The first Latvians arrived in the United States in the mid-1800’s. Initially their numbers were small, but they did manage to establish a number of churches and clubs, some of which are still in existence in Boston and Philadelphia.
Around 1905, as civil unrest spread through Eastern Europe, thousands of additional Latvians fled from government repressions and found their way to the United States. After World War I and the establishment of Latvia as an independent nation, some of these immigrants repatriated, but many also stayed. In this era of the “American melting pot”, this group of Latvians and their children assimilated rapidly into American society. Yet to this day, it is not uncommon to run into people who remember that their grandfather or grandmother came from Latvia.
The largest wave of Latvian immigrants came to the United States after World War II. Having suffered through a brutal Soviet occupation, followed by an equally brutal Nazi occupation and faced with a renewed Soviet occupation, hundreds of thousands of Latvians fled for their lives, leaving everything behind. After spending years in European refugee camps many of them were able to immigrate to the USA in the early 1950’s. Through hard work and an almost obsessive drive to educate their children, this generation succeeded in starting new and productive lives. There are now many Latvian Americans who hold responsible positions in business, academia, government and the arts. Many Latvian Americans have served in the US Armed Forces and have fought in Korea, Viet Nam, Desert Storm and other conflicts. Also noteworthy is the fact that the Latvian American community of today, while proud to be American, has kept alive its Latvian cultural heritage with many a second, third or fourth generation person able to converse in the Latvian language.
Since Latvia regained its independence in 1991, several thousand additional Latvians have come to the United States to study or to immigrate. ALA welcomes them as a valuable addition to our Latvian American community.