrated in 2007).
The ideal way [to celebrate Jāņi] is when I am in the countryside in Latvia. Every time I do it, it has been an outstanding experience. I really feel that it is authentic, and I am very excited to the extent that I believe I could live forever in Latvia. There are always sauna and then everybody jumps into the lake; girls collect flowers from the meadow and make garlands. It is done here in American Jāņi as well, but the feeling is not the same. (Paula, Latvian, 26 years old, USA, emigrated in 1995)
One of the respondents does not take part in events arranged by Latvian diaspora organisations because ‘the Latvia which they consider as theirs is not what I consider to be my Latvia’ (Jānis, Latvian, 27 years old, USA, emigrated in 2006). These differences in understanding are, in the opinion of the respondent, as deep as they are mutually exclusive. Moreover, Jānis’ Latvia is not an image of a particular imagined community, it is simply ‘my Latvia’ – his own ‘personal Latvia’. In other words, he associates with it individually, not at the collective level.
However, the existence of alternative commemorative practices among ‘new’ Latvian emigrants are rare. Usually the commemorative days are celebrated among family members or not celebrated at all. The lack among the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants to associate with commemorative practices performed both in Latvia and among Latvian diaspora organisations increases their distance from the both communities.
[On November 18th] I take Riga Black Balsam and rye bread with me and I tell everybody that it is our Independence Day. [..] It is important that my colleagues and study mates would understand why this is important for me. (Daina, Latvian, 29 years old, USA, emigrated in 2011)
10.4.3 Communication with Those at Home
Despite the fact that there is no strong social memory or common reason for emigration among the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants, they do have the attributes of a transnational community. First of all, the communication with Latvia intensifies during the commemorative days. Secondly, it is not the only time the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants communicate with Latvia. They do so on a regular basis by reading Latvian news portals and communicating with friends and relatives through e-mails, phone calls and social networks. The use of media and communications is crucial part of transnational identity for Latvians abroad.
One of the respondents reveals that there have been moments in her life when she lived according to Latvian time despite the fact that she was on the other side of the Atlantic. The reason was that she was helping her daughter in Latvia to write her thesis. At one moment she realised: ‘I am forcing myself to think that I am in the United States’ (Baiba, Latvian, 55 years old, USA, emigrated in 2007). For many ‘new’ Latvian emigrants Latvia and the United States are not two completely different and distinct territories and they try to bring them as close to each other as possible. As one of the respondents suggests, there is a small possibility that those who have emigrated will return to Latvia, however, it is possible that ‘they will have a house, family, kids and a main place of residence in Latvia, but still spend some 30-50% of their time abroad somewhere else in Europe’ (Jānis, Latvian, 27 years old, USA, emigrated in 2006).
Even more detachment is visible among Latvian emigrants from ethnic minorities:
Int: Do you believe you have become American to some extent?
Resp: I don’t know. People tell me that I am. However, I don’t really know what they mean by that. Honestly, I don’t know.
Int: People in Latvia or people…
Resp: People in Latvia. In the United States absolutely no – everybody says; fuck, you are so, so Eastern European! I really don’t know [why]… (Daina, Latvian, 29 years old, USA, emigrated in 2011)
Hence, the existing communication with Latvians ‘back home’ does not encourage stronger ties, but instead hinders the formation of transnational community among the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants.
