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Westward

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On Friday evening I was priveleged to attend the book signing for Westward by Swiss author Susann Bosshard-Kälin at the Robert Mondavi winery. The book revolves around 15 portraits of Swiss women who immigrated to the United States in the 20th century. “The fifteen stories show women standing between two worlds, two cultures, and two languages, – but above all people who have shaped their lives and world with a zest for life, with humor, courage, equanimity, and wisdom.” The event specifically honored two of the California-Swiss women interviewed in Westward, Anna Conti-Tonini and Margarit Mondavi Biever Kellenberger.

Robert Mondavi Winery

The event was held in a private room at the winery which opened onto a breathtaking vineyard. The sun set slowly over the hills, bathing the room in an amber glow as friends of the honorees mingled and drank wine.

Historian Loe Schelbert, an eminent scholar on American immigration and the Swiss in the United States originally provided the author with the idea for the book. Schelbert noted in an early conversation with Bosshard-Kälin that “documentary sources of women emigrants are little known, although women acheived just as much as men either by themselves or as mothers or partners.”

After conferring with Schelbert at his home near Chicago, Bosshard-Kälin went on a muli-year journey across the U.S. in search of unique Swiss immigrant stories. One of her daughters also tagged along and is responsible for the wonderful photos within the collection.

The author signing copies

Anna Conti Tonini, one the women interviewed would immigrate to California and marry a man whose family had also come from Ticino. She still has vivid memories of the Ticino of her youth. “Milking was a daily task, and in the summer making hay was the main task for us children. Two cuts yearly, one at the end of May when the meadows were full of flowers, the second cut in July or early August… We had little money, but we lived well… We never went hungry. We fed ourselves from our own vegetables, potatoes, milk, butter and cheese.”

In a great passage, another interviewee, Magarit Mondavi, wife of Napa Valley legend Robert Mondavi, summed up her love of Switzerland, appreication for the United States and outlook on life this way: “I have lived in Switzerland but a quarter of my life. And yet something from that time remains in my heart. I like to travel every year to my old homeland. But I feel American through and through. The opneness and freedom in this country are wonderful. I could realize my dreams. Bob told me many times, ‘If you have a job that you like you don’t have to work another day in your life. And then, do it as well as you can.’ These were good tips from Bob. In my life, I have found much I like to do, much that give me joy.”

Bosshard-Kälin’s collection of interviews are both touching and inspiring. They are a testament to the human spirit and should not be missed.

Copies of Westward can be purchased through the Swiss American Historical Society, Book Editor, 2523 Asbury Avenue, Evanston, IL 60201.

Written by jdeburen

September 19, 2010 at 1:28 am

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