Rifle couple true to Latvian roots
Western Garfield County Staff
Aleks and Indra Briedis met as children at Latvian School in Chicago.
“Our parents have almost identical stories,” Aleks said as he settled his 3-year-old twin blondes into the chairs on either side of him at The Basecamp restaurant in Rifle. They both wanted to sit next to their dad.
The girls’ names are Lilija (Lil-E-ya) and Kaija (Kai-ya).
“The j-a makes a ‘ya’ sound in Latvian,” Indra explained.
“My dad and Indra’s dad were both born in Latvia,” Aleks said. “And our moms were born in displaced persons camps in Germany.”
Both families were sponsored by Americans and moved across the Atlantic after the Soviet Union captured the little country in northeastern Europe.
Indra said a doctor in rural Illinois who owned a turkey farm sponsored her mother’s family.
“Once they gained enough money they moved on,” Indra said. “They migrated to the city where the jobs were. All of these non-English-speaking, freaked-out people moved together. And they wanted their kids to continue the Latvian traditions. That’s how the Latvian school started.”
Both Indra and Aleks grew up in the Chicago suburbs. Every Saturday Aleks and Indra’s families drove them into the city for Latvian school.
“It was just like ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding,'” Aleks said. “We were taught the history and the language and the culture.”
Both said they felt cheated out of Saturday morning cartoons and Friday night sleepovers because they had to go to Latvian school on Saturdays. There was a lot of homework.
“Most of the people who fled Latvia planned to move back when the country became free again. That’s why Latvian school was so important,” Aleks said.
Aleks and Indra have both visited the country. Indra went with her family in 1998, after the country was free. Aleks went twice ” once in 1990 and once in 1991. Latvia was still under communist rule during both of Alek’s visits.
He said his visa was good only for the capital city, Riga. But his father had family out in the country. Aleks’ aunt warned him on their travels not to say a word.
“Even though I’ve spoken the language my entire life, I have an accent,” Aleks said.
Aleks said he would like to move the family back to Latvia one day.
Indra said she doesn’t think she’d like to move anytime soon.
“Our lives are here now,” Indra said. “I couldn’t imagine picking up and moving everything.”
Aleks contended that they had done it before. But not to a completely different country, Indra said.
Aleks and Indra made it all the way through Latvian school as childhood friends and didn’t begin dating until they found themselves at the University of Illinois together. After they graduated, they moved to Denver. Aleks looked for recreation jobs all over the state. And that’s how the couple ended up in Rifle.
They made a trip to Michigan a couple months ago so that their girls could have their first exposure to the Latvian camp where Aleks and Indra spent all of their childhood and teenage summers.
The camp has a preschool section and Lilija and Kaija will go to Latvian camp every summer just like their parents did.
“It’s such a bond,” Aleks said. “We have friends all over the United States ” actually all over the world.”
In fact, the two went to three weddings this summer and were invited to five. All of them were Latvian weddings. One was even in Latvia. Aleks and Indra said Latvians often marry Latvians because it is such a tight-knit culture and very rich friendships developed in their Latvian school and camp.
“My parents never said anything,” Indra said. “They wouldn’t have said anything. But they worked so hard to keep the culture and the language. I think they really wanted me to marry a Latvian.”
“I know my grandparents really expected me to marry a Latvian woman,” Aleks said.
A traditional Latvian wedding lasts a whole week. Aleks and Indra indulged in an abridged traditional wedding with an Atkazas (the Latvian word for after wedding). The day after the ceremony and reception, friends and family visit the house for more mingling and celebrating.
Rifle is the only place the two have lived that does not have a thriving Latvian community.
Aleks and Indra still teach Lilija and Kaija the language and celebrate Jani, the summer solstice.
“We miss having access to the Latvian culture,” Indra said.
But almost all the vacations they take are to visit with Latvian friends or family, who also come to visit them, Aleks said.
Contact Amanda Holt Miller at 625-3245 ext. 103
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