As I sit in comfort, in a condominium apartment overlooking an arm of the large lake Mälaren which empties in the Baltic Sea at Stockholm, I count my blessings. I soon will have completed eighty-six years of living, am in good health, and have a small but sufficient degree of financial security. I love and am loved. This includes friends as well as family.
I attended university in the USA and continue to pursue an extensive informal education. I have books, recorded music, a few objects of art, mementos of my travels, photographs. I attend local musical concerts, visit museums and parks. I correspond with people thousands of miles from me, some of whom I haven’t seen in decades, some I’ve never met in person.
Over one hundred years ago three of my grandparents left Greece to settle in San Francisco, California. They could not even dream of having the riches which I enjoy by virtue of their grit, determination, family solidarity, and some luck on my part.
I came to Sweden twenty years ago as an immigrant from the United States, but under different circumstances which drove my grandparents to leave their homeland. I traveled comfortably, under no duress, to be with the woman I love.
I see parallels, nonetheless.
These parallels reside in the immigrants now coming in great numbers to Sweden and other European countries from the Middle East, North Africa, and other regions of the continents of Africa and Asia.
The conditions which drove my grandparents to leave Greece were poverty, lack of opportunity, political instability, and war always on the horizon.
These are also the conditions driving many of the current immigrants to Sweden with the addition, in some instances, of ethnic and religious conflict, actual war, drought, and the threat of famine.
Are there lessons in my family’s experience to help current immigrants to Sweden to imagine and work toward a future for their grandchildren, a future similar to that which I enjoy?
I don’t like to give advice, nor am I prone to preach. With trepidation, therefore, I say only these things in response to my own question:
An immigrant may feel like he or she is treated like a second-class citizen. In some cases this may be so, but mostly perception this will arise from mutual ignorance and misunderstandings about cultural differences. We need to talk with each other.
In order to talk with each other, we need to speak the same language, the local language. One of the blessings I have in Sweden is that English is almost an official second language. I am marginally adept at spoken Swedish (my hearing is significantly impaired). This has not inhibited me from having Swedish friends and successfully navigating the environment.
I am a citizen of the USA and also of Sweden. I feel American (West Coast variety), am learning to feel Swedish, and do feel Greek by virtue of my family’s origins. None of these is mutually exclusive; rather, I perceive them as enriching.
Due to past migrations, there are Swedes who are also Chilean, who are also Serbian (a neighbor-friend), who are also Russian (a former Soviet/Russian diplomat lives in my neighborhood), who are Bulgarian (a dear friend), and so on.
Although an immigrant loses much that is left behind in one’s homeland, he or she loses nothing by becoming Swedish, and will gain a larger perspective of the world we share.
Welcome, fellow immigrants, and Swedes.