Tulip Time and the Invention of a New Dutch American Ethnic Identity

In the 1930s, the Dutch American immigrant community of Holland, Michigan, underwent a cultural reawakening through its Dutch heritage Tulip Time festival. Tulip Time began in 1929 as a city beautification project. It was essentially a horticultural festival featuring 100,000 tulips imported from the Netherlands. Each year it added new cultural features such as a Dutch market, Dutch-language church services, Dutch cultural parades, and regular performances by klompen (wooden shoe) dancers traditionally dressed in the most colorful Dutch costumes, so that it continued to grow in popularity. By the mid-1930s, over a half million visitors per year came to see the tulips and partake in the traditions of old Holland.1 But while the festival and the new generations of Dutch Americans that organized it attempted to recreate and promote authentic Dutch culture, the portrayals of the Dutch, like the braided blonde-haired klompen dancers pushing brooms to scrub the streets, engendered stereotypes and caricatures that hardly represented the Dutch Americans of the past. The festival’s “Dutchness,” wrote Dutch American author Arnold Mulder, “was less a matter of nationality and blood than of an American flair for effective community publicity.”2 According to historian Suzanne Sinke, Tulip Time in later years was neither completely Dutch, nor wholly American, but rather was a peculiar hybrid, born and continuing to be reinterpreted in a dialectical process between cultures and shaped by an all too apparent subservience to the demands of commercialism and consumerism.