Ethnicity on Parade: Inventing the Norwegian American through Celebration

By April R. Schultz | Go to book overview

5
"The Nation's Only Safe Foundation":
Fields of Meaning
in an Ethnic Celebration

In an early publicity letter to newspapers, Centennial Committee President Gisle Bothne asserted that the celebration would do for the Norwegian immigrants what a recent celebration at Plymouth Rock had done for descendants of the Mayflower. In this "never to be forgotten event," the "past will be clarified, the present will be intensified, and the future will be magnified." Bothne predicted that by the end of the four days, "tens of thousands of the present generation will have visualized the life of the early Norse pioneers, how they labored and sacrificed that we might gain wisdom and happiness and material comfort, and that we might lead such a life that Norway should not be ashamed of us, and America should not regret that she had invited us to her shores."

Bothne then likened the event to a Norwegian folk tale: "The Norse- American celebration will be like a river of living water, like Mimer's fountain of Norse mythology. Those who drank of this fountain received knowledge and wisdom. Odin himself, king of the Gods of Norse mythology, came and begged a draught of this water, which he received, but he had to leave one of his eyes in pawn for it." Bothne continued by inviting everyone to "come and drink of this fountain of entertainment, education, and inspiration. We feel sure that all who come will go away refreshed and happy, convinced that in the household of God the Norsemen are a peculiar people, vowing to be true to their highest ideals." He ended by assuring his audience that "instead of weakening their allegiance to America, the Centennial is certain to make all citizens of Norse blood or birth better Americans than ever before." 1

In many ways, Bothne's letter is a clear example of the ideological legitimation that was at the center of the organizers' narrative construction of Norwegian-American ethnicity. His progressive rhetoric and his ref-

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