Thursday, November 6, 2008
Newark Swiss Park
Up until a few decades ago in California, and particularly in the Greater Bay Area, there were many Swiss clubs. As far as I know, they were largely Italian-Swiss in culture. The record seems to be very clear on this: the traditional "California Swiss" were Italian-Swiss. However, there were German speaking Swiss as well. Between, roughly, 1850 and 1930, 20,000 immigrants arrived in California from the Italian speaking (Lombard dialect) Swiss canton of Ticino. This was the biggest happening in the history of the tiny canton. Up until the decline of the Swiss clubs, 20,000 people, and perhaps double that in descendants, was a comparatively (in%) larger number of people than it would be today. They apparently thought of themselves as "Swiss," rather than Italian. In fact, culturally and ethnically, they were Lombardian. I view Ticino, like Brescia, as another province of Lombardia.
A few years ago I attended the annual local spring Swiss celebration in Newark. I was hoping, perhaps even expecting, to see at least a booth for the Ticinese culture. When I first entered the park, the friendly entry person asked me if I had a "Swiss connection" of some type. I replied that my family was from Lombardy, and how that culture was the specific one represented in Switzerland. The main building was a marvelous German-Swiss traditional style design. A tall fence surrounded a cement patio area (which included a large grill and stage area) around the building, with also a grassy area with picnic tables. A very practical setting for a gathering. There was music, food, booths, etc.
Surrounding the main area was a grassy area on one side, with a dirt parking lot among some trees, and it was fenced in. It had long been a community center, with a bar and restaurant, events, and a nice large hard wood floor room with a high ceiling, which wasn't in use that day, but I walked in to look around briefly. Traditional dancing was probably a much bigger thing way back when it was constructed. Surrounding the facility was a shopping center and Holiday Inn. The building spoiled the visual environment to be honest. I mean, a beautiful traditional building with one tall modern building next to it. In Italy they are pretty good about planning freeways and large buildings, as to not spoil the look of the countryside. It was clear that there was a mixture of the old with newcomers, from the old country. However, you don't have to be Swiss. Anyone can visit.
In general, although very German, they were not a tall people. More of an Alpine type. I did see one beautiful young woman in traditional dress. A classic tall blonde German beauty. Most Germans (Germans, Austrians, Swiss, etc.) are of Alpine stock, with Nordic traits. It depends, at Oktoberfest, there are definitely some tall people. One time I was watching one video on YouTube, and there were two German girls. They looked eighteen or so, speaking German. One with dark blonde hair, basically Nordic looking, and the other struck me as looking so much like one of my grandmothers. Very Alpine. There are German Alpines, French Alpines, Italian Alpines, and Slavic Alpines. I remember that happened one other time. My family used to have an old photograph of one of my great grandmothers when she was probably in her early twenties. I memorized her face from it being there for so long. Anyway, one time I saw a young woman who had the same face! I think everyone has had an experience like that at least once It's funny because, if you told them, they would never understand.
After we got some bratwurst, as I started to sit at one of the picnic tables, a very burly brooding red haired man with a walrus mustache growled that the seat was taken. However, the people at large were very friendly. Sometimes in popular culture, Germans are portrayed as being brooding, calculating, and humorless. I don't really see how that can wash, as there are so many loud, gregarious, beer drinking, laughing, back-slapping Germans. I never did see anything "Italian-Swiss" at all. There is a group "Pro Ticino Nord California," which is part of what amounts to a Ticinesi nel Mondo type group. I sent them a letter once time, but I received no response.
While I'm on sort've this German-Swiss Alpine subject. Recently I read something online about Bavarian immigrants in America, in certain places, where they, for a couple of generations in America, only married other "Bavarian-Americans." I mean, like, not even other German speaking or descended people. I thought that was curious. Historical regions, like Bavaria, were distinct, regardless of what administrative jurisdiction they were under. I'm referring to the way it was over centuries. For example, even when Polish speaking districts were broken up under different kings or empires, there was still "a Poland." I always thought it was tragic that Prussia was erased from the map.
The following text is from the Newark Swiss Park website: "The Newark Swiss Park was constructed on dairy and farm land in rural Alameda County in 1934, by Swiss Immigrants who wanted to preserve some of their Swiss Culture and Traditions. As time has passed, suburban Newark has grown up around the park. The restaurant and bar is open to the public, serving both American and Swiss/German fare. The Park and Banquet Hall are available for rental use. Many Swiss events are held at the facility and are open to the public: Regular Swiss / German Ländler Music and Dancing; Spring and Fall Schwingfests (Swiss Wrestling Competitions); The Big Swiss Independence Day Celebration, occurring near August 1st each year."
Aside from Newark Swiss Park, there were two other California Swiss websites that I found when I was searching for Newark Swiss Park, which I wanted to place here, even though they are not connected to anything Italian-Swiss. They are the Lugano Swiss Bistro restaurant in Carmel (not Ticinese at all, despite the name), and the Swiss Park Banquet Center in Whittier.