I am an ethnic Russian from Latvia. I cannot say to other Russians that I am Russian, but for Latvians I am Russian. [..] It is very important for me that people consider me Latvian. I don’t like it if they think I am from Russia. (Valda, Russian, 37 years old, USA, emigrated in 2004)
10.4.4 Relations with Other Latvians
I will tell you one thing I heard from one person when I went back to the United States. He said to me while visiting me here in the United States: ‘I have never understood why Latvians – those who are living here – communicate exclusively with [other] Latvians. What are you doing in the United States if you want to be among Latvians? Then live at home! Be in Latvia! If you want to be in that country [the United States], then have a reason, get involved! If you are there because of that culture and the people, then [..] follow that lifestyle, don’t just stay among Latvians. Why would you? (Anonymous)
The survey of Latvians abroad confirms this tendency for ‘new’ Latvian emigrants to have fewer social ties with other Latvian emigrants in the United States. According to the results, those Latvian emigrants who reside in the United States have fewer close friends from Latvia in their country of residence. The probability is much higher in the United Kingdom and Ireland also when controlled for gender, age or any other variable. Most often (~65% probability), for ‘new’ Latvian emigrants in the United States there will be ‘no friends’ or ‘one friend’ from Latvia (Fig.10.2).
I do have contacts and relations with Latvians but most of the time I am with locals – not only Americans, but [also] I have friends from Poland, who have lived here for many years. Mostly, I have international friends whom I met here. (Elīna, Latvian, 31 years old, USA, emigrated 2011)
While ‘new’ Latvian emigrants do not socialise with other Latvians in the United States, those who live in the United Kingdom or Ireland have a higher probability of having more than three friends from Latvia compared to having no friends from Latvia at all.
Additionally, it has to be noted that the wealth of the individual has a positive effect on socialisation with other Latvians abroad. It coincides with the argument that involvement in the events of the Latvian diaspora means significant financial investments (Garoza 2011, pp.137–145).
Another respondent notes that Latvian diaspora organisations have established a closed system of socialisation:
I have a feeling that Latvian-Americans, the new generation, they socialise a lot with other Latvian-Americans, American Latvians, but they are afraid of genuine Latvians. They consider that those genuine Latvians (how to say it) will destroy their illusions regarding Latvia. [..] They truly want to be a part of Latvia, but they know they are not. They are afraid of genuine Latvians. They are somewhat jealous. They want to belong. It is hard to describe, honestly. (Zane, Latvian, 26 years old, USA, emigrated in 2011)
Zigmars believes that as a result it is hard for an adult to become a part of this community. Another respondent considers that she is a part of this diaspora community because she immigrated to the United States when she was very young.
Since the very early days, since the 1950s, they have all graduated through their Latvian Sunday schools and various summer camps. They have grown up with it and have brought their kids and grandkids to these places and they have grown up in these places as well. There is an organisation called ALJA – American Latvian Youth Organisation. The members of this organisation are solely old Latvian kids; those who have arrived from Latvia recently are not in this organisation. Maybe one or two, but that’s it! They have a different mentality, different thinking, different conversations and interests, maybe. (Zigmars, Latvian, 47 years old, USA, emigrated in 2009)
There are also differences in the cultural background which can be illustrated by a story from one of the respondents about when Imants Ziedonis (1933–2013), one of the most popular Latvian poets, passed away:
I went to the summer campus in the Catskills and Garezers (a summer camp in Three Rivers, Michigan). I graduated Garezers and I have a very strong sense of belonging to this community of American Latvians. However, for those who have arrived [later] or they have not attended summer camps in Garezers or have been there only a little, or have grown up where there are no Latvian community centres, they probably do not have such relations or have stronger relations with the Latvians of Latvia. (Paula, Latvian, 26 years old, USA, emigrated in 1995)
The psychological barrier emerges if there is ambiguity with the legal status of the new Latvian emigrant. Baiba believes that her legal status in the United States – which she describes as ‘stuck in a moment’ – has had an impact on the opinion of diaspora organisations towards her.
Right after he passed away, we wanted to get together and read some of his poetry. You know, there was this feeling that… a feeling that we want to come together as Latvians. Latvians, because the local ones [Latvians who emigrated to the United States shortly after World War II and their descendants], although they know Ziedonis and love him, they have not grown up with Ziedonis, they have not felt him the way we did, reading him as the only one. (Baiba, Latvian, 55 years old, USA, emigrated in 2007)
Hence, the interaction and socialisation of Latvian emigrants from different migration waves and is remarkably low among the very recent emigrants, who arrived in the United States after 1991, due to a variety of reasons: cultural and socio-historical, legal as well as psychological.
