Americans will soon celebrate Thanksgivings Day, but for Latvians it comes today, November 18th, the 97th anniversary of the declaration of Latvia’s independence. Yes, 50 of those years were under foreign occupation, but the last 24 have given me and the people of Latvia a great deal to be thankful for.

Yes, we’ve had our ups and downs, but what country hasn’t? For a country of less than 2 million people, we have shown to ourselves (and the world) that our language, culture, and people are something to be proud of. It was worth fighting for after 1918, and worth bringing back to the world community in 1991.

And we are full of surprises. We surprised the music world when Marie N won Eurovision in 2002, and surprised the political world when we joined the EU and NATO two years later. Our song festivals are a world cultural phenomenon and our ice hockey teams have been among the world’s best.

Today Kristaps Porzingis is the talk of the NBA and is carrying the Big Apple on his 7’3″ shoulders, but he isn’t the first Latvian to become a NY favorite. Yelena Prokopcuka won the NY Marathon in 2005 and 2006, and Latvian opera stars Elina Garanca, Kristina Opolais, Maija Kovalevska, Aleksandrs Antonenko, and Egils Silins have all wowed The NY Met. According to Rolling Stone magazine, the New York Latvian Concert Choir’ s “Joy of Christmas” is one of the 25 best Christmas albums of all time.

We’ve also survived one of the worst economic crises in Europe, and yes, in terms of economic standard of living we remain one of the poorest countries in Europe. But when it comes to the inner power of our people, we are rich in achievement, pride, creativity, and the undying belief that our language, culture, and people have a unique place on this planet. And that place isn’t only a 64,000 square kilometre piece of land by the Baltic Sea.

Frank Sinatra once sang about NY, “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.” For the last 97 years, Latvians have been proving that the world over. And that is something I am very thankful for. Happy birthday Latvia!