A New Life

Peter Lindgren’s 1988 move from Sweden to begin a new life

essay written by Jon Lindgren

Peter Lindgren was born on March 20, 1964 in Sundsvall, Sweden. His father died while he was only four years old, which led to his two older siblings playing an important role in his life. He attended university in Luleå, Sweden to attain a masters degree in engineering. He married Kelly Lindgren in 1986 and had two children with her in 1990 and 1991. They divorced in 2002. Peter has since created a successful business and maintained a happy life.

   The American dream has long been a popular motive for immigrating to the United States. In the words of Peter Lindgren, “the whole American dream is alive and kicking.”1 Although Peter did not travel to America in search of the American dream, he did in fact attain it. After 21 years of living in the country, he has fathered two children and created a successful, profitable business. Peter’s immigration occurred almost flawlessly, generating a smooth transition into life in America.

   Peter was born in Sundsvall, Sweden in 1964. Sweden has been characterized as a neutral, non-violent country. While they have a military and a draft, “it was only the kids who were extremely anti-violent who would try to reject going,”2 to serve their time in the military. This peaceful nature contributes to the generally positive view that foreigners have of Sweden. The country has always been economically prosperous. Sweden’s social democratic government allows free education and free health care to be available to all citizens. Policies such as these make Sweden greatly appealing to all sorts of people. The government supports the public by providing a good social welfare system like this. On the other hand, taxes are much higher and there are not as many opportunities to start businesses and be creative over there.

   Peter was only four years old when his father passed away, leaving him without the parent and role model that every child needs. However, he was still too young to fully understand his father’s importance so “it didn’t feel like [he] was missing something.”3 Thankfully, Peter had two older siblings to fill the void created by his father’s passing. His older brother, Johan, “saw that as his responsibility to kind of take care of me that way.”4 Johan would be there to help Peter learn the things that any other child would learn from their father. His older sister, Maria, also played the role of guardian. Both of Peter’s siblings helped him to grow up with a life as close to that of a typical child as possible. Of course, Peter did have a few incidents where he would argue or horse around with his brother and sister, but no more than any other typical child.

   Nearly all of Peter’s education took place in Sweden. In the Swedish education system, students have a common teacher and group of classmates for sets of three years as opposed to the American system in which students have new classmates and teachers each year. Many people, Peter included, prefer the Swedish system because it helps to “create a different community and camaraderie.”5 Also, with a drinking age three years lower than that of the United States, Sweden has an active and fun-loving youth. Students would go to bars and restaurants to drink legally, as opposed to the covert youth drinking that occurs in America. After two years of college, Peter joined the Swedish military to fulfill his year of service. A duty served by practically all Swedish men, this year in the military passed by with little resistance. Returning to college for another two years, Peter completed his education.

   While on his first visit to the United States, Peter met his future wife, Kelly Kesler. After a brief stay in the states, Peter and Kelly decided to move back to Sweden and get married there. After a couple more years in Sweden, the pair decided to move to the United States. As Kelly “worked for her dad”6 , the move to the United States was nearly set in stone. Not only were Kelly’s parents there, but Peter also saw it as a great opportunity. America had the job prospects for which any young man strives. Kelly and her family were very important to influencing Peter to come to the United States. Without them, he may not have decided to move to the United States because it would be much more difficult without a group of people to keep him company and look after him.

   Another important reason for Peter’s immigration was related to his education. All Swedish college students must complete a thesis project before graduating. Peter’s professor “had a connection to Ronald Blackwelder, professor of aerospace engineering at USC”7 so he decided to do his thesis project there. A prestigious university, the University of Southern California was a strong motivator for Peter to immigrate to the United States. This reason for leaving was very important because without his thesis project at the University of Southern California, Peter may not have received his engineering degree at that time. Also, he may not have created the same family in the same place that he did. While it is true that even small decisions change the big picture, the decision to come to the University of Southern California was very crucial.

