Jen Rowley

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I sat with this project for months! I struggled to find the visual story of what I wanted to convey about my family's immigrant experiences. Like many, there are stories of struggle and loss, tenacity and triumph. And I mulled over those stories, over and over again and just couldn't put my finger on what I wanted to convey. But finally, it came to me. Immigrants have to leave so much behind--their culture, people they love, favorite foods, animals, beloved homes and landscapes, and, often, lastly, their language. And it was a story surrounding this loss of language that ended up being the inspiration for my panel. My great grandparents settled on the plains of Northwestern Minnesota (insert image of vast prairies and birch forests here!). My grandmother's brother began school at the county's one room schoolhouse. He came home from school upset because he was being teased for only speaking Swedish. My great-grandfather, upon hearing that, said the words I put on my panel--"From today forward, we speak only English in this house". That story seems rather innocuous in light of so many of the other struggles they endured, but it spoke to the heart of what I was feeling...that at some point, the struggle of immigrating is past and now the individuals are faced with truly starting a new life in their new home. And that requires more loss...in this case, the loss of language. Yes, a person can continue speaking their mother tongue between family, friends, neighbors, but in order to really embrace a new culture and country, language is what opens doors, provides new experiences and opportunities and helps us connect, build community. I can't help but wonder if it was at that point that my great grandfather and great grandmother truly made that choice to stay, to build a life, to give their children the gift of a new culture through the loss of their own.