Editor’s Note: At the Table is an international exchange program that connects high school students in Philadelphia and Riga. The program, undertaken by the National Constitution Center in collaboration with the National History Museum of Latvia, hosted “Sunday Suppers” in various communities around Philadelphia and Riga simultaneously. These conversations will culminate in a student developed service project and a collaborative documentary film about civic engagement. One student participant, Kintija Petersone, recaps her experience at the final Sunday Supper in Lizums, a rural town outside of Riga.
Interview members and guests at the event were introduced to the purpose and aims of the project, and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was nervous before the event! It almost felt like going to an exam, but after a while the fear and anxiety disappeared. I thought that the atmosphere would be tense among my fellow residents of Lizums since they are so passionate about the subjects we were going to discuss, but “everyone was friendly,” says Una Cimdiņa, one of Lizums students.
Our main goal was to show our interview subjects the video pieces we have created from our time with them, and hopefully through these different stories, unite three generations of our community. Each video was very touching. Each story made me think about the time our subjects lived in. The event was unique because I could listen to the stories of people’s experiences during the Third Awakening, which happened 20 years ago, before we, today’s students were born. I could not even imagine before what the people had to go through!
After each video, the students asked questions to our guests to foster a discussion about what happened in our community and country—about the deportation of people to Siberia in the 1940s, about raising the national Latvian flag in Lizums school’s tower in 1988, when it was still illegal under the Soviet regime, about the barricades in Riga in January 1991 when people left their usual everyday life to protect their country.
Their feelings from the time were drawn back out in the memories and stories they were sharing. Memories and emotions, like the logs in a fire, must be lifted and exposed, to prevent them from extinguishing and being forgotten. I looked at these people as they told their stories with tears in their eyes, and I will admit that I had tears in my eyes for a while too. It was touching. It made me think about my life, my attitude, and made me realize that I should change it.
We have to understand what these people have done for their country. We need to understand, that we do not need to be sad about our lives, or think about how bad things are, but instead enjoy today, and suggest to our generation to remember the power of the unity during the Awakening movement, and to get involved in their communities and our nation more actively. We are the guardians of our country–we, young people, we’ll have to protect and develop what the previous generation has created or preserved for us.
At the Table: Connecting Culture, Conversation and Service in Latvia and the U.S. was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in collaboration with American Association of Museums. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State.