Latvian Americans

Latvian Americans
Amerikas latvieši
Total population
(93,498 (2008 American Community Survey)[1])
Regions with significant populations
California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota
American English, Latvian
Related ethnic groups
Lithuanian Americans

Latvian Americans are Americans who are of Latvian ancestry. According to the 2008 American Community Survey, there are 93,498 Americans of full or partial Latvian descent.


Around 1640, Latvians settled in Delaware and Pennsylvania, together with Scandinavian settlers. Later, in 1849, a number of Latvians were part of the thousands of people who immigrated to California looking for fortune during the Gold Rush.

However, the first significant wave of Latvian settlers that immigrated to the United States came in 1888 to Boston. By the end of century, those Latvians immigrants settled primarily in other East Coast and Midwest cities, such as New York City, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Chicago, as well as in some cities on the West Coast, such as Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. Some immigrants also established themselves in rural areas, although they were few and usually did not form long-lasting communities. Although most Latvians settle in cities, in most of these (with the exception of the Roxbury district of Boston) the Latvians were also few and they not could form ethnic neighborhoods. The first Lutheran church built by Latvians in the United States was erected in Lincoln County, where there was a Lithuanian agricultural colony that disappeared due to climatic and political problems of its members, in Wisconsin in 1906.

A new wave of Latvian immigration began around 1906, after the failure of their 1905 Revolution in Latvia. Many of the immigrants were political leaders and rank-and-file revolutionaries who could be killed by Russian soldiers if they were discovered, so they decided emigrate and to continue the revolutionary movement in other countries. Due to that most of the Latvians revolutionaries who immigrated in the United States were more politically radical than the earlier Latvian immigrants, reattached divisions even among the leftists themselves.

In 1917, many Latvian Revolutionaries went back to Latvia to work in the creation of a Bolshevik government, and in 1918, when Latvia declared its independence, some nationalists also went back.

After this period during which thousands of Latvians immigrated to the United States, in the 1920s and 1930s with the promise of economic improvements in Latvia, due to the immigration quotas of United States established in 1924 that limited the number of Latvians and other immigrants who could settle in this country, and due to the Great Depression in the United States—immigration was generally discouraged, so there was little Latvian immigration. After World War II many Latvian refugees fleeing the Soviet Union, were established in other European countries. However, about half were eventually repatriated to Latvia, being the rest repatriated in Germany, England, Australia, Canada, United States and in other countries. From 1949 to 1951, 40,000 Latvians immigrated to the United States with the help of the U.S. government and various social service and religious organizations. Although many of these refugees had been professionals in their country, in United States they often had jobs as farmhands, custodians, or builders until they could find better paying jobs.

Most Latvians settled in cities, such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago. As with the Old Latvians, the most of the new Latvians, could not create neighborhoods and had to rely on social events and on the press for a sense of community. Within a few years, Latvian organizations managed to create schools, credit unions, choirs, dance groups, theater troupes, publishers and book sellers, churches, veterans' groups, and political organizations. From 1980 to 1990, 1,006 Latvians arrived in the United States.

Latvia became reestablished as an independent country in 1991, however, few have returned.[2]


According to the 2000 census, a total of 87,564 people of Latvian descent live in the United States. There are larger populations in the states of California, New York, Illinois, Florida and Michigan. Many Latvian Americans (about 9,000) have dual citizenship, which became available to Latvians who emigrated after the reestablishment of independence. Also, many often travel to Latvia and provide financial support and give material to various organizations. Some Latvian Americans have been elected to the Saeima, or Parliament, in Latvia.[2]

The states with the largest Latvian-American populations are:

California   11,443
New York 9,937
Illinois 6,982
Florida 4,921
Michigan 4,265
Massachusetts 4,706
New Jersey 3,946
Pennsylvania 3,754
Washington 3,380
Maryland 3,289
Ohio 2,362


Most of the Old Latvians, although recognizing the importance of education, did not appear to want or to be able to afford college degrees. Thus, in 1911 only two individuals had obtained American university degrees.

The majority of Latvians emigrants to the United States after World War II were university graduates. Many were academics or belonged to intelligentsia.[2]

Languages and religions

Most Latvian Americans speak English, while Latvian (also known as Lettish) is basically the language spoken by American Latvians of the first generation due to intermarriage. As for religion, although most Latvians Americans are Lutherans, there are also small Catholic communities, Represented by the American Latvian Catholic Association.[2] There is also a sizable American-Latvian Jewish community.

Notable Latvian Americans

See also

Notes and references

  1. 2008 American Community Survey
  2. 1 2 3 4 Latvian Americans. Posted by Andris Straumanis.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "Latvia's Famous People". Retrieved September 23, 2013.
  4. Noted as one of several Latvian Americans at ; "the only son (four sisters) to parents of Danish-German and Latvian extraction"
  7. "Latvian Art in Exile," The Latvian Institute (2008), Elizabetes iela 57, Rīga, LV 1050, LATVIA.
  8. Daughter of Latvian refugees receives top technological award at White House

Further reading

External links

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