Red-and-blue Norwegian flags still flutter along Market Street in Ballard, though the "Snoose Junction" days of Copenhagen-chewing fishermen...
Red-and-blue Norwegian flags still flutter along Market Street in Ballard, though the “Snoose Junction” days of Copenhagen-chewing fishermen are as gone as the $100,000 house.
And while Ballard is no longer the hub of the region’s Nordic community as it was in the days when Scandinavians went to dine and dance at the old Norway Center, the Norwegian community is not only alive but flourishing, having grown by 3,000 members in King County alone between 1990 and 2000.
Tomorrow, close to a thousand Norwegian Americans, many wearing treasured heirloom folk costumes — called bunader — will parade through Ballard to commemorate Norway’s 100 years of independence from Sweden. It was an amicable parting that took nearly a century, from May 17, 1814, when Norway adopted its own constitution, to 1905.
For typically low-profile Norwegians, the annual Constitution Day festivities are a time not to watch a parade, but to be the parade. Participants dress their best — in business suits and ties or more-traditional Norwegian sweaters and other Scandinavian finery.
One of the largest May 17 parades in the United States begins at 6 p.m. tomorrow at 24th Avenue Northwest and Northwest 62nd streets in downtown Ballard. It winds through the business district, ending at Ballard Avenue Northwest.
The daylong celebration also includes:
• Noon luncheon at Leif Erikson Lodge, 2245 N.W. 57th St., 206-783-1274, and
9 p.m. dance, also at lodge. Dance tickets ($10) and a few luncheon tickets ($25) will be available at the door.
• Traditional children’s games, 2:30 to 4 p.m. at Ballard Community Center, 6020 28th Ave. N.W.
• Norwegian Chamber of Commerce dinner, 7 p.m. at Ray’s Boathouse, 6049 Seaview Ave. N.W. Tickets $38 for members, $40 for non-members.
The Nordic Heritage Museum, 3014 N.W. 67th St., will have extended hours, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with museum cafe open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission free to the museum and all exhibits.
The parade’s grand marshal is Are-Jostein Norheim, Norwegian consul general to the United States from San Francisco. Members of the Norwegian Male Chorus will sing in the parade. Folk dancers will twirl their partners. Students of the Scandinavian Language Institute will carry a banner, and Leif Erikson Lodge members will stroll along in their finest.
There will be marching bands, a riot of Norwegian flags and later, dinner and dancing.
For those who mistakenly think the Norwegian community has faded, it’s a time to reconsider. With glowing stories in the national press calling life in Norway almost “Utopian,” being Norwegian has become popular, said Norwegian Vice Consul Kim Nesselquist. “We just don’t all live in Ballard anymore.”
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The Norwegian-American community that sank deep roots there late in the 19th century has since spread from Mercer Island to Sumner, the Highlands to Stanwood, becoming what is considered one of the most-vibrant Norwegian-American communities in the nation.
Today’s Norwegian community is far different, though, from those who first arrived, or even from those who arrived after World War II. Early immigrants struggled with the language and often found themselves unwelcome interlopers accused of “stealing” jobs. They congregated together for support, gathering for dances where they could meet others who spoke the language and shared the same culture and concerns.
“When we got our independence, Norway was the poorest country in Europe,” Nesselquist said.
“Today it is one of the wealthiest countries in the world … through the luck of striking oil in the ’70s.” And it’s starting to be recognized also as a peace facilitator and a major contributor of foreign aid, he said.
1825: First Norwegians arrived in the United States, seeking religious freedom, jobs and, later, homesteads.
1870: Growing numbers of Norwegians were arriving in the Northwest to fish, log and, by 1880, to homestead and farm.
1903: With companies here unwilling to insure them, Norwegians found Grand Lodge of the Sons of Norway of the Pacific Coast for benefits in times of wage loss or sickness. Group is now a fraternal organization.
1950s-1960s: Norwegians start profitable fishing and crabbing businesses.
1960s: Norwegian engineers arrive for jobs at Boeing.
1970 to today: Norwegians arrive for high-tech jobs and faculty positions and to attend college.
Source: Norwegian-American Foundation,
Sons of Norway
The Norwegian-born today — people like 24-year-old Esther Foote — blend easily into the social fabric of Seattle, as did scores of Norwegian engineers who came to Boeing in the 1960s and the computer engineers who arrived more recently. They join second- and third-generation Norwegians to comprise today’s Norwegian-American community.
