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December 3, 2010

A Heart Connects Us

Filed under: History, Immigration — regana @ 10:10 am

phpSmEJwGLeaving a life behind—and then struggling to keep in touch with loved ones: immigration is a wrenching change, and the letters between family members give a moving and intimate view of the process.

Latvians Edward Paikens and his mother, Anna, were the only members of their family to survive World War II. After the war, he immigrated to Minnesota from a displaced persons camp in Germany; she stayed behind in Latvia, unable to leave. He wrote in 1957 to assure her that he had no objections to her remarriage: “I am happy that you will be able to find a spouse for the latter half of your life . . . As you have mentioned it in your letters several times, we don’t have much hope to meet again.”

This letter and thirty-nine others are now available online in “A Heart Connects Us: Immigrant Letters and the Experience of Migration,” a pilot project sponsored by the Immigration History Resource Center at the University of Minnesota. Correspondence between eight non-English speaking immigrants and those they left behind, with English translations, opens the project. But surviving letters usually show only one side of the correspondence. The project’s organizers hope to find the missing letters in archives around the world, reuniting the stories of families and communities.

You can look at some letters for yourself, listen to Minnesota Public Radio’s story on the collection, and read more about Minnesota’s immigrants, either in our classic 1981 work, They Chose Minnesota: A Survey of the State’s Ethnic Groups, or in our People of Minnesota series, which includes books on the Norwegians, Swedes, Germans, Irish, Jews, African Americans, Mexicans, Poles, Chinese, and Hmong, as well as the Ojibwe, whose immigration story took place much earlier.

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