Letter from J. Ramuta: Slovenska miza and Professor Biggins in Seattle, USA

I have spent 3 months on a visit in Seattle, Washington State, and during that time I met a number of interesting members of the Slovenian community there. 

I was visiting my partner Shirley, whose father migrated from Slovenia in 1940 as a young sixteen-year-old. Shirley was born in the States and since her mother was not Slovenian she didn't understand the Slovenian language. However, in 1983 she decided to visit her father's birthplace together with him. There wasn't anyone who spoke English and she had to rely on her father's translations. She then decided to start studying the language and has been a number of times a student in the Summer School in Ljubljana and in Seattle she hired a private tutor. Three years ago she also enrolled in Slovenian studies at the University of Washington. The lecturer was Professor Michael Biggins who does not come from any Slavic background, nevertheless, he is fluent in Slovenian, Russian and German. It was on his insistence that a small Slovenian club "Slovenska Miza" was formed and the members are mostly newer immigrants and students from Slovenia.

He has translated over 15 Slovenian books into the English language. I had the honour to meet him in Seattle and again at his house where he organized a BBQ for Slovenska Miza and few other times. In 2013 he visited Slovenia with his wife and another student at the same time as Shirley and I visited Slovenia. Shirley organized a welcome party for visitors at her cousin's cellar in the village of Kal in Bela Krajina. Then we took them to some interesting places and to a local firemen's fete and I couldn't believe how fluent his Slovenian was when he talked to people there.
The Slovenian government has recognized his work in promoting the Slovenian language and literature and on the 11th of June this year he was awarded  "Janko Lavrin" Prize for his work. The presentation was in the auditorium of Cankarjev dom. Professor Biggins also created a Slovenian section in the University of Washington Library which has a highest number of Slovenian books in the country.

Shirley of Seattle, USA
While in the States, we also visited Enumclaw, a small town of about eleven thousand inhabitants. It is about 80 kilometres East of Seattle and near Mt. Rainier. The name Enumclaw is a native Indian name and it stands for "place of bad spirits". There is a small Slovenian community there and Shirley was invited to the gathering. No one speaks Slovenian there, however, the president and another member were playing Slovenian music on their accordions. Present were 3rd and 4th generation Slovenians from mixed marriages, mainly Italian, German and Norwegian.

I have been involved in the "Ivan Cankar" club in Geelong for over 50 years and am noticing our numbers dwindling as we are getting older. I would like to see the generation of Australian Slovenians more involved and proud of our language and culture. I hope some of the younger members across Australia will read this and be proud of what Professor Biggins is doing for our language and culture even though he has no connections to our past.

Best regards,
Joe Ramuta,

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