   Before immigrating to the United States, Peter had some high expectations for the country. He “had the impression of the U.S. as a country that had it all.”8 Through television shows and movies, many people acquired a somewhat exaggerated image of the United States. Tourists imagined a robbery inside every store and a police chase down every street. These notions of the country may have been false, but they are connected to the country’s unique and fantastic reputation. The American dream is possibly more promising than that of any other country. Like many other foreigners, Peter “had a lot of respect for the country; it wasn’t anything to mess around with.”9

   Peter first came to the United States in September of 1984. Although he did not permanently move to the states at this time, he did experience the immigration system and American customs for the first time. Many people have peculiar stories or rough times when traveling to the United States, but Peter couldn’t “remember any major difficulties when [he] came the first time.”10 The flight from Sweden to California is very long, and can be better or worse depending on how many stops one makes on the way. Since the first time Peter came was only a visit instead of an immigration situation, he didn’t really have to deal with all of the United States customs personnel that many people do.

   The second time coming to the United States, Peter was immigrating with a more permanent state of mind. However, he did not intend to achieve citizenship, he only wanted to attain a green card so that he could live in the United States and still be a Swedish citizen. Again, Peter did not experience any major difficulties in traveling to the United States other than the grueling air plane ride. When he left Sweden, it was still snowing. Leaving the Swedish airport was something he had done many times, however he had never arrived in America with the intent to live there before. Upon arrival in California, it was warm and sunny. Obviously, it was a huge change to move from Sweden to southern California. At Los Angeles International Airport, Peter had to go through the mandatory questioning. Thankfully, this experience gave him no trouble at all. He passed through the customs agents with ease and was on his way to living in the United States. Kelly’s parents picked the two of them up, and drove them down to Orange County to begin their new lives. He thought that he may have had to apply for an extended visa or something similar, but he had “no memories of problems.”11 Surely though, he must have had some trouble at the airport security or ticket check in counters like any traveler, however, he had no recollection of it, possibly because it has become so commonplace.

   On his first trip to the United States, Peter was amazed by the country. On the flight into LAX, Peter claims that “all you see is this huge grid pattern of all the roads and streets and houses and it just goes on forever.”12 Images of the United States like this testify to the country’s vastness and industrialization. Compared to Sweden where even the biggest cities are broken up by water and hills, American cities like Los Angeles are completely new to foreigners. Peter remembers driving from the airport to Tustin and “feeling overwhelmed with the size of the place and the amount of cars and people.”13 Surely, some people prefer the small area of cities outside of the United States. However, when people like Peter don’t give up on their dreams and pursue, they learn to love the country.

   The second time coming to the United States, Peter had already experienced the country once so he was largely familiar with the customs and cultural aspects of the country. While he was still new to the United States, Peter often had trouble understanding some typical American phrases. For example, Peter remembers “a guy at work would say “Peter, what’s up?” I didn’t know what to say back to that until I learned to just say nothing much and everyone’s okay with that.”14 Typical phrases like “what’s up” and “how’s it going” are seldom interpreted in their literal meaning. Americans simply know that they are ways of saying hello. This, combined with different and unusual accents, made the United States a somewhat hard place to adapt to.

   When moving far away from home, everyone always feels at least some degree of home sickness. In the beginning, Peter thought at times that he “made a mistake by going but that was before [he] started getting comfortable to the point of going around on [his] own and exploring, finding things and meeting people.”15 Home sickness is a terrible feeling, especially when one is too far away from home to take a simple car or train ride and ease the pain. In Peter’s position, one only had a telephone or mail in order to keep contact with family and friends back home. In situations like this, people are forced to make new bonds with people they probably would not have met if they just stayed near their home. Peter was able to combat this home sickness his second time living in the United States because “there was a lot of excitement about launching into so many things – my first job as an engineer, building a household with [Kelly], just the whole adventure of being a part of society over here.”16

   Finding a job in America was a completely new experience for Peter. He had never had more than a summer job in Sweden, so finding a job that could support a family was not a familiar challenge. At first in the United States, Peter was not able to find a suitable job for a few months. The couple “planned for that but [Peter] didn’t realize how tough it was going to be.”17 Eventually after these few months, a couple job opportunities opened up and life became more smooth for Peter. A well-paying job allowed Peter to become much more comfortable in the United States. Prior to this, he would worry if the move was the right choice and if he would be able to make a living in the country. Thankfully, his job gave him the confidence he needed to spread his wings in the United States.

