Academic journal article Manitoba History

"A Telephone Station for the Soul": The Latvian Newspaper Kanadietis, 1913-1914

Academic journal article Manitoba History

"A Telephone Station for the Soul": The Latvian Newspaper Kanadietis, 1913-1914

Article excerpt

The first edition of Kanadietis (1) (The Canadian) promised much. A small, semi-monthly Latvian newspaper published in Winnipeg but meant for immigrants throughout North America, Kanadietis was an alternative voice to the sometimes shrill calls of the dialectically opposed radical socialist and Christian-nationalist press to which readers had become accustomed in the first decade of the 20th century. (2) The first issue, dated 30 January 1913, even ran advertisements from the two leading newspapers for North American Latvians--the increasingly radical socialist Stradnieks (The Worker) and the Christian-nationalist Amerikas Vestnesis (America's Herald)--suggesting that the Canadian paper and its editor harboured no ideological predisposition. However, the paper failed in its efforts to reconcile socialists and non-socialists and by the end of the year Kanadietis was forced to suspend publication, its editor hoping that economic hard times in Canada would improve enough to allow continuation. Only one more issue was published, in July 1914, and any promise for the future was cut short by the First World War.

The newspaper's 23 issues, (3) besides providing a brief record of Latvian immigrant life in the western provinces of Canada, serve as source material for a case study of the role of the North American immigrant press. Beginning with the work of Robert Ezra Park in the 1920s, scholars of the immigrant press have debated whether the institution serves more to maintain ties with the homeland or to encourage integration into the host society. More recent scholarship suggests that the immigrant press serves a dual--and multi-dimensional--role, striking "a balance of assimilationist-pluralist functions", according to scholar Stephen Harold Riggins. (4)

This article identifies the broad discursive themes that related to how the producers and consumers of Kanadietis might have used the newspaper so that--as communications scholar James Carey described the process--they might understand the ritual order of their society. (5) Carey argued that the process of communication can be viewed both as the transmission of news and knowledge and as a ritual likened to a religious service, "a situation in which nothing new is learned but in which a particular view of the world is portrayed and confirmed." (6) Ritual also is part of a transformative process, as anthropologists Arnold van Gennep, and later Victor Turner, suggested. Van Gennep in his 1908 book, The Rites of Passage, (7) developed a model of ritual involving three stages: rites of separation, rites of transition (the liminal stage), and rites of incorporation. Van Gennep was concerned especially with how homogeneous or tribal groups use rites such as funerals, marriage, and initiation to make sense of change in social status. Turner expanded on the concept of liminality, seeing it as a liberating phase in the passage of an individual or a group from one social structure or cultural condition to another. (8) In the liminal phase, an individual or group is liberated from the social structure of the previous phase, passing "through a cultural realm that has few or none of the attributes of the past or coming state." (9) In studies of European immigrant communities in North America, and specifically in research on the immigrant press, an underlying assumption often has been that immigrant communities over time inevitably acculturate--sodally, economically, symbolically--from the "Old World" to their new, host society. The pages of Kanadietis reveal a tension between separation and incorporation as editor Janis A. Smits and other writers negotiated between nostalgia for their homeland and full absorption into life in a new country, while at the same time expressing desire for a cultural and social space that would allow them to maintain their Latvian identity.

In the history of the Latvian immigrant press in North America, Kanadietis is unusual, largely because it was the only known pre-First World War Latvian language publication in Canada. …

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