Andris Straumanis (University of Wisconsin-River Falls)
In recent years, scholarly interest has grown in diaspora-homeland relations, especially in the case of post-Communist nations and in regard to late-twentieth-century migrations. During the twenty years of Latvia’s renewed independence, various official and nongovernmental organizations have attempted—with varying degrees of success—to reach out to the diaspora to foster links to the homeland and to help maintain cultural identity abroad. While it may not provide any lessons for today, this paper examines a similar effort that was attempted from 1924-1928 by the Latvian Cultural Promotion and Aid Society for Latvians Abroad (Latvju kultūras veicināšanas un palīdzības biedrība latvjiem ārzemēs). This nongovernmental organization planned to publish a monthly newsletter and to arrange for periodicals and books to be sent to Latvian communities in countries such as Brazil, China, Estonia, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Thought was given to organizing cultural excursions to those “colonies,” as well as inviting Latvians abroad to visit the homeland. However, within two years of its founding the society ran into a number of problems: lack of government support, declining interest from existing and potential members, evidence of disunity in some of the far-flung communities that could be served by the group, and a personal scandal involving the organization’s chairman. In the end, the society seemed doomed to fail. However, its archive offers a look at the desires and struggles of some early twentieth-century Latvian communities abroad to maintain their ethnic identity, a theme that resonates today.