A while back I wrote about Estonian women of my mother’s generation. This time I thought I would write about some typical second-generation women I have met in the last few years.
These are the ubiquitous women aged “forty-something” or a bit older that we all know who are active in our Estonian-Canadian society’s smaller locations. I suspect that the situation in Toronto is much the same. In short, these are the people, often in the background, that make things work.
You usually find them running summer camps, Estonian language schools, directing choirs, or busy in the kitchens of church basements. Many don’t even have Estonian names anymore or use hyphenated names. Quite a few are married to men of different religious backgrounds, Jewish being fairly common.
The children invariably speak good Estonian. The husbands all look well cared for and contented. They lucked out in life’s matrimonial lottery and married an Estonian woman. Some appear to be a bit harried trying to keep up with the ball of energy they live with. You often spot them in process of unloading a kringel or some other such food item for the buffet table from the car under close supervision. Quite often one hears words such as kiiresti! and ole ettevaatlik! They seem to understand — but don’t seem bothered in the least.
What is surprising is that some of these women were not welcome in the past. I recall talking to one woman who left Estonia during the Soviet era having married a Canadian Estonian. When she arrived here she was essentially ostracized and looked on with great suspicion. Some people even went so far as to ask her directly what assignment she had been given by the KGB. Another had her high level of education at a world-renowned university trivialized because it was a “Soviet” doctorate.
Others that married men with non-Estonian backgrounds faced disapproval given the prevailing view among many of the older generation that mixed marriages were almost traitorous. I recall my parents telling me about a wedding they went to where the bride’s uncle gave a real isamaalik speech entirely in Estonian culminating with the thundering accusation translated as “and what did you do with Estonia’s gold?”
I think that some of these women in their wild youth even managed to visit Soviet Estonia when this was strictly forbidden by many of our community leaders. I am not aware of any that were brainwashed, just the opposite.
So time moves on and our society has changed, albeit slowly. The problem with the older generation was — and sometimes continues to be — that many were reluctant to arrange orderly succession. In their minds the second generation were always children, never mind the fact that many of them were well into middle age.
Thank goodness, we seem to have managed to overcome this and have moved on. At least in the smaller centres that I am familiar with.
One of these women, who would prefer to remain anonymous, wrote to me and said that she preferred a feminine approach to offering Estonian activities. In her mind it’s about nurturing, connecting, creating in small a comforting ways. Food is key, as is reaching out to build welcoming and inclusive personal relationships. So much of what happened in Estonian expatriate communities here in the 1950’s and afterward was, in her opinion, extremely patriarchal. There was a strong military component to everything: declaring enemies, fighting, winning, maintaining control, competing, adhering to mission and duty, marching in step with banners fluttering, and in the process excluding those who didn’t measure up.
So there you have it. Another article about Estonian women, and something to think about.
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