New-look 2×2 camp focuses on young Latvians

Much has been heard about the Latvian 3×3 camps. These annual gatherings for all three generations—children, parents and grandparents—have been a huge success since the idea for these camps was born back in the 1980s. But have you heard of 2×2? Is this another 3×3 adjunct?

Certainly not. The 2×2 camp also has an even longer history.

Originally started in 1964 by Brunis and Biruta Rubess, the seminars were held regularly through 1996. Spanning three decades, the 2×2 movement inspired and provided cultural and ethnic “food for thought” for a whole generation of youths—1,500 Latvian teenagers and twentysomethings living in North America. Many of today’s “baby boomers” met their spouses at these seminars. Many 2×2 seminar attendees are still active in the North American Latvian community, while some have moved to Latvia and live and work in their ancestral homeland.

Now comes a rejuvenated 2×2 called “2x2divi,” signifying a fresh chapter in the life of this movement. It is scheduled Dec. 26 to Jan. 2 in West Virginia.

An identity-building seminar such as this is just what is needed for teenagers who have just finished high school and have just started college. Latvian schools will give a solid grounding of the rudiments of Latvian history, language and culture, but a sense of identity and belonging is forged in the later teenage years and early 20s. Unfortunately it’s often at this time during their lives that many youths fall by the wayside. College studies, establishing of a career, and a social life with new-found friends outside the Latvian community are all part of growing up, but that leaves the Latvian side of a young person quite neglected. Sure, there are opportunities to meet in an organized way, such as folk dancing, choir, sport and theatre. But as many of us have experienced ourselves, the best way to bond is at a “retreat.”

Many of us émigré Latvian children can vouch that a Latvian summer camp or high school will often result in friendships that last a lifetime. A seminar such as 2×2 can potentially deepen these friendships, at the same time forging new ones, simultaneously helping to unravel your ethnic identity issues.

Judging from the program, the focus on the new-look 2×2 seminar will be making Latvia accessible to young Latvians in North America, educating them on study and work options—making Latvia come alive and a viable option in this challenging and dynamic time in their lives. Topics such as “Latvia Today,” “Our Latvian Cultural Heritage,” “Leadership,” “Language” and “Latvians – What Are We?” all touch on important, emotive issues, but most are highly focused on practical discussions and possible solutions, not dwelling in the past and navel-gazing. Other practical group sessions are highly relevant to this age group: active sports, film, computer graphics, Latvian Internet resources, relaxation, theatre, and the more traditional (but always fun) folk dancing, choir and jewelry making.

The organizer of this year’s 2×2, Aivars Osvalds, himself a 2×2 veteran, states the same formula that worked well in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s has been applied to this seminar. Minor changes have been made to make the topics relevant to today’s youth and a big job had to be done in informing the younger crowd about the whole concept. Ten years of 2×2 in hibernation have meant a new generation has needed to be informed, encouraged and enthused about the idea. It sems this has worked as interest is being expressed and places are filling. With the maximum number of participants at 100 it looks like there won’t a problem finding attendees (almost 70 of the 100 registrations have been completed as of this writing).

Is the point of the seminar to raise the next generation of leaders in the community outside Latvia? Now that the homeland is so easily accessible, anyone who deems themselves Latvian and possesses an adventurous spirit will probably end up living in Latvia after all. Osvalds is not worried about this. Quoting the words of one of the former 2×2 leaders, current Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga: “Šeit aicinājums visiem tiem, kam Latvija ir dzimtene vai senču tēvu zeme. Arī jūs esat daļa no tā ļaužu kopuma kam par pienākumu ir gādāt, lai Latvija būtu, lai zeltu, lai plauktu, lai pastavētu. Latvijai esat vajadzīgi jūs visi. No tuvienes, vai tālienes, nāciet Latvijai paliīgā” (This is an invitation to those for whom Latvia is your homeland or the homeland of your ancestors. You too, are an integral part of a unified group of people with a responsibility to make sure that Latvia grows and prospers. Latvia needs every one of you. From near and far, help Latvia prosper.)

The unique quality to this seminar is the bridge from the old 2×2 to the new. The inspiration has come from the older generation—those who experienced something magical back in their youth, so much so, that they want to pass the baton on to their children (and some, their grandchildren). The path was already well trodden, some weeds just needed to be cleared and the route appeared again, ready for use by a new generation. Let’s hope this formula that was a success will be repackaged so well that someone from this group of participants will be able to repeat the phrase of one (now) thirtysomething, who took part in a few 2×2 seminars 10 years ago: “They were the best weeks of my life!”

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The 2x2divi camp for Latvian youth is scheduled from Dec. 26 to Jan. 2 in West Virginia.

Daina Gross is editor of Latvians Online. An Australian-Latvian she is also a migration researcher at the University of Latvia, PhD from the University of Sussex, formerly a member of the board of the World Federation of Free Latvians, author and translator/ editor/ proofreader from Latvian into English of an eclectic mix of publications of different genres.

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