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Latvian Americans

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Latvian Americans
Amerikas latvieši
Latvian American activists in 1988
Total population
85,723 (2019)[1]
Regions with significant populations
California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota
American English, Latvian
Mostly Lutheranism with Roman Catholic minority
Related ethnic groups
Lithuanian Americans, Latvians

Latvian Americans are Americans who are of Latvian ancestry. According to the 2008 American Community Survey, there are 93,498 Americans of full or partial Latvian descent.


The first significant wave of Latvian settlers who immigrated to the United States came in 1888 to Boston.[2] By the end of the century, many of those Latvian immigrants had moved on to settle primarily in other East Coast and Midwest cities, such as New York City, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Chicago, as well as coastal cities on the West Coast, such as Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Although most Latvians settled in cities, in most of these (with the exception of the Roxbury district of Boston) they lived dispersed and did not form ethnic neighborhoods.

Some immigrants also established themselves in rural areas, but they were few and usually did not form long-lasting communities. The first Lutheran church built by Latvians in the United States was erected in 1906 in Lincoln County, Wisconsin, where an agricultural colony had been established in 1897.[3]

A new wave of Latvian immigration began around 1906, after the failure of the 1905 Russian Revolution.[4] Many of these immigrants were political leaders and rank-and-file revolutionaries who could be killed by Russian soldiers if they were discovered, so they emigrated to survive and continue the revolutionary movement in other countries. Most of the Latvian revolutionaries were more politically radical than the earlier immigrants to the United States, which increased social friction within a number of communities.

In 1917, many Latvian revolutionaries returned to their homeland to work for the creation of a Bolshevik government. In 1918, when Latvia declared its independence, some nationalists also returned.[5]

After the First World War, the promise of economic improvements in the newly independent nation, immigration quotas established in 1924 by the United States, and the Great Depression all contributed to reduced emigration from Latvia to the US. From 1920 to 1939, only 4,669 Latvians arrived in the United States.[6]

Toward the end of World War II, tens of thousands Latvians fled their country to Western Europe to escape advancing Soviet troops. Most were held in Displaced Persons camps. About half were eventually repatriated to now-Soviet-occupied-Latvia, but the rest resettled to Germany, England, Australia, Canada, the United States, and other countries. From 1939 to 1951, 40,000 Latvians immigrated to the United States with the help of the U.S. government and various social service and religious organizations.[6] Although many of these refugees had been professionals in their country, in the United States they often had to take jobs as farmhands, custodians, or builders until they could learn English and find better paying jobs.

Most Latvians settled in cities because of economic opportunities, such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago. They did not settle in ethnic neighborhoods and relied on social events and the press for a sense of community.[5] Within a few years, Latvian organizations created schools, credit unions, choirs, dance groups, theater troupes, publishers and book sellers, churches, veterans' groups (e.g. the Daugavas vanagi, Hawks of the Daugava), and political organizations to help continue their culture and language. Since the annexation of the Baltic states was not recognized by the United States and many other countries, many kept Latvian passports, issued by the Latvian Embassy in Washington D.C., but most acquired American citizenship as well.

From 1980 to 1990, 1,006 Latvians arrived in the United States.[5]

Latvia reestablished its independence in 1991; however, few of the later immigrants or descendants of earlier generations have returned. They have made new lives in the United States.[7]


According to the 2000 census, a total of 87,564 people of Latvian descent lived in the United States. The larger populations are located in the states of California, New York, Illinois, Florida, and Massachusetts. Many Latvian Americans (about 9,000) have dual citizenship, which the country made available to emigrants after becoming independent of the Soviet Union. Since the late 20th century, more Latvian Americans have traveled to Latvia. Others provide financial support and give material to various organizations. Some Latvian Americans have settled there and been elected to the Saeima, or Parliament, in Latvia.[7]

The states with the largest Latvian-American populations are:

 California   11,443
 New York (state) 9,937
 Illinois 6,982
 Florida 4,921
 Massachusetts 4,706
 Michigan 4,265
 New Jersey 3,946
 Pennsylvania 3,754
 Washington 3,380
 Maryland 3,289
 Ohio 2,362

