What it means to be an American

July 5, 2012

Henrik Lidman considers himself one of the most patriotic foreigners in Mason County

By Rob Alway

Editor-in-Chief

For the past three weeks my cousins have been visiting from The Netherlands. Rita, the daughter of my aunt, visited the United States 16 years ago, but only for a few days – she wanted to see our grandmother before she passed away. Rita’s husband, Henk, had never been to the U.S. and quite frankly didn’t have much interest in coming here.

Hearing what someone from another country has to say about the United States is interesting. Rita and Henk enjoyed their visit very much and discovered a place with beautiful scenery, clean towns and friendly people who take great pride in their nation.

Their visit was purposefully planned to center around the Fourth of July. My brother and his wife, their hosts, wanted them to experience America’s most sacred holiday.

I have grown up in a family of immigrants. My mother came to the United States when she was 15, along with her parents, an older sister and a younger brother. They were joined shortly by another sister and her husband and two children. A married daughter and a married son stayed in The Netherlands.

While we were walking around what used to be my grandparent’s home on North Campbell Road, Rita and I talked about what being an American meant to my grandfather. Jake Vander Haag was very much a Dutchman. There are stories about him walking into the old Walt’s Lunchroom in Scottville wearing his wooden shoes.

He and my grandmother, Elizabeth, immigrated here when they were in their ’40s. He never embraced the English language too well, but he sure tried. But, whether he spoke English well or not was not important. My grandfather was proud to be an American.

My grandparents would frequently re-visit “the old country.” Rita said he would often tell her that she needed to pack up her stuff and move to the U.S. “He would always point out how everybody lives so close together in Holland and how there is so much space in America,” Rita said.

The visit from Henk and Rita, along with the Independence Day holiday, has given me some time to reflect on what it means to be an American.

I think those of us who live here sometimes take for granted what we truly have here. So, I asked a couple other immigrants what they think about this country.

My friend and pastor, Henrik Lidman, dubs himself as “the most patriotic foreigner in Mason County.” I’m sure others may argue that with him, and I sure hope they do. But, Henrik loves this country.

He first came to the U.S. from Sweden in 1989 with Youth With a Mission in Texas. There, he met an American girl from Ludington, Michigan, and that changed the course of his life. They eventually married and moved back to Sweden. But, in 1997 they came back to the U.S.

“America provides freedom and opportunity,” Henrik told me. “The limitations I have are put on by me, not by any government or culture. The core of the United States is that this is a land of opportunity. I think that’s why Americans, to this day, are intrigued, by the little guy who makes it big. We celebrate athletes or business people who come from nothing and make something of themselves. People like Steve Jobs. They are people who live the American dream.

“In Sweden we have a lot of freedom but there’s always a tendency to blame the system if you don’t succeed.”

Henrik plans on getting his citizenship sometime in the very near future. Raising a family and building a career took priority. Three years ago he became Senior Pastor of Prayer and Praise Assembly of God, living the American dream.

Lars Kvalvaag was born in Norway. His father is Norwegian and his mother is American. His family immigrated here when Lars was 6-years-old. Today, he owns and operates Redolencia Coffee Shop in downtown Ludington. He holds dual citizenship with both countries.

“There is the opportunity to work hard in America and ascend,” Lars said. “Everybody wants it to be better for their kids. That’s what my dad wants for me. He wants to see all of his kids succeed.

“We started out as dairy farmers in Norway. My family owns thousands of acres, including mountains. When my dad came here, he had degrees in agriculture and marine biology, but they didn’t transfer as bachelor’s degrees. So, he had to start all over. While working 70 hours a week as a truck driver, he got his bachelor’s degree and then a master’s in business administration. He’s worked very hard and just recently earned his citizenship. I’m very proud of him.”

Lars said being raised in an immigrant family has given him a very different perspective of America than many others. As a child, he was always aware that there was more to the world than just the U.S.

“I think that perspective really helped me when I was growing up. It makes you realize how big the world is. When you’re facing the things most everyone faces when you grow up, it’s not a big deal because you know the world is so much bigger.”

For the past few days I considered the words and observations of my two friends and my cousins. Tuesday night, while performing with the Scottville Clown Band at the annual patriotic concert, I tried to put myself in a foreigner’s shoes and observed the crowd and its emotions at different moments.

Rita observed the concert was very patriotic, at times serious and at times very fun and funny.

This is America. We don’t always take ourselves too serious but when the time comes, we all stand up and salute our flag in our own way. We pay tribute to those who sacrificed for this great country, whether through military service, community service or some other way.

We might complain about our government, our leaders and paying taxes, but it’s an internal thing. Others better leave us alone and not try to change who we are.

God bless you, America, and God bless each and everyone of you for what you do.

 

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