American-Latvians always have a feeling of festivity when they are all together and then everybody wants to celebrate. In comparison, when I socialise with my American friends here or even with friends of American-Latvians who live in the city, we [..] go to dinner [..], theatre or the opera. (Paula, Latvian, 26 years, old USA, emigrated in 1995)
10.4.5 Identity and Sense of Belonging Among the ‘New’ Latvian Emigrants
Besides the everyday practices, such as socialising with other, it is important to explore the self-identification of ‘new’ Latvian emigrants. Do they consider themselves as Latvians, Americans, as both? Or, perhaps, as none of the above?
‘A Latvian from Latvia’, ‘a Latvian émigré’, ‘a man with Latvian roots’, ‘A new Latvian’ – these are just some of the ways ‘new’ Latvian emigrants refer to themselves since they left Latvia. It is not uncommon to find these terms juxtaposed and used as a way to distinguish themselves from ‘American-Latvian’, ‘Latvian-American’, ‘local’ or ‘Old Latvian’, referring to those emigrants who arrived in the United States after World War II.
When asked about the negative characteristics of Latvians, respondents most commonly mentioned conservatism, traditionalism and closeness. Some of the respondents are straightforward: they are not willing to live in such a society or have children in such an environment. ‘The current level of tolerance in Latvia is not satisfactory for me and for this reason I do not feel part of it,’ says one respondent (Jānis, Latvian, 27 years old, USA, emigrated in 2006). Another respondent (Daina, Latvian, 29 years old, USA, emigrated in 2011) thinks that Latvians are silent when a particular group in the society is being offended, for instance, if a prosecutor publicly states that a person who has been subject to rape or a sexual assault is partly an accessory to the crime (see Dzērve 2014).
I am being pushed in two directions. On the one hand is the Latvianness, of which I am proud. It is all the song festivals and things like that. All that code, which we have from all these years, all pagan rituals in Christmas and so on. On the other hand… the other extreme is that I really want there to be equality among genders, with sexual minorities and races. It absolutely does not exist in Latvia. I would like both things … These two entities are in a fight deep in me and currently the cosmopolitanism wins. However, the ‘Latvianness’ somewhere down there also exists. (Daina, Latvian, 29 years old, USA, emigrated in 2011)
Resp: If you go through the Latvian news, everything we are talking about are topics, which, honestly, if there was a stable working environment, these topics would be resolved sooner or later. [Now] these topics are taken out of context and blown up as something very important.
Int: Which ones, for example?
Resp: Problems with Russians. Obviously, there is a war going on now [..], and for this reason it is more important right now. However, on the very basis if 400 thousand people have left Latvia and it is both Latvians and Russians, then I think that is three times more important. (Sandis, Latvian, 31 year old, USA, emigrated in 2005)
At the same time, Latvian diaspora organisations are not the ones which would promote cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism and liberal values, which are important for the respondents regarding Latvia. As such, Latvian diaspora organisations do not embody what social anthropologist Dzenovska calls ‘a diasporic future’, which is based on ‘embeddedness in recognisible relations’ rather than on ‘symbolic identification with the nation state’ (Dzenovska 2012, p. 182). For Dzenovska, such a ‘diasporic life’ is a catalyst for transformation of the society back home because the life experience of the emigrants ‘at the time they return [to Latvia] will prohibit simply returning [to their] previous life environment, but [they] will push for a change’ (Dzenovska 2012, p. 182). Rather than creativity and innovation, respondents expect conservatism and repetition from Latvian diaspora organisations.
