Back to Conference Participants Abstract: Growing Up Norwegian in Sunset Park  




"Growing up Norwegian" was not only a question of entering and learning the ways of an immigrant community‹its divisions, its personality, its institutions‹but also of learning its boundaries‹what belonged outside the community, in the world of the neighborhood as a bounded area, and in the wider world of the neighborhood as a bounded area, and in the wider world of the city.
The paper will explore the relationship between these things, from the remembered experience of childhood in the 40s and 50s, and from efforts to revisit these scenes and to understand them from an adult perspective.
I should like to begin with the topography of Bay Ridge/Sunset Park, from the point of view of its fringes, its pathways, its ethnic borderlands, and its zones. Then move to transportation systems, and the way their directional pull defined certain horizons and destinations: the streetcar, the subway, the ferry. How these linked the self both with the tribal‹other people like oneself at a distance‹and the cosmopolitan‹the world of museums, galleries, concerts, great public spaces and anonymity.
Then I should like to explore how I have approached these experiences and memories as an adult‹in reverse as it were‹following the trails back to their source, and explain the reasons‹as a historian, after having collected an archive and taped interviews‹for turning to the writing of fiction as a way to come to terms with this encounter.
I conclude with a comment on the disappearance of the Norwegians from Brooklyn, the few survivors, the meaning of the whole episode.