The legacy of the great emigrant saga

A message from your editor

Photo: Axel Olsson / Wikimedia Commons
The Emigrant Monument stands at the harbor in Karlshamn, Sweden, the port from which so many Swedes departed for North America. Karl Oskar looks ahead to a new life on the other side of the Atlantic, while Kristina looks back to the home she is leaving.

Dear readers and friends,

By now I think you know that I put my heart and soul into every issue we send to you, but this one touches my heart in a very special way. It is not too long ago that I was in Norway, meeting with people who are actively working on planning the celebration of 200 years of Norwegian emigration to the United States in 2025. Then the long-awaited premiere of Erik Poppe’s new film of Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg’s cycle of emigrant novels took place in Norway. It is time for both looking back and forward, as many discussions are taking place about the relevance of Scandinavia’s history for current events today, as millions of refugees are looking for new homes.

While the story of the emigration from Scandinavia to North America has been told over and over, somehow, it cannot be told too many times. For many of us, it is our story, the story of our parents, our grandparents, or our great grandparents. We can only imagine what hardships they may have faced on their long journeys, the sadness of leaving loved ones behind them, and the anticipation and hope of building a new life. Even for later emigrants, that excitement has been a big part of their experience.

In my own case, I have a particularly close affinity for Vilhelm Moberg’s emigrant books. I wrote my senior thesis on them while at the university, and watching the old film versions with Norway’s Liv Ullmann and Sweden’s Max von Sydow around the same time, I became inspired to continue my work in Scandinavian studies.

But I also have a very personal connection to these books and films. As a young woman, my Swedish maternal grandmother left the very same port as Moberg’s fictional emigrants, Karlshamn, Sweden. I have often wondered how it must have felt to leave her loved ones behind and strike out into the unknown. I have stood at the foot of the Emigrant Monument in Karlshamn and felt my emotions swell, both in pride and bit of melancholy.

It is fortunate that my grandmother and my mother were prolific letter-writers, and here in the New World, we never lost contact with our family in the Old World. I have been able to return to visit my relatives many times, and I feel a closeness to my relatives there. It is almost as if my grandmother’s  love bonds us in some special way. I am one of the lucky ones to have a foot in two worlds that enriches my life on a daily basis.

With all my friends, relatives, and colleagues in the Nordic community, both here and in Scandinavia, I have an extraordinarily  rich life. To have roots in two cultures is a beautiful thing. It is at the core of what we do here at The Norwegian American, Norway House, and other Nordic cultural organizations on both sides of the Atlantic. We strive to build bridges between our cultures for positive enrichment—thorough arts, culture, and business. We want to see everyone thriving in a spiritually enriched, prosperous, and happy life. It is tall order, but we know it is possible, if we only can envision it. That is the legacy of the great emigrant saga.

On the behalf of our entire team, I would like to wish you many hours of happy and meaningful reading. I hope that this issue will touch your hearts, too, in a special way.

All my best,

Lori Ann

This article originally appeared in the October 7, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.