Hence for many respondents, language is an economic category rather than a cultural one. They look at Latvian citizenship the same way. They have all heard about the relatively recent amendments in Latvian law on citizenship, which allows dual citizenship. Some of the respondents already have both passports and in some cases acquired it for their children as well. However, this is based on rationality rather than sentiment. In particular, Latvian citizenship as a passport of the European Union member countries gives relatively easy access to the European labour market, as well as other rights such as acquiring real estate and travelling within Europe. The political rights which are granted together with a Latvian passport are not the main interest. In fact, many of them consider that they should abstain from voting in Latvian elections if they don’t live there: “As I emigrated, I don’t have the right to make a decision for those who stayed in Latvia. […] The destiny of Latvia has to be decided by the people who are active, and, foremost, who live in Latvia” (Zigmars, Latvian, 47 years old, USA, emigrated in 2009). Another respondent believes that the moment he acquires American citizenship, taking part in Latvian politics would compromise him: ‘I need to stay loyal to the United States. I wouldn’t like it if there was anything that would influence or make an impression that it [the level of loyalty towards the United States] has changed’ (Māris, Latvian, 33 years old, USA, emigrated in 2002).
If you ask me if I consider whether it is important that my children should be raised in a Latvian environment, then my answer is no. Obviously it is nice to know the language your grandparents speak and it is important, but at the same time it is not a language which will give many opportunities. It is just sentimental memories. The Latvian language will not open new doors. (Māris, Latvian, 33 years old, USA, emigrated in 2002)
Would that mean that the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants integrate well within the broader American society? More than two thirds of the respondents interviewed were in relationships, but the ethnic backgrounds of partners were very diverse: only two respondents had Latvian partners but six had American partners at the time of the interview. Also the survey data reveals that having relationships with a Latvian or Russian significantly decreases the chance of having local friends by 9 percentage points. On the other hand, speaking the language of the country of residence increases the chance of having local friends by 11 percentage points.
The interviews with the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants helps to understand the findings in the survey of Latvians abroad. Although many of the emigrants interviewed have American friends, in general their attitude towards them is cautious if not critical. Most commonly, respondents consider Americans more friendly and open than Latvians back home, but feel that only some of them can be considered truthful and close.
Mostly, respondents have friends who are connected with them through work or studies (if they have studied or are studying), where there are people of very diverse ethnic backgrounds.
It is hard to be real friends with Americans. While everything goes well you are friends, but once something happens, they are gone into the blue sky’ (Zigmars, Latvian, 47 years old, USA, emigrated in 2009)
However, keeping a distance from Americans does not mean that respondents are willing to emphasise their Latvian identity. In some cases, the local identity becomes the most important: ‘I believe I am Latvian, but I am also a New Yorker. I do not consider myself to be American. I do not have any interest either in calling myself an American or becoming an American in some kind of form’ (Jānis, Latvian, 27 years old, USA, emigrated in 2006).
Another respondent, who has lived in the United States for 12 years, identifies himself as ‘an American with European roots’ (Māris, Latvian, 33 years old, USA, emigrated in 2002). This is an extreme position in which Latvian identity is completely excluded, but it characterises the overall tendency: the most sustainable identity for the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants is a European one. Besides, this identity is socio-cultural rather than political as respondents are not taking an active part or have any interest in pan-European politics, such as voting in the European Parliament elections.
It is impossible to become American. [..] Maybe after 50 years of living in the United States [you will], but you still won’t be a genuine American. Same as my husband [an American] will never become a Latvian. [I am] European because by living so far away from Latvia I feel at home when I visit any European country. (Zane, Latvian, 26 years old, USA, emigrated in 2011)
Many respondents reveal that they do not have a strong attachment to the United States, its culture, politics and nature, and hypothetically they would be ready to leave any time if they needed to, or if the opportunity arose.
