Vesterheim in Red, White and Blue: The Hyphenated Norwegian-American and Regional Identity in the Pacific Northwest, 1890 - 1950
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Norwegian-American migrants to the Pacific Northwest built a cohesive ethnic community there from the 1890s that persisted through World War II. They were drawn to the Pacific Northwest by its geographic resemblance to Norway, and its extraction industries, such as logging and fishing, that were familiar to them. The place in terms of its geography, soil conditions, climate, and resources, fed into local Norwegian-American constructions of the Pacific Northwest as a transplanted, new Norway. This ethnic environmentalism reflected the ways that constructed memories of Norwegian geography and the Norwegian past helped define the group’s ethnicity, but it also represented one aspect of the case they made for belonging in America, and the Pacific Northwest. The geography and resources of the Pacific Northwest figured into Pacific Northwest identity construction for the region’s population across ethnic lines. Hence, for Norwegian migrants, the Pacific Northwest as place could be used to assert both one’s Norwegianness as well as one’s Americanness as an Oregonian or Washingtonian. Additionally, winter recreation, winter sports, and the promotion of strenuous exercise in the great outdoors represented a Norwegian cultural transplant that helped shape regional identity and regional symbols. Simultaneously, Pacific Northwest Norwegians’ constructions of race figured into the evolving Norwegian-American identity. As Protestant Nordics they benefited from white privilege. They understood themselves as Norwegians of unquestionable American citizenship, and asserted their capacity for self-government in response to the racialized and gendered construction of American citizenship. When their loyalty occasionally came into question, it simply presented an opportunity to trumpet their perceived racial superiority. Ethnicity consistently came to expression through celebration. Every year, from 1890 to 1950 (and in fact up to the present day), local Pacific Northwest Norwegians descended upon Seattle’s Seventeenth of May celebration in commemoration of Norway’s Constitution Day. While the celebration’s format varied from year to year, ebbed and flowed with nationalist waves from Norway and the United States along with internal forces of disunity within the ethnicity itself, it proved a remarkably persistent vehicle in which the community showcased its unity, coherence and strength to both the younger generations and other Americans.