The Indifference of Our People

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From Svenska Tribunen-Nyheter, Apr. 22, 1931


During the years following the World War, Sweden took a renewed interest in America and material as well as cultural developments here. Study trips to this country became the order of the day, and as a result of these visits Swedish opinion in regard to this country underwent a marked change. They no longer thought of the "far west" as something of a dreamland, but the realization began to dawn on them that America is a giant nation and a world power. Naturally, conditions among Swedish-Americans were also studied with interest, and many fine things were said and written about our people here on this side of the ocean. This is so much more understandable since intercourse between this country and Sweden was to a large extent broken off during the war years, and anything concerning America took on added interest, both to the visitor himself and to his public at home.

Study trips are still being undertaken, but Swedes who come here today get an entirely different impression of us Swedish-American than did those who came here immediately after the war. At that time they saw in us a national group which in a laudable manner held on to its mother tongue, national characteristics, and traditional customs. Now, however, they seem to enjoy pointing out our laxity and our inferiority as compared to Swedes at home. They do not appear to appreciate at all the struggle which is going on for the preservation of our Swedish language and culture.

A Swedish newspaperman who has been visiting in America recently wrote to a paper at home that the Swedish language is on the decline here, but at the same time he mentioned lightly that almost every Swede here in Chicago belongs to some Swedish society, in which the Swedish language is being used. He did not seem to attach any significance to the activities of these societies. Did he, perhaps ignore them, thinking that they were no cultured enough?

Those who think it is possible and desirable to establish a second Sweden herein America are greatly mistaken. But we Swedish-Americans should try to preserve the best of what we brought with us from the old country, especially the language, and we are doing just that. If we seem to be somewhat lax in this, it might be interesting to search for the reason why we are falling down on the job. Let us start at the beginning. All Swedish-American activities are based on the people themselves, and one always has to start from scratch, so to speak, without satisfactory financing and without the backing of influential people with money. And, of course, without the support of the state or municipality. How far would the Swedes at home get under such circumstances? And, furthermore, it must be remembered that from a business point of view such undertakings here must be America, not Swedish. It is, therefore, not at all surprising that even Swedish-American cultural activities show the American influence.

If our critical friends from home would took at the situation from all angles they might ask themselves this question: What has Sweden done for the preservation and promotion of all that which is typically Swedish among her emigrated sons and daughters in America? The answer is: Practically nothing. In fact, one might say with a good deal of truth that the people at home always have done, and are still doing, their level best to minimize and destroy the cultural efforts of their nationals in this country. Swedish authors and publishers are charging all that the trade will stand. Their slogan seems to be, "Let the Swedish-Americans pay". This is the situation in all fields of Swedish-American activities, and we can hold our heads high in the knowledge that what has been done for Swedish culture in American we have done ourselves.