View From A Prairie Home
by Hege Herfindahl
Not long ago, I had to be able to describe the flag quickly: 50 white stars on a field of blue; 13 stripes in white and red. It was part of the test to become a US citizen. The process itself only took 6 months for me, but then I had already lived here (and paid taxes) for 31 years.
As an immigrant with a green card, I could have applied for citizenship earlier. But I wasn’t ready. I simply didn’t feel like an American yet. I was brought up by my parents to be a Norwegian. I loved Norway, its beauty, its history, with which I was very familiar, having grown up listening to stories of the past from my grandfather and father. My family took me to the mountains, to the ocean, to the woods. We reveled in the breathtaking nature of Norway. How then, could I love another country? Wouldn’t that be betraying my background, my country and my family?
Minnesota was so very different from where I grew up. There were no mountains. The lakes were not the rugged coast of Norway. The cities were not at all like what I was used to. How could I love something so different?
It all happened so gradually that I didn’t even notice it and it started with the love of one man. This man, my husband Grant, never tried to make me into what I wasn’t. He just loved me for what I was. If I wanted to pretend we still lived in Norway by speaking only Norwegian and cooking only Norwegian food and reading only Norwegian books to our children; that was fine with him.
Our children started school and came home with stories in English. My parents came to visit and pointed out the unparalleled beauty of a prairie sunset. I started to enjoy the relative calm waters of the Minnesota lakes. Grant and I would take the kids to the many Minnesota state parks. And I love the people here. They are friendly, even to strangers. They made me feel like becoming one of them.
So, I became an American citizen. It doesn’t mean I gave up my love of Norway. In fact, being an American really means, for most of us, that we have multiple cultural connections.
Our independence day, the Fourth of July, illustrates this. It is, compared to Christmas and Thanksgiving, a very individual holiday. It is a true celebration of independence by giving each of us the opportunity to celebrate in our individual way. Some people just stay home and relax. Some go shopping. Most people watch some kind of fireworks. Many of us have picnics, weather permitting. There are parades, but they are more casual than other parades with less emphasis on military traditions.
Fourth of July has become my favorite holiday, because it is so low key and requires no gifts. It also is in the summer. In our family, which now has grown into 16 people, it has developed into a family reunion. Our children will travel from the three states in which they reside and converge at our little cabin at Lake Koronis near Paynesville. There, chaos reigns as the children dash about in wet swimsuits and the young adults push each other off the dock. We have hot dogs and watermelon and lots of ice cream. We have water balloon fights and before that, we take our family picture. We also have fireworks and a bonfire.
Looking out at the lake with my dear family near, I find I am glad and proud to be a Norwegian American.