I don’t regret a single thing in my life, although I am running around and don’t settle down. There are sometimes such moments in life, when I am ready to go to the Amazon simply to teach English for kids. (Elīna, Latvian, 31 year old, USA, emigrated in 2011)
For this reason, ‘new’ Latvian emigrants have what Bruneau (2010) calls a ‘nomadic identity’, referring to Allain Tarius’ fieldwork among Mexican and Bolivian emigrants in the United States. ‘Their host places are only points of passage or waystations, not places of settlement and integration. The only essential place for them is the one of their origin, whence they leave with their goods; they return regularly, and invest their earnings there. They never actually leave: it is their only base,’ notes Bruneau (2010, p. 46). However, there are crucial differences between Bruneau’s described nomads and the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants in the United States. The latter ones have weak connections with Latvia and they do not migrate back and forth to Latvia. Rarely do respondents believe they will return to Latvia for a period longer than a vacation, and especially not in the near future. As one of the respondents reveals, ‘I like to search for new things, new life. I have lived in Latvia for 20 years and I believe that is enough’ (Valda, Russian, 37 years old, USA, emigrated in 2004). Another respondent describes the peculiarity of the reciprocity between him and his country of origin in a more detailed manner:
I have moved from Latvia to Philadelphia, then to Indiana, and then here. I have always told my wife: ‘Never say never’. I have never planned to live in the United States. If someone had asked me 11 years ago where I will live today, I would have told them that I will live in Latvia (Rihards, Latvian, 34 years old, USA, emigrated in 2006)
The high level of mobility potential explains why many respondents consider United States citizenship in the same way as Latvian. For many, it is a kind of travel insurance as the United States has embassies in almost every country in the world.
Resp: I got my education in Latvia and I am very, very thankful for that. To some extent I feel I have not paid back this support. However, at the same time my parents [in Latvia] do not have the best pensions.
Int: Do you think you will give more to Latvia in the future?
Resp: I don’t think it will happen. (Māris, Latvian, 33 years old, emigrated in 2002)
The landscape of the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants interviewed is very diverse. However, some of the trends are common for all of them. They have weak connections not only to Latvia but also with other emigrants in the United States. Although there are some aspects of a transnational lifestyle, the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants should be considered more as having a nomadic identity with a pronounced separateness. For this reason, it is possible to argue that there is only a single diaspora community in the United States, mainly formed of those who arrived in the United States after World War II, and their descendants. The ‘new’ Latvian emigrants do not associate themselves with this community, nor do they connect to a large extent with Latvians back home and, therefore, cannot be considered as part of a transnational community. The different waves of migration have created different identities. The post-WWII Latvian refugees manifest long-distance nationalism with their engagement in diaspora organizations and cultivation of national identity through commemorative practices and gatherings. Latvians who have arrived in the United States post 1991 show increasing individualism and cosmopolitism.
There are many reasons for the lack of strong community among the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants and their disinterest in socialising with those who arrived before 1991. However, it is necessary to emphasise the other side of the coin, i.e., the attitudes and judgments which the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants experience both from diaspora organisations and from relatives and friends back home. The unsuccessful cooperation with diaspora organizations also weakens the national identity among the emigrants. The same is true when visits back in Latvia is full of resentment.
In other words, although the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants are willing to develop transnational relations, they often feel embittered by these connections and become nomads who look further afield.
It could be that the United States is an exceptional case because of the different reasons people have for leaving Latvia in the past. The distance between Latvia and the United States is much greater than with any European country. Although migration scholar Bela (2014) claims that proximity is not crucial in the formation of a transnational identity, this study shows that it cannot be completely ignored. In many cases there are no statistically significant differences between the United States and Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The distance is especially important in the case of Latvians having friends in the country of residence. The further the country is from Latvia, the fewer Latvian friends will be around the new emigrant.
Hence, to some extent the ‘new’ Latvian emigrants in the United States do successfully integrate into the host country, although they do so while maintaining a distance: retaining their own individuality, being neutral and open to others.
In particular, the emergence of two identities can be identified: firstly, the local one; and secondly, the cultural one. The local identity is connected with the city in which the individual lives, for example, New York. The cultural one is connected at the pan-European level rather than with the country of origin. This identity brings with it the possibility of the boundaries of transnational identity being reconsidered and expanding beyond the ‘nation state’ or ‘ethnic group’.
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