From 21 to 24 October 2021, Chicago hosted the 70th anniversary Congress of the American Latvian Association (ALA), with participation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, Edgars Rinkēvičs.
This year sees 70 years since the establishment of the American Latvian Association, which brings together and represents about 100,000 Latvian across the United States, the Foreign Minister noted. He said he was honoured to be present at the historic occasion and take part in the work of the congress at the time when the achievements are to be evaluated and goals set for the coming years. Throughout its history, ALA has sustained and consolidated the Latvian community in America by taking care to preserve the Latvian language and culture, promote insights into Latvia’s history and provide support for Latvia in its efforts to be a democratic, law-based and secure country, Edgars Rinkēvičs said in his congratulatory address.
The Latvian Foreign Minister drew attention to ALA’s major role in keeping alive the idea of Latvia’s independence throughout the long years of occupation and in the restoration of Latvia’s independence. ALA has always been an important ally, supporter and partner to Latvia in pursuit of our common goals. You have helped us with advice, the Minister said, during the period of national awakening, supporting the fight for the restoration of Latvia’s independence and withdrawal of the Russian army from the territory of Latvia. He thanked in particular for the efforts invested in promoting the accession of Latvia to NATO and ensure a sustained support from the U.S. government for Latvia’s security and defence.
The Minister noted that the present year had been deeply painful due to the passing of people whose contribution to the development of the Latvian state and nation had been invaluable. He mentioned Anita Tērauda, the long-standing ALA General Secretary; Jānis Kukainis, the long-standing board chairman of the World Federation of Free Latvians, ALA, and the Joint Baltic American National Committee, as well as Ojārs Kalniņš, an outstanding diplomat, public figure and politician. They were true patriots of Latvia, selfless supporters of their country. We shall miss their advice, passion for life, and optimism, the Latvian Foreign Minister underlined.
Edgars Rinkēvičs thanked every ALA member for their selfless work on a daily basis to maintain and bring together the Latvian community, preserve the Latvian language and culture, as well as providing a major contribution to the development of Latvia’s economy.
The world is becoming increasingly unpredictable, with China, Russia and economic commotion caused by the pandemic making small countries to be on the alert, the Minister warned. He noted that Latvia’s cooperation and friendship with its ally, the United States, remains of special importance, and the U.S. is a friend to Europe, although everybody do not always regard that as self-evident. From my perspective, one of the aims of the American Latvian Association should be to engage with the new generation of U.S. politicians, reminding them of us, of Europe, Edgars Rinkēvičs said in his remarks.
The Foreign Minister also highlighted the active involvement of ALA in promoting business cooperation between Latvia and the U.S., and economic development. For instance, the American Chamber in Latvia has been operating with success, the Latvian Honorary Consuls are active in the U.S., economic cooperation forums are organised on a regular basis, with the most prominent of them being the World Latvian Economics and Innovations Forum. We do not know what the world will look like in ten years; however, during those geopolitical upheavals, we must safeguard our country and make it stronger, Edgars Rinkēvičs said at the conclusion.
The Foreign Minister presented a Certificate of Commendation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the long-standing President of the ALA Board of Directors, Pēteris Blumbergs. For more than 20 years, Pēteris Blumbergs has been one of the most active members of the Latvian community in America, who has contributed considerably not only to the development of the Latvian American community and strengthening its links with Latvia but also fostering the relations between Latvia and the United States.
Edgars Rinkēvičs also took part in a round table discussion as part of the Emerging Leaders Program of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Earlier, on 21 October, the Foreign Minister visited Northwestern University and joined a round table on the relations between the European Union and NATO, and the future of the transatlantic link.
The American Latvian Association (ALA) is the main representative organization for the Latvian American community of about 100,000 people. The ALA President and Board Chair since 2015 has been Pēteris Blumbergs. ALA was established in 1950 in Washington, DC, by Latvians who had arrived in the United States from displaced persons’ camps in Germany and other European countries after World War II – in total, 115 delegates. They represented Latvian organisations and churches in the U.S., comprising 11,260 Latvians at that time. One of the initiators of ALA and a chair of the founding congress was the Latvian Envoy to the U.S. during the inter-war period, diplomat and lawyer, Jūlijs Feldmanis.
Since its inception, ALA has supported and kept together the Latvian community, has taken care to preserve the Latvian language and culture, promoted interest in Latvia’s history as well as providing support for Latvia’s efforts to be a democratic, law-based and secure country. ALA is funding and supporting the work of the Joint Baltic American National Committee and member organisations of the World Federation of Free Latvians. ALA currently comprises over 160 member organizations – associations, churches, and cultural organisations with more 5,000 individual members of Latvian descent from all the states in the U.S., and it functions as a non-profit charitable organisation.