That community includes people like Victoria Sangrey, a second-generation Norwegian in her 40s who grew up in Ballard in a home filled with Scandinavian food and traditions. Sangrey never knew she was also part Irish, Danish and German until she was assigned to make a family tree in high school.
Those other cultures are almost beside the point, she said, as it was the Norwegian culture in which she was raised.
Now an administrative assistant for the biotech firm ZymoGenetics, she got a degree in Scandinavian studies at the University of Washington, went to Norway for a year of study and named her daughter Kjersti.
Sangrey is a diligent worker for all Norwegian causes — whether it’s preserving a community park or organizing dinners as part of the Norwegian Commercial Club, an organization much like Rotary or Kiwanis.
Like many Norwegian Americans, she often finds herself in the role of educating non-Norwegians about Nordic culture.
There’s more to it, they say, than is portrayed in Ole and Lena jokes or old-time comedy routines that portray Norwegians as country bumpkins subsisting on lutefisk, lefse and accordion music. While they can laugh at themselves — to a point — many Norwegian Americans also are quick to emphasize that theirs is a rich and complex culture.
For example, Norwegian music is as varied as that of renowned 19th-century composer Edvard Grieg, the pop band a-ha, or jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek. And anyone familiar with Oslo gourmet Andreas Viestad’s recipes for truffled cod or Jarlstad with onion pie knows there’s more to the cuisine than lutefisk.
Gourmet recipes aside, Sangrey learned that at least one Norwegian staple is considered nonnegotiable by at least part of Seattle’s Norwegian community.
She and others planned a dinner for the Norwegian Commercial Club and failed to tell the caterers that boiled potatoes are as essential as, well, a knife and fork among some older members. To the displeasure of dozens, the caterer served rice, causing some members to threaten not to attend the next event.
Number of Americans claiming Norwegian roots in the 2000 Census:
United States: 4.9 million
Washington state: 279,500 (an increase of about 47,500 from 1990 Census).
King County: 79,500 (an increase of about 3,000 from 1990 Census).
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Bridging generationsBridging the old and the new can be difficult, Sangrey admits. “We want to keep the handicrafts, the old recipes, the way of doing things our grandparents taught us.”
She has been the go-between in dealing with the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department over Bergen Place, a park on Market Street.
King Olav dedicated the park in the name of Seattle’s sister city in 1975 and planted a Norwegian maple tree there. But when the park fell into disrepair, it was targeted for a $275,000 redevelopment that was finished last summer.
A ship’s mast festooned with Scandinavian flags went. So did the trees — including the one dedicated by the king. Some of the wood was used in sculptures for the park.
Many in the Norwegian-American community were incensed, feeling that they, along with the park, had been stripped of their heritage. A park-department spokeswoman said public meetings had been held before the work.
Valuing the old but recognizing the new also is a challenge, says Nesselquist, a Norwegian citizen but a resident of Kenmore. In addition to being vice consul, he is the director of the Norwegian American Foundation, created in 2001 to be an umbrella group for the 900 Norwegian-American groups in the U.S. and to promote Norwegian-American causes.
That’s Foote’s job as marketing director for the foundation. Foote was born in Bergen to American parents. Her mother had Norwegian ancestry and a deep sense of heritage, and in the 1970s, the family moved to Norway, where Foote’s father worked as an oceanographer.
Foote and her two sisters were born and educated there, speaking both English and Norwegian and celebrating Norwegian holidays. Every summer she’d return to the U.S. to visit her grandparents, and her American playmates would ask her about Norway.
She’d lie and tell them what they expected to hear: That they lived in a grass-roofed hut, with no running water and kept goats. In reality, she lived in a typically high-tech home in Bergen with heated floors, well designed for the cold climate, and with many modern amenities.
Today, Foote belongs to Young Nordics, a social group sponsored by the Nordic Heritage Museum. For those under 50, it’s an alternative to membership in the more-traditional Sons of Norway. As part of her job, Foote goes to a variety of Scandinavian festivals across the United States. What she usually finds is a celebration of old traditions — communities still stuck in lefse land.
“We want to preserve our heritage. That’s very important,” she said. “But we want to bring modern Norway to the American community.”
Tomorrow’s parade in Ballard will be but one of many in Norwegian communities around the world. Nesselquist will wear a suit and tie. Foote will dress in slacks and a sweater and Sangrey will wear a bunad trimmed in silver, each carrying flags in celebration of the long-fought independence of their common homeland.
Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or firstname.lastname@example.org