Estonians in North America, 1991-Present
Estonians in North America
In late 1991 an event occurred that took the world by surprise. The Soviet Union collapsed and the nation of Estonia regained its long lost freedom. With that single event, the life of the North American Estonian community changed overnight. There was no longer an evil empire to campaign against and the group was finally able to give up its position of as the last bastion of Estonian freedom. Instead the expatriate community turned to helping the people in Estonia progress into the new world. They are working as advisors, business people and in some cases actual leaders. One Estonian-American, Alexander Einseln, a retired Colonel in the United States army, was even appointed Commander in Chief of the Estonian army.
The rebirth of their homeland has also changed the legal status of many North American Estonians. The immigration law of Estonia has been written to give practically automatic citizenship to all citizens and descendants of the first republic. Many people have taken out Estonian citizenship. There are currently 4,000 Estonian citizens living in Canada and 7-8,000 in the United States.
The reopening of the country has also opened a new era of emigration from the country. Fed up with many of the economic difficulties at home, or in an attempt to reunite families, thousands of Estonians have migrated to North America since 1991. Perhaps two or three thousand people of Estonian descent have immigrated in the past few years.
It is very difficult to know exactly, however, because there are 450,000 Russians now living in Estonia as a result of Soviet forced migrations. For immigration purposes they are considered to be Estonians despite the fact that many of them do not speak a single word of the language. Basically, this is the reverse of the situation that existed until the Revolution of 1918 when Estonia gained its independence from the Russian empire when all Estonians coming to North America were considered to be Russian simply because of their passports.
The new immigrants are often going through many similar difficulties that the earlier immigrants went through although their way is being made much easier by the existence of a relatively large and active North American Estonian population. This group allows the newcomers to have a support network and operate in an environment with people of common heritage.
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© May 2, 1997
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