Monday, November 28, 2005

Ellen Olena Nyeggen

Note: This is my response to recent comments negative to the Hmong community around Oshkosh. I commend those who defended the Hmongs.

Ellen Olena Nyeggen was my maternal grandmother (1892-1937). She was the first-born daughter to a Norwegian immigrant family in rural Spring Valley, Wisconsin. Her middle name 'Olena' is the feminine version of 'Ole'. My grandmother would say: "It's Olena! Never Lena!" She was bilingual and in her parents later years she wrote letters in Norwegian to the relatives back home. I learned from my mother that Ellen could never tolerate a Norwegian slur, or joke. I know children can be brutal and that was the case here. It was the kids in school who taunted the Norwegians about their funny accents, their church, and their clothes.

Who were these kids? I found the answer some years ago in a photograph in a book titled: "Rock Elm Centre ---The First 100yrs". Rock Elm, Wisconsin was her home during her childhood and that is where she went to school. The Photo was a 1910 school picture. Scanning the names of these children I counted 3-Nyeggens and quite a few English sounding names. Three of the kids carried the last name: Ingalls. The Ingalls were the Nyeggens next door neighbors. The Ingall's dad was born in nearby Pepin, Wisconsin a couple months apart from his more famous cousin Laura. They were 10th/11th generation English-Americans. It was the Ingalls and other long time English-Americans who picked on and berated my Norwegian grandmother (and the Germans, the Swiss, the Danes, and the Irish, and all the rest). "Little House in the Big Woods", set just north of Pepin, Wisconsin might be a cute book, but the pain and suffering the non-English newcomers went through was not!
Got Hmongs for neighbors? Get to know them, embrace them and encourage them. They are no different than my Norwegian grandmother.


AngelAiken AKA Thee U.M.O.G said...

Whoohoo! Way to tell it Gary!!

Check out the nortwestern to see the recent letter written to the editor. It is very well written and thought out and talks back to a person who dissed them.

I dont like them, but I would never dare to say anything negative about them. They are humans and we need to embrace our brothers, why must we be so callous even in this day and age of such progress that we can only see colors and differences.

Think Human.


AngelAiken AKA Thee U.M.O.G said...

see, I did say I didnt like them, but I also said that voicing it is not the way. Again, I repeat myself here, we need to embrace our beloved brothers and stop seeing only the color of someones skin or what they wear or if they wear glasses or not.

It's tough, I know but it will make you a bigger man(or woman) to do so.