Latvian-born population[edit]

Latvian-born population in the US since 2010:[8]

Year Number
2010 23,218
2011 Decrease22,257
2012 Decrease24,131
2013 Increase24,497
2014 Decrease21,097
2015 Increase21,364
2016 Increase24,691


The majority of Latvians immigrants to the United States after World War II were university graduates. Many were academics or belonged to intelligentsia.[7]

Languages and religions[edit]

Most Latvian Americans speak English, while Latvian (also known as Lettish) is basically the language spoken by American Latvians of the first generation due to intermarriage. As for religion, although most Latvians Americans are Lutherans, there are also Catholic communities, represented by the American Latvian Catholic Association,[7] as well as American Latvian Baptists and American Latvian Jewish communities.[9]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "American Community Survey 2019 1-Year Estimates". data.census.gov.
  2. ^ Saulītis, Andris; Mieriņa, Inta (2019), "Latvian Emigrants in the United States: Different Waves, Different Identities?", IMISCOE Research Series, Springer International Publishing, pp. 203–229, doi:10.1007/978-3-030-12092-4_10, ISBN 9783030120917
  3. ^ "Gaiss svaigs kā Kurzemes mūžamežā: Linkolnas kolonija Viskonsīnā". Latviešu pēdas pasaulē. Latvieši pasaulē – muzejs un pētniecības centrs. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  4. ^ Zālīte, Elga. "Exploring the library of Latvian socialists in San Francisco, California: activities of the early Latvian political emigration, 1905-1917" (PDF).
  5. ^ a b c Reference Library of European America: Ethnic essays, Irish Americans to Welsh Americans. Gale Research. 1998. pp. 373–375. OCLC 1011871166.
  6. ^ a b Schaefer, Richard T. (2008). Encyclopedia of race, ethnicity, and society. SAGE Publications. p. 839. ISBN 9781412926942. OCLC 166387368.
  7. ^ a b c d "Latvian Americans - History, The first Latvians in America, Significant immigration waves". Everyculture.com. Retrieved 2017-03-05.
  8. ^ "American FactFinder - Results". Archived from the original on 2020-02-14. Retrieved 2018-04-23.
  9. ^ Category:American people of Latvian-Jewish descent
  10. ^ a b c d "Latvia's Famous People". Latvia.lv. Retrieved September 23, 2013.
  11. ^ "Latvian Americans - History, The first latvians in america, Significant immigration waves". Everyculture.com. Retrieved 2017-03-05.
  12. ^ "Buddy Ebsen Biography". Actorbuddyebsen.info. Retrieved 2017-03-05.
  13. ^ "Country Profile". Archived from the original on 3 April 2008. Retrieved 7 October 2017.
  14. ^ ""Latvian Art in Exile," The Latvian Institute". Li.lv. 2008. Retrieved 7 October 2017. Elizabetes iela 57, Rīga, LV 1050, LATVIA
  15. ^ "Daughter of Latvian refugees receives top technological award at White House :: The Baltic Course | Baltic States news & analytics". The Baltic Course. 2009-10-14. Retrieved 2017-03-05.

Further reading[edit]

  • Andersons, Edgars, and M. G. Slavenas. "The Latvian and Lithuanian Press." in The Ethnic Press in the United States: A Historical Analysis and Handbook, edited by Sally M. Miller. (Greenwood Press, 1987).
  • Kārklis, Maruta, Līga Streips, and Laimonis Streips. The Latvians in America, 1640–1973: A Chronology and Fact Book (Oceana Publications, 1974).
  • Straumanis, Andris. "Latvian Americans." in Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs, (3rd ed., vol. 3, Gale, 2014), pp. 65–78. Online
  • Anderson, Edgar. "Latvians" in Thernstrom, Stephan; Orlov, Ann; Handlin, Oscar, eds. Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674375122, (1980), pp. 638–642, Online
  • Zake, Ieva (2017). American Latvians : Politics of a Refugee Community. Routledge. ISBN 9781351532563.

External links[edit]