Text: Naomi Shimada
Photography: Stephen Thomas-Dorin
University of Pittsburgh student Lovisa Ljungqvist Brinson is one of the models this year for the Spirit Fashion Show. She is an intended Neuroscience (Premed) major with minors in Chemistry and Swedish. Ljungqvist Brinson is Swedish, and it is a big part of her identity.
My culture is who I am. That is such a cliché but it’s true. My mother taught me to love Sweden and Swedish culture. We travel there every year to visit family and I miss it when I return. Each holiday, whether in the States or abroad, has Swedish influence (other than maybe Thanksgiving and Halloween). I feel odd celebrating them a different way, I would not feel whole otherwise. Each time I open my mouth or say my name I cannot hide that I am Swedish. If one would ask my friends to describe me in a few words they would not leave out that I am Swedish. To sum it up, the Swedish culture embodies me. When my mother instilled the Swedish culture into my life, it made me who I am today.
Ljungqvist Brinson doesn’t identify only as Swedish, though. She still feels like an American.
"I also connect with my heritage in the United States. I have caught on to saying "y'all" due to my Southern roots, but I do not consider myself Southern as I have never lived there, only visited due to family as well. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania but travel to NYC frequently. So there is the culture of country PA (rustic, nature-loving, and possibly a bit hillbilly-like) and the attitude of the city (productive, innovative, and fashion-loving). I tend to pick and choose which culture I identify with depending on whether it is more advantageous to identify with the States' or Sweden's (and it is progressively getting more so to identify with Sweden in terms of human rights and politics). But, I believe all of them have definitely created who I am today."
Through things like traditions, Ljungqvist Brinson maintains ties with her Swedish background. Traditions and celebrations, says Ljungqvist Brinson, are what connect her to Sweden and her Swedish culture.
"The majority of traditions that I believe build my identity are the Swedish traditions that my mother has brought over. Christmas decorations are different, we have the "Julbock", which is a goat made of straw and advent candles which sit in moss with little red mushrooms with white dots on top. There are "tomten" (the equivalence of elves) scattered around the house. During December we also have "Santa Lucia" which is a celebration of light and love. The eldest young woman in the house (which was myself) dressed up in a white gown and a thick red sash and donned a crown of candles to sing to the house. We invite friends over for the celebration and singing. During Easter we have a giant bonfire and all stand around it. Little girls dress up as "Easter witches", having a bonnet, red cheeks and freckles, and a flying broomstick. They go around and give people painted eggs with candy inside of them. We also dress up as Spring Maidens and roosters as well. It's all very Pagan. During the Summer Solstice there is another celebration where we create a Midsummer Pole with long ribbons that we hold dancing around and singing about nature and other Summer topics.
Being a whole different country, Sweden has an incredulous amount of objects that I identify with also. I think decorative objects like "Dala" horses, the Swedish pastries and cakes (the prinsesstårta with green marzipan on top), the traditional aprons and frilly clothing with flowery patterns, the beautiful metalwork of the vikings and churches, runes, and the minimalistic ways of Swedish organization and style are all things that come to mind. Sweden has a lot of forests that are bursting with beautiful. They are filled with lush moss, thick pine trees, and tall skinny birch trees. The giant elk and moose that live in the forests also represent a kind of soft and silent strength that Sweden embodies. "
Ljungqvist Brinson believes that the way to strengthen cultural communities is to teach children the importance of their roots and to appreciate diversity.
"One large portion of how we strengthen cultural communities is by teaching our children that where they come from is important. That they should look upon their history with happiness for that is what made them who they are today. If one teaches a child to love their culture, they will integrate it into every action they perform. It will be alive through them and they will subsequently teach their children.
Now, this does not say that one must teach a child that only their cultural community is important. Sure, this can keep their culture alive, but not in a healthy and humanistic way. Included in their love for their culture should be their respect for other cultures. Teaching this acknowledgement and maturity will therefore keep the branching cultures alive. The children will support other friends’ cultural communities.
It isn’t, however, only about teaching children to appreciate their own cultures, it is also about educating the public about different cultures.
"Even as incredibly difficult as it is to assemble, I believe art instillations or performances are a wonderful way to educate the public about various cultures. Art narrows into the soul of cultures. It comes from the various emotions cultures faced in their past and present. Along with personal interpretation, there should be either an accompanying narration or text explaining what is happening in the art, whether it may be dance, song, sculpture, film, or painting. Art is an efficient way of diffusing information about cultures to the public all the while creating a more beautiful environment for us to live in."
Ljungqvist Brinson herself tries to educate the public around her.
"I try to inform the Pitt community as much as I can about Swedish culture. In my window I hang a big Swedish flag, which always gets comments to which I can begin speaking about Sweden and Swedish culture. Questions also surface when people hear my name and accent, so that is also an “in” to inform. Pitt has a Swedish Nationality room and a Swedish Language class, so I often encourage to visit or enroll in the class. Each time there is an appropriate time in conversation to reference a Swedish tradition or lifestyle fact. I guess one can say that I am a casual advocate for Swedish culture."
The political climate today has set an interesting background for Ljungqvist Brinson.
"My mother is Swedish and she taught me Swedish as my first language, so I deeply connect with that culture. Sweden is an incredibly progressive nation and the current climate in the States has made me appreciate the goodness Sweden has to offer even more. The government and people really try to be the best they can be and help as many people as possible in terms of health care, family care, accessible immigration, and quality of life. I am proud to be Swedish. However, I can also see that Sweden is not perfect. It is not invincible to the evil that exists in the world. There are still NeoNazis and other terrorists, while not as many as in the States or Europe, who cause violence.
In a relative sense, Swedish is an ideal country. But one has to look from the other side to see that more work needs to be done. It shows that the issues of violence and terrorism are difficult to solve, even in countries that one thinks are most capable in combating them. Thus, the political atmosphere both stimulates pride and humbleness with my cultural relationship.