I grew up learning about Latvia as a child from the many stories told to me by my parents and grandparents. Although Latvian was my first language, and being me was all about being Latvian, Latvia in my young mind was still some "far off land." Still, it was the land of my heritage, and I thought I knew what to expect when I finally arrived.
Nothing could have been farther from the truth. My first trip, at 16, was in 1977 during Soviet times. I was amazed at the big differences: What do you mean, I can't take pictures of bridges and airports? And surprised at the little ones: Drink something called Kvass that looks and smells like sewer water? I don't think so!
But the biggest personal impact from my first trip was all about family. So, while I hope to provide at least a minor contribution to our picture gallery—Peters is the photographer in the family—I'll begin with my first impressions and the awe of meeting so many relatives.
Our Trips Together
My experiences growing up Latvian were very much about being Latvian. Whenever I'd take a standardized test and get to the racial and ethnic origin boxes, I would pick "OTHER" and neatly pencil in "LATVIAN." In Sunday school, I learned Latvian geography, history, literature and poetry. But it was the magical stories—like the time my grandfather was repairing the windmill’s sails and fell off!—that brought me closest to Latvia. It was a proud and wondrous land which might someday be free again. But that was not a day my mother or I would ever see or take part in. (My father had passed away when I was only seven.)
Suddenly, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, that all changed. My mother spent a year packing for our trip—my first time ever, and my mother's first chance to see her family in half a century.
Sadly, most of her generation passed on, never to see Latvia free again.
The rose colored glasses came off, but my voyage into my family's heritage and the effect of simply being there have proven even more magical than those tales from my youth.