The Belgian Heritage Center30/06/2017

Did you know that some parts of Wisconsin still hang on to their Belgian Heritage? In the Door Peninsula, many towns are named after Walloon cities! You can also find there all kinds of food that are almost impossible to find elsewhere in America: rice pies, charcutrie and other cheeses. SignMyCar! went to the Belgian Heritage Center in Brussels, WI to find out more! This is our second chronicle on the “Wisconsin Walloons”.

After relocating to Wisconsin in the 1850's, the Belgian settlers felt the need to reconnect with their Walloon traditions. They needed to bond with their communities after years of hard labor on the farm. They started organizing Kermises. It was a very big deal! The women would prepare the food and drinks weeks prior to their Kermis. The Kermis in Brussels, WI used to last for three days! Three days of eating, drinking and partying. It got to the point that the Belgian community got in trouble with the church! They were asked to tune it down.

These are the type of story and event that the Belgian Heritage Center is trying to professionally preserve and promote. After more than 175 years and 6 generations, this small rural community in Wisconsin still care very much about their Walloon roots. In 2010, they raised more than 300 000 USD in 30 days to save their community center from being torn down. Then they decided to transform it into a museum with interactive exhibits.

In 2016 the Belgian Heritage Center started working with Curators to professionally tell the stories of the original settlers.

“We need to organize those stories visually, in a professional manner, and use those interactive tools to tell the stories of the Belgian settlers in an effective way. This is going to be way more appealing than just stories. Stories are great but they need a little bit more curating. We are working hard to preserve our heritage but also promote it so that future generations of Belgians can be proud of their heritage because they have something to refer to.” Sandy Orsted.

Sandy Orsted, treasurer of the Belgian Heritage Center, is 5th generation American. She welcomed me at her house last summer. She told me some heartwarming stories about her ancestors. She explained me how the Walloon language started going into decay and how being Walloon in America was seen as a negative thing throughout the 20th century. She also told me how the Belgian Heritage Center is working with local schools to outreach to a younger audience and get them interested in where they come from. You can find out more that out by listening and reading to Sandy's interview on SignMyCar! The video is subtitled in French, Dutch and English.

 

Vignette: 
Belgian Heritage Center

Other posts written by this Ambassadeur