Latvia and it’s capitol, Riga, are a long way from the Pacific NW. There are about 2 million people in the tiny, but fiercely independent nation. Only roughly half are Latvian. The others are largely unwelcome ethnic Russians given the keys to the country by Stalin not long after WWI. With perestroika, glasnost, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ancient Latvian people are once again free from tyranny and Communist oppression. What makes this miracle all the more amazing for a fertile, but flat land devoid of natural barriers to invading armies from its much larger neighbors, is only 1 in every 7,000 people on the planet is a Latvian speaking native–an ancient people long predating the Russians themselves and a virtual endangered ‘species’.
The Latvian people’s antipathy toward their ethnic immigrant Russian interlopers might be more easily understood given their recent WWII hardships caught between the Communists to the east and the Nazis to the west. Their love for their land, their language, their heritage, traditions, history, culture and, above all, their children, stands as a remarkable example of courage in the face of adversity.
In the wake of WWII, those Latvian refugees who survived became part of a diaspora. Many struggled to arrive in the U.S. where they remain today. Although they left their home thousands of miles away, they continue to maintain a bond to their kin and countrymen. They encourage their children, 2nd and 3rd generation Latvians, to do the same. Part of this article of faith resides in the Latvian Village (KURSA) situated a few miles outside of Shelton, WA, abutting a large parcel where State Prisoners are housed in a penal/corrections institution. For all that, the Latvian Village property is beautiful, lush, and covered with firs, a lake, streams, and a climate somewhat milder, but reminiscent of the home they were forced to leave behind. Some still make pilgrimages to Latvia to attend cultural festivals. Those who cannot manage that expense often send their children for several weeks to the Latvian Village summer camp held exclusively to promote the Latvian language (related to Sanskrit and believed to have migrated up the Indus valley thousands of years ago), their ancient tribal history, customs, dress, dance, and music.
Through the magic of modern multimedia communication technology, you can see, hear, and perhaps feel some of the bright spirit with which they imbue their children, hoping to preserve what is precious in both.
The video clips posted on Youtube are from the culminating event/performance of the KURSA dance/music festival from which children are ultimately awarded a graduation certificate after years of summer attendance, work, and the fun of each other’s company as kindred spirits. HD DVD’s of the performance and snaps may be purchased from Maija Reikstins, the Latvian Village music director. All proceeds will go to the Latvian Village only and scholarships for the Latvian children who could not otherwise attend.
A full Latvian:English translation of the lyrics, as well as links to a slide show of snaps taken at the event can be found at: amicuscuria.com/wordpress
The first of the clip is largely the invocation, prayer, awards of recognition, diplomas, acknowledgments, and attributions of those who made the event possible and participated. The children’s names can be heard. The spelling of the same is beyond my ken as I don’t speak the language.
It’s self evident the camp building used to host this event was not a studio. Hence, the lighting is difficult, hard to reach, and the fire exit signs need a bag over their heads during the performance. Some concessions were made to the photographer why blacking out the windows and doors which would have back lit the subjects. There were too many folding metal chairs unnecessarily within the frames, but the children were universally beautiful and gave a stunning performance for all of only 3-weeks they had to learn a language in which they were not fluent. Thus, except in the dance numbers, their eyes (and windows to their souls) are averted downward to read the Latvian songs they perform. There were many tears and hugs at the end while they bid their goodbyes to one another. Norman Rockwell could scarcely have created a warmer ambiance for his subjects. Roll over, Beethoven!…all this heartfelt goodness is available to you only through your local Latvian Village, right here in the woodsy glens of Mason County.