words and images by mk swanson
Exploring My Swedish (In)Side

Exploring My Swedish (In)Side

Farmers, serfs, peasants, torps, the sons and the dottirs, setting out from Korsberga, Jönköpings län, Småland, boarding boats in Gothenburg, passing through ports like New York, and then to Knox, preceded in the two previous decades by fifteen thousand cousins.

Magnus, Eva, Christina, Fredrik, and Carl, then Anders and Sven—together and separately, reborn Americans, rechristened Swansons, named after their grandfather, Sven Zachrisson and not their father. We could have been the Magnusons, the great, grand, wide-shouldered, big-voiced, wide foreheaded lot of us, all Magnus-sons and dottirs. Instead, we were after the Swan, the angry, trumpeting and sometimes silent longbird who sails only the pond, and not the ocean.

Our characteristics, inherited: stoicisim and rage; imagination and paranoia; a cast iron stomach and dysphagia; a strong back and a crippled gait.

We choke on everything we are asked to swallow—cut off from our past, without the language of a thousand years, our throats close over words we can’t say.

There is no family history to tell me why we are who we are. Our Swedes left the old country behind and the language and the heritage. I ignored it, too, partly because my father did, but also because Swedes seemed simple and dull. The blonde hair, the young face, the bow lips were all I had, and all I cared for.

Magnus and Eva (and Ola and Ingar Johnson, too) left Småland behind without a backward glance. Endless hunger in service had broken them of their love for home. Their new country was big, and they moved over it like lords of creation. When Chicago lost its bloom, they sailed to the land of flowers, oranges, sawmills, and ferneries.

They reinvented. They tried to let the past be the past.

But it rises up.

My Swedish Outside