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Childhood refugee Anne Ise gets first Estonian passport at 84

Anne-Liis Ise, a refugee from Estonia and member of the Estonian-American diaspora community.
Anne-Liis Ise, a refugee from Estonia and member of the Estonian-American diaspora community. Source: ERR

Born in interwar Estonia and a refugee member of the diaspora since her family fled their homeland in 1944, Anne-Liis Ise recently picked up her first ever Estonian passport – at the age of 84.

Ise was born in Estonia in 1939, fled the occupied country with her family to Germany five years later. Some time later, the family continued on to the U.S., where she was raised and remains a member of the diaspora Estonian community in and around Baltimore, Maryland.

"My spouse once said that an immigrant assimilates in time, but a refugee will remain a refugee for life," Ise told ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera" when she went to pick up her passport. "I think he was right, because I've grown up here, I'm an American citizen, I love this country; it's given me a great deal – I'm grateful for everything. But in my heart I'm an Estonian, and an Estonian I'll remain, as the song goes."

Which is why Ise finally decided, even so much later in life, to apply for her Estonian passport. The final push came when members of her family joined the local Baltimore-Washington Estonian Chorus (Baltimore-Washingtoni Eesti Segakoor, BWES).

"This choir has sung at the [Estonian] Song Festival, and they'll be going again next time, I believe," she explained. "And then my kids will be there under the Song Festival Arch and I thought that now it's time to get my passport and go back as an Estonian – as a real Estonian."

Anne-Liis Ise picking up her Estonian passport. Source: ERR

That same day, Ise's daughter also picked up her Estonian passport at the Estonian Embassy in Washington, while one of her grandchildren submitted their own passport application at the Estonian Consulate General in New York.

Younger generations of diaspora Estonians getting their Estonian passports is especially important, she said, as this will ensure they have contact with their other homeland and will always have a place to go.

BWES, the diaspora choir joined by her family, has previously sung at the Song Festival in 2009, 2014 and 2019.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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