Today is St Patrick’s Day – an international celebration for Irish immigrant and cultural communities around the world. In true Irish fashion, they have opened this day of celebration and festivity to all of their friends and neighbours – everyone is ”Irish for a day.”
For many in the United States and Canada, St Patrick’s Day is an annual celebration of immigration and our continuing ties to our immigrant pasts – Irish, Ukrainian, Mennonite, Jewish or Latin American – everyone celebrates.
While most of us will be headed out to parades and parties (perhaps even quietly slipping out to local pubs and bars to celebrate with friends), there are also numerous opportunities to celebrate our shared immigrant heritage a bit more soberly, culturally and historically before we start tipping back the “Sláinte.”
For families, Chicago’s Swedish Museum in Andersonville and Children’s Museum of Immigration always offers an informative excursion. The main exhibit A Dream of America: Swedish Immigration to Chicago offers a detailed examination of the Swedish decision to immigrate, the challenges immigrants faced in Chicago and the continuing cultural ties Chicago’s Swedish community continues to maintain with Sweden and Scandinavia. While the exhibit focuses on the Swedish experience, one would be encouraged to learn about Swedish-American culture while enjoying the similarities and contrasts the Swedish experience has with that of other ethnic groups. Similarly, the Children’s museum offers a hands-on experience for children to try other ethnic cultures on for size while understanding the lifestyle changes involved in the move from Sweden to “Amerika.”
At 10:00 am, 24 March, the Nordic Family Genealogy Center at the Swedish Museum will engage a discussion of Vilhelm Moberg’s classic novel The Immigrants. Many Mennonite Russländer settled closely amongst rural villages of Scandinavian immigrants on the prairies and would find numerous similarities in the experiences of Scandinavian farmer immigrants and those of the Russländer. This event offers a great opportunity for an exchange of perspectives and shared cultural experiences.
Visitors to New York City would be recommended to take in the Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles exhibit which extends for all of 2012 at The Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan’s Battery Park.
Lazarus is best known for composing the poem New Colossus celebrating America’s role in accepting immigrants from around the world and from a variety of circumstances – New Colossus is the famous poem known to all American school children as the inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty. In fact, the Lazarus exhibit is in celebration of the statue’s 125th Anniversary.
New ColossusNot like the brazen giant of Greek fame,With conquering limbs astride from land to land;Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall standA mighty woman with a torch, whose flameIs the imprisoned lightning, and her nameMother of Exiles, From her beacon-handGlows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes commandThe air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries sheWith silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
An interesting note gleaned from Edward Rothstein’s review of the Lazarus exhibit is that Lazarus’s great-great uncle Moses Mendes Seixas wrote a letter of welcome to President George Washington, celebrating Washington’s visit to the Jeshuat Israel Congregation in Newport, R.I. in 1790. Seixas presented the visiting president with a letter “praising a government ‘which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance,’” (see below). As Rothstein points out, Washington would come to be associated with those words re-used in his address to the congregation, enshrining this principle in the young nation’s basic political identity.
- Rothstein, Edward, “She Wrote a Nation’s Welcome,” The New York Times, New York, New York, 04 Jan, 2012, p C1, C8.
For Russian Mennonites, or Russländer as a whole, this is a great time to remember our own poetic tradition celebrating the migration out of Ukraine.
In 1874, Jakob Stucky printed the Ein Auswanderungs-Lied or Immigration Song as a means of celebrating and encouraging the on-going migration of Mennonites from Prussia, Russia and Ukraine to the prairies of the United States and Canada:
Ein Auswanderungs-LiedJetzt ist die Zeit und Stunde da,Dass wir ziehn nach Amerika,Viel tausend Seelen geht’s dort gut,Dass troestet uns und gibt uns Mut.Jetzt ist die Zeit und Stunde daDass wir ziehn nach AmerikaDie Wagen stehen schon vor der Tuer,Mit Weib und Kinder ziehen wir.Jetzt ist die Zeit und Stunde daDas wir ziehn nach AmerikaDie Pferde stehn schon angespahnt,Wir ziehen in ein fremdes Land.Ihr alle die mit uns verwandt,Reicht uns zum letzten mal die Hand.Ihr Freunde weinet nicht zu sehr.Wir sehn uns nun, und nimmer mehr.Seid alle maennlich, und seid stark,Macht uns den Abschied nicht zu hart.Wir ziehen ja nicht aus der Welt,Auch da ist Gott, der uns erhaelt.Wenn unser Schiff zur See einschwimmt,Dann werden Lieder angestimmt.Wir fuerchten keinen Waserfall,Der Liebe Gott ist ueberall.Und kommen wir gen Baltimore,Dann haben wir das Land empor,Und rusen laut, “Victoria”!Jetzt sind wir in Amerika.Willkommen fremde Vaterland,Wo sich mein Herz hat hingewandt,Du Land wo ich geboren bin,Muss meiden und muss weit dahin.Leb wohl du altes Vaterland,Lebt alle wohl die uns gekannt.Wir werden uns einst wiedersehn,Dort wo die Friedens Palmen wehn.
The following English-language translation is by Abe J. Unruh of Montezuma, Kansas, courtesy of Edna Ramseyer Kaufman’s Melting Pot of Mennonite Cookery, 1874-1974, North Newton, Kansas (p 353):
Immigration SongThe time and hour is now at hand,We’re moving to a foreign land.Where souls by thousands prosper well,Dauntless with tears, we say farewell.The time and hour is now at hand,We’re moving to a foreign land;Our wagons loaded stand in rowWith wives and children we shall go.The time and hour is now at hand,We’re moving to a foreign land;Our horses hitched to wagons stand,We’re leaving for an unknown land.To our beloved ones and our kin;We say farewell and sigh within;Weep not so hard that we must part,It grieves our weary saddened heart.Be manly and renew your strength,As time goes on we’ll meet at length.We still remain upon this sphereWhere God’s protections will be near.When we embark the ship at seaWe’ll join in songs of jubilee;We fear no water and no wave,For God is here and His love saves.When we’ll arrive on yonder shore,God’s holy name we will adore;We’ll shout when we step on the strand,America, thou blessed land!Welcome, thou fatherland, afar,Where favored gates stand wide ajar;We now our land of birth disown,We’ve chosen a home in lands unknown.Farewell, farewell, my fatherland,Farewell, again, my kindred band;Some day we’ll meet on heaven’s shore,‘Neath peaceful palms forever more.
Of course, for those Mennonites, Russländer and friends on the Great Plains, the Lustre-Volt communities on the border between the USA and Canada, will be celebrating their annual Mennonite Folk Schmekfest on 23 March. The Lustre Schmekfest is North America’s oldest celebration of traditional Russian Mennonite foods including verenika and the famed Schmekfest Sausage, along with a quilt auction, traditional craft displays and a program of religious and cultural music. Schmek gut!