   With the help of a new family in the United States, Peter turned the adjustment into American life into a pleasurable experience. Instead of constantly worrying about how well he was doing or what he was doing wrong, he could relax in the company of Kelly. An American herself, she already knew the customs and typical practices that took place in the United States. Peter’s connection to Kelly allowed him to have an inside look into the usual American lifestyle without having to test it out in society itself. All Peter could say about it was that “the whole thing felt really exciting.”18 Some people are forced to come to America with no friends or family and start all on their own. This would be so much harder than what Peter had to experience because the lonely immigrants would have no one to tell them what to do or say, only the reactions of people out in society. Thankfully, Kelly was there to help Peter get a start in the United States.

   When moving to the United States, Peter maintained the state of mind that he would always be Swedish at heart. Obviously, some American culture had to be adopted in order to succeed in the country. Peter’s first car in the United States was a Ford Mustang. Surely he had McDonald’s or Wendy’s a few times. However, he would never ultimately give up his Swedish heritage. Peter does many things in order to feel Swedish all the time. Part of how he does that “is with things around the home. It’s with supporting things Swedish… [He tries] to cook things Swedish and typically when [he] goes back to Sweden [he] buys a stack of novels to read and keep up with the language and society as its evolving over there. [Not] a day goes by that [he] doesn’t go on the internet and read Aftonbladet a little bit just to keep up with the language skill and what’s going on over there.”19 With actions like these, Peter easily holds on to his Swedish culture and passes it on to his kids. Although Peter has been living in the United States for over 20 years now, he is still solely a Swedish citizen. This is probably the ultimate thing that keeps Peter connected to Sweden. Peter states that he “would feel like [he] was giving up on something by giving up on [his] Swedish citizenship.”20 In the end, Peter has adopted some American culture and practices but he will never fully let go of his Swedish back ground.

   After 21 years of living in the United States, Peter raised two children, Chris and Jon, and started his own successful business, Aluflam North America. At Aluflam, Peter manufactures and sells fire-rated windows, doors, and curtain wall systems. His company has been doing so well because the product is revolutionary compared to other, older fire-rated options. The windows incorporate aluminum frames as opposed to steel. The aluminum frames are more narrow and sharp than the competitor’s traditional hollow metal frames. Aluflam also uses glass that is completely transparent, instead of the wire glass that is notorious for causing problems and injuries. In the 21 years that Peter has been living in the United States, he has never moved away from Irvine, California. Peter does not regret moving to the United States and starting a family here in Irvine, California, but that is not to say he would not like to try living in another place at some point. When asked if he could pick up all his friends and family and move wherever he wanted, he responded: “my first instinct was going to be to say Sweden but I think actually I’d love to pick it up and drop it down somewhere else in the states for a bit… If I were to pick one place, I would say Portland, Oregon… It’s big enough to have what the city offers as far as culture and business and opportunities, but its small enough to live outside almost in the sticks and still be in the vicinity of the city.”21 Although not the expected answer, Portland, Oregon may be the next destination for Peter Lindgren as he continues to evolve and grow more successful.


Endnotes

1. 1. Peter Lindgren. Personal Interview. 5/19/09. Page 10.
2: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 8.
3: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 2.
4: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 2.
5: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 3.
6: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 9.
7: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 9.
8: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 6.
9: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 6.
10: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 6.
11: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 6.
12: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 7.
13: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 7.
14: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 7.
15: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 7.
16: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 9.
17: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 9.
18: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 10.
19: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 11.
20: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 11.
21: Lindgren, 5/19/09, Page 13.