Each time I tell people where my family is from, they expect me to be able to speak Swedish perfectly (an assumption aided by my Scandinavian appearance). I disappoint every time as I only understand Swedish; I do not speak it. When those who can speak try to have a conversation in Swedish and learn I can only respond in English, an almost condescending look crosses their faces. The same goes for Americans: They ask me to say something in Swedish, and when all I say is “hej” or some other simple word, that connection to my Swedish roots snaps.
I struggle with trying to keep that connection strong, no matter how well I can or cannot speak Swedish. Throughout these experiences, I have learned that only I can decide my identity because if left up to others, it would constantly change.
This leads to the question: Who am I? I have a passport that says “Swedish” and another passport that says “American.” I have a mother who says “Swedish” and a father who says “American.” Considering that I live in the United States, I tend to take on an American identity. However, something deep within me calls for a Swedish identity, and I cannot help but long to reconnect with those roots. Similar yet different, Swedish and American cultures awaken a desire in me to celebrate each unique aspect of them.
Growing up in the United States with dual citizenship has its pros and cons, and it leaves some with the tough decision of making sense of our identities. When a major holiday or celebration rolls around, the variation in traditions become all the more apparent. During Easter, my grandmother—Mormor—sends a "glad påsk" card and sometimes a recipe for a cake she just baked. For her, Easter, along with other holidays, is about bringing the family together and enjoying each other’s company. Looking at the traditions of Easter in Sweden, most Americans would compare it to Halloween, with a twist. The children dress up as “påsk-kärringar” witches and knock on people’s doors, wishing them “glad påsk” and asking for candy. Then the family feasts together on a smörgåsbord with many cultural delicacies.
Relating back to Pagan beliefs, traditions such as these reflect how the Swedish Easter remains more an opportunity to spend time with family and feast together, as opposed to the more religious aspects associated with American Easter celebrations.
However, even the more religion-based Easter has begun to splinter off from those original intentions. Here in America, holidays for many families have shifted into a way to spend money. Easter has lost much of its cultural value; multicolored rabbits and chickens dominate store displays. Religious or sentimental meaning to it has nearly disappeared. This theme spills over to the beloved holiday of Christmas, as well. While here in America kids look forward to receiving the biggest and best presents, in Sweden, the holidays draw more on the idea of bringing together the family. Unfortunately, this trend of commercializing holidays is increasing greatly in magnitude in both countries. Thus, looking at how Sweden remains less affected by this trend, I find myself drawn closer to Sweden.
Determining an identity stands as one of the more difficult feats, and many questions arise when figuring this out. In truth, no response can ever truly answer the question of “who am I?” Ever-changing and fluid in nature, one can never accurately pin down identity. For me, I am both Swedish and American. Although I live a mostly-American lifestyle, I will never let my Swedish roots die. The differences in cultures encourage us to recognize and celebrate each and every special aspect of those cultures, setting a challenge to keep the uniqueness alive.

By Beatrice Rodewald


Beatrice Rodewald is a young writer and citizen of two countries, maybe three—Sweden and the United States along with Swedish America in the middle. True to her bicultural roots she has also contributed to magazines such as SWEA International. Although she lives in Florida, she is a citizen of both Sweden and the United States. Her grandparents live in Sweden, where she frequently visits and learns about her cultural heritage. At her home in Florida, she writes stories, takes pictures, and plays volleyball.