Am I Norwegian-American or just American? Posted by kari on Nov 21, 2008 in Culture
There are several pockets of the United States that are heavily populated with descendants of Norwegians. When someone asks me where my descendants are from, I say Norway (because literally all of my great-grandparents except one are from Norway and without them, my existence would be impossible). However, I don’t say that I am Norwegian. Years ago before I went to Norway when I would hear others say “I’m German” or “I’m Irish,” perhaps I would say “I’m Norwegian.” Not anymore.
Norwegians do not appreciate it when Americans or anyone else say that they are Norwegian. I’m sure they would hate it too if an American said he/she was Irish just because of their heritage. I think it’s hard for people who are not from the United States to understand how we, as Americans, identify ourselves. Many recent immigrants to the United States still maintain very strong ties with their home countries and the people in their home countries still see those who emigrated as a part of their nationality. However, I think at least for the mass emigration of Norwegians at the turn of the 20th century, the story is different. Most Norwegians today (unless they still maintain a relationship with their American offspring) don’t necessarily care about my generation of Norwegian-Americans or even my parent’s generation of Norwegian-Americans. They think, “Ok, so a lot of Norwegians abandoned this country 100 years ago. Their offspring are Americans, not Norwegians.” The United States is still such a young country and during it’s early years, it was made up of so many different nationalities (with even greater diversity today), it’s hard for some Americans to say that they are just simply Americans. Of course, they are Americans. However, I know that I, personally, have a hard time not associating myself with my ancestors’ country of origin because my family still has ties to Norway and we still continue some of the same traditions that Norwegians do. It seems like most Americans feel this way.
I think Norway’s history with Denmark and Sweden (which I briefly explained in the last post) is another reason that Norwegians feel so strongly about who is considered part of their nationality. Norway was not a completely sovereign nation for over five centuries! When Norwegians were finally able to say that they were their own people, governed by themselves, they became a very nationalistic people, naturally. It kind of reminds me of teenagers who turn 18 and fully embrace their independence.
There is quite a large immigrant population in Oslo and in most other big cities in Norway. This is a fairly recent development and there are mixed feelings about this reality. Several family members and friends that I spent time with in Norway are not pleased with the influx of immigrants and the effects this has on Norway. I will save this conversation for another post, however.
Just remember to be careful if your ancestors are from Norway; do not say that you are Norwegian!