By Matt Johnson
Valkommen till vart hem! This means “Welcolm to our home!” I would hear this every so often from my grandmother during my boyhood years. I learned a few words here and there. Most importantly, I learned that when I was a young man of age 4, I looked like I just got off the boat from Sweden (picture forth coming). Grandma would tell me that over and over again. Grandma was proud of our Swedish heritage. She would tell me stories about what it was like being around people who spoke Swedish 24/7. She would explain to me that the same was true for my grandfather. Unfortunately, I lost my grandfather at the age of 4. He was not only the grandson of Sven Alfred, but he was, and still is, that one, special person to me. I will explain in greater detail in a later posting.
When I was a boy, my grandmother would make a hot dish when ever I visited her. My favorite was the tater tot hot dish with swedish meatballs and scalloped corn on the side. No body can make swedish meatballs like my grandmother except my great aunt Ida (daughter of Sven Alfred and Betsy). Aunt Ida was a master cook, a master aunt, and a master at being a kind person. She loved her Swedish family. She was a strong woman with a commanding presence. I respected and adored her greatly. She had incredible substance and she had quite a personality. She was warm, funny, and I will always remember her smile and her hugs. She was also empathetic, but not to fault. She maintained her boundaries, which is why I often remember her as the Johnson matriarch. I am very sure that she is one of the main reasons why I respect and have zero problem with female authority. She had quite an infuence on me.
The other person I must introduce to you is my great uncle Paul. He also influenced me greatly. Besides his wonderful and witty personality, he had a thick Swedish accent, and boy was it really cool to listen to. I could have listened to him all day and there were times where I thought I was going to pull off that feat. A typical engagement between my uncle and I always started off with him speaking Swedish to me. He spoke four languages – Swedish, German, Finnish, and English – and would test me to see if I could understand the differences between the languages. I shall remain humble and decline from sharing with you if I could or could not answer correctly. But I will say this, he was always pleased with my responses and was not at all surprised with my knack for differentiation. And as you can see from the photo, Uncle Paul enjoyed shaking hands and mingling with people, and people enjoyed shaking hands and mingling with him. He always had a smile and liked to dish out a few jokes here and there. He once told me, at the age of 91, that he was too young to get married. He was also very proud of his volunteer work. He volunteered at a senior home. Indeed he was full of confidence.
Brittany Gaura, one of my fellow students heading to Sweden with me, has asked me a few times, and I must say I appreciate her enthusiasm and consistency, “Matt! You excited for Sweden?!” To answer Brittany’s question honestly, the reader must know that I have been quite reserved in my response to her question. In short, I am excited to go. In fact, I have been waiting for this opportunity for my entire life. And when I say my entire life, I mean my entire life. However, I do not yet believe it. I suppose that may happen when I set foot on Scandinavian soil.
An event like this is a big deal for my family; it is a big deal for me. Because of the anecdotes of what it means to be Swedish from my familial influences, my family elders – my grandmother, my Aunt Ida, and my Uncle Paul – it is with a bit of anxiety that I proceed on this pilgrimage. Some thoughts have crossed my mind during this preparation period. Will the modern Swedes live up to the values of the Swedes of my family – the 19th century Swedes who migrated from Sweden to the United States? What will happen if they do live up to my expectations? Will I embrace the culture and adopt Sweden as a second home? In other words, will I find cultural continuity in my observations and interactions with the Sweden of the 21st century and set forth on a deeper quest for intimacy with Sweden and my ancestral nordic brothers and sisters? Or will I find none of these things? Or will I find something in between? Ultimately, what will all of this mean for me? What will it mean for my family? What will it mean for my children (Yes, Gick! That is still on the table)? What will it mean for my career as an urban dynamicist – a systems scientist? What will it mean for my social justice writings and criticisms or praises of the history of the United States and its current state of social justice progress or lack thereof?
It should be known that hundreds of thousands of Swedes immigrated to the Americas in the middle to late 19th century because of the lack of upward mobility in Sweden. They, along with Sven and his brothers and sisters, saw opportunity in the new, “shiny” country called the United States. This meant of course that Sweden lacked these opportunities for upward mobility. But today, and in many ways, it is an example of social mobility and economic opportunity. Sweden has an impressive middle class and its parliament is generally approximately 50 percent women and 50 percent men. Modern Sweden is indeed not perfect, but needless to say, it is quite a different country from the one Sven left almost 150 years ago.
Indeed, Sweden has a lot to live up to. My Aunt and Uncle set the bar high; hell, my family set the bar high. But I do not see an impossible endeavor. If I find things that I do not like about Sweden, it will allow me to look for those same characteristics or traits in my family and within myself, introspectively (I will discuss cultural continuity from time to time). My family is certainly not perfect. We have our faults. But as my family has changed and adapted over time, so has Sweden. This is why I have faith in Sweden. Although she indeed at one point helped to facilitate the emigration of hundreds and thousands of Swedes because of the lack of social and economic upward mobility, it appears that she responded in kind and helped to facilitate the modern equal and equitable environment that exists in Sweden today. So it is with these things in mind that I set off on my journey into the undiscovered country of my ancestral, nordic land.