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Chris Reitan Gerber, of Orono, said her Swedish immigrant parents met here in 1928 and never lost their accents or their sense of the old country as “home.” Her daughter and granddaughter have visited Sweden. Stenberg is her cousin, here from Sweden on a second trip to Minnesota to reconnect with family.
It’s a very different feeling being here, Stenberg said, as opposed to New York or Florida.
“People here do look more like those at home,” she said, “and they are so interested when they find out you’re Swedish. At a yoga class, or anywhere you happen to be, they light up when they hear it, and talk about their own relatives.”
Still, the census numbers speak to a gradual erosion of personal ties to the old country.
Since 2008, the share of Twin Citians identifying as German has slipped from 35.4 percent to 32.2 percent, dropping slightly each year.
In the same period, the share of Norwegians has dropped similarly, from 14.8 percent to 13.4 percent. The share of Swedes has fallen less sharply, from 9.7 percent to 9.2 percent but follows the same basic course.
Experts are quick to point out that none of these ancestries is truly going anywhere: Descendants keep multiplying. But once a person is no longer 80 percent but 20 percent, intermingled with multiple ethnicities after generations of marriage, the question of what they “are,” if anything, becomes vague.
Could the loss of something people used to take for granted wind up encouraging a reawakening of interest in those roots?
It maybe already is. “We’re seeing record participation in our youth programming,” said Laura Cederberg, spokeswoman for the Swedish Institute, over a burble of conversation from the organization’s newly expanded building, with its cafe, gift shop and other facilities created by architects who visited Sweden to drink in contemporary Nordic design.
At the Sons of Norway, Heiberg admires how the institute has lured in Generation Ikea, and he hopes to do the same using vehicles such as the website NorwayConnects.
In chapters all across North America, he said, “we are putting on a variety of programs, from how to create traditional Norwegian art — woodcarving and so on — to programs and resources on genealogy. It’s a struggle for all membership groups these days. Younger people are less likely to turn up at a building once a week, but we’re optimistic. It’s important to keep the connection alive.”
David Peterson • 952-746-3285