I was interviewed for the Spring edition of SwissCommunity online newletter. The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) devised and created SwissCommunity.org. Its aim is to strengthen the link between the Swiss abroad and Switzerland. The official launch of SwissCommunity took place on 21 August 2010 in St. Gallen as part of the 88th Congress of the Swiss Abroad. The SwissCommunity platform now has over 10,000 global members.
Interview with Jean-François de Buren
SwissCommunity’s Online Magazine, spring edition 2012
Mr Jean-François de Buren is the father of two girls, comes from the San Francisco area and works as a graphic designer and marketing strategy consultant. Mr de Buren is also a passionate historian, writer, storyteller and soon-to-be filmmaker. This is why he takes care to preserve his family’s cultural heritage and is committed to the conservation of Swiss culture in the United States. Additionally, Jean-François de Buren is active as a board member for the Swiss Center of North America in New Glarus, as a member of the advisory board for the Musée des Suisses dans le monde, Geneva, as a member of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco, as well as taking care of marketing for the Swiss Center in Los Angeles.
In this interview, Mr de Buren gives us an insight into his family history, whose origins can be found in Switzerland. We learn about the connection to Switzerland that he maintains through his research on his ancestors and how SwissCommunity helps him to continue his relationship with his grandfather’s homeland.
Your grandfather emigrated from Switzerland to America in 1923. What made him take the hop over the pond?
My grandfather’s father had originally sent him to Fresno, Southern California to work on a Swiss farm. After this he was supposed to take over the family farm in Córdoba (Argentina). However, his path led him to San Francisco, where he fell in love with a young French woman. He never left on the ship to Buenos Aires.
You are very intensively engaged with your ancestors. What fascinates you so much about them?
What makes me particularly curious are the personal stories. Although my ancestors lived in different eras, with different social structures and cultural norms, there was always love, passion, envy, anger, and disappointment. This emotional resonance is timeless and makes their stories both accessible and interesting.
Which historical Swiss-themed highlight of the de Buren family would you like to share with us?
The most important story is my great-great-grandfather Henri de Buren’s voyage to America. He left the family Château de Vaumarcus overlooking Lake Neuchâtel in 1852. For two years he travelled through the United States, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Brazil. In the United States he met up with many compatriots, travelled through Mexico with aristocratic Frenchmen, and documented the journey of the first German immigrants to Peru. I have been researching his story for five years. Working together with the Musée des Suisses dans le monde in Geneva, I hope to be able to publish the diaries of Henri de Buren.
You are a member of SwissCommunity.org. How do you use the platform, and for what?
I use SwissCommunity to launch discussion topics and to link up with other Swiss expats with similar interests. SwissCommunity is a valuable tool for me. Many of my current cultural projects have come into fruition thanks to contacts on SwissCommunity.
Do you think that members of the SwissCommunity could help you with your genealogical research? If so, how?
I’m convinced they can. But I’m hoping not only to get their support in researching my family history, but also ask for their assistance in conserving Swiss culture in general. For example, I edited the questions for the Swiss-American edition of the game “Helvetiq” by interviewing other Swiss people via social media, i.e., SwissCommunity.org. The beauty of social media is that information and knowledge can be shared quickly and easily. If the readers of this interview want to get involved or are interested in my projects, I would ask them to contact me on SwissCommunity.
What kind of relationship do you have with Switzerland?
I cherish Switzerland very much. Not just because it is the home of my ancestors, but also because of its beauty and fantastic quality of life. Sometimes I wish I could make Switzerland even more open and dynamic with my ideas.
What things from Switzerland do you wish you had in America, too?
There are many things. I wish the Burgerbibliothek and the Historische Museum in Berne were closer, which would make my research much easier. The region of La Côte, the view out onto the lake and the wine are unique. There are many food products that I miss, such as hazelnut yogurt, to name but one item.
You have the floor…
I’ve often wondered what the Swiss abroad think about the importance of being Swiss. The Swiss people that I know identify themselves more strongly with their linguistic, cantonal, and local origin than with Swiss nationality.
What do you think about it? Link to discussion.