I was disappointed. Here I was at “Let’s Go Dutch” Days in the little western Wisconsin town of Baldwin, on an overcast August day, and I could not find any wooden shoes.

Sure, Dutch flags were flying on Main Street, and I doubted if I could find another police department in America that had Holland’s national flag sewn into its patches, but I could not find one pair of wooden shoes, not even at the craft booths next to the city park. What good is a festival celebrating a town’s Dutch heritage without wooden shoes?

I bumped into one of the Klompen Dancers while following the parade down Main Street.

“Oh, there used to be a fellow who came down here and gave demonstrations on how they were made,” she replied. “But he hasn’t come down in a while.”

She, however, was wearing a homemade pair. Dressed in authentic costume, she and other members of the Klompen Dancers, the guardians of Dutch heritage in Baldwin, had just performed at Bailey Park. My faith was slowly being restored. She wore several layers of wool socks to protect herself from the wooden shoe’s biggest drawback.

“You have to wear a lot on your feet to keep the blisters away,” she said, noting that wooden shoes were not exactly made for comfort. “The dancing can be pretty strenuous, so you have to be well prepared.”

The Klompen Dancers stood out in their Dutch folk costumes. It’s hard to be unique these days, when American culture demands that everyone become homogenized, standardized, and prepackaged. Even in Baldwin, the New World Order creeps in from the interstate corridors like a kudzu vine. Yet, according to my Klompen Dancer friend, “Let’s Go Dutch” Days succeeds in Baldwin, while so many ideas for small-town Wisconsin festivals fail.

Festival season in Wisconsin is year round. Some towns organize their three day parties around a particular landmark; others, a famous (locally, anvway) person or historic event. Some just celebrate themselves for being on the map. You’ll find the standard festival fare of games, carnival rides, local bands and dances, food and flea markets, fireworks, tractor pulls, fishing derbies, parades, contests, and tournaments, along with the obligatory beauty pageant. Most festivals are sponsored by the local chamber of commerce, so the object is to fill the coffers of business.

There are nearly 100 annual celebrations like “Let’s Go Dutch” Days in Wisconsin, including William Tell Days in the Swiss village of New Glarus, Syttende Mai celebrations in the Norwegian towns, Oktoberfests in German communities, and the famous Polka Fest in the Polish enclave of Pulaski. Most are either German, the state’s largest ethnic group, or Indian pow wows. Milwaukee leads the pack with 13. There are five Dutch festivals in addition to the one in Baldwin.

It has been said that the United States is a reflection of Europe: The East Coast is like Ireland, Britain, and France; the South resembles the Mediterranean lands of Italy, Spain, and the Balkans; the Rust Belt and Great Lakes are similar to the Ruhr Valley and Silesia; and the Upper Midwest is a mirror image of Scandinavia.

Our neighbor Minnesota is almost uniformly Scandinavian, but it’s as if someone tried to draw a mini-map of Europe within the borders of Wisconsin. In every corner of the state, in virtually every city, small town, village, or crossroad, diverse European settlements were established. Valmy, Brussels, Namur, Belgium, Stockholm, Lund, Monico, Neva, Krakow, Zachow, Poinatowski, Sobieski, Lublin, Argyle, Somerset, Sussex, Wittenberg, Berlin, New Berlin, New London, Poskin, Hamburg, Germania, Denmark, Genoa, Rubicon, French Island, Caledonia, Luxemburg, Polonia, Pilsen, Kiel, Erin, Loretto, Dorchester, and Rhinelander: It’s as if the immigrants never left their native lands.

In Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, and Racine, every neighborhood —the small town within the city—seems to have its own ethnic identity. Each has its cornerstone, a church or a community center like Serb Hall in Milwaukee. The immigrants all came here for the same reasons—freedom, work, and cheap land—displacing the Yankee settlers who arrived after the British, French, and Indians.

I may have been a little too hard on Baldwin. After all, if it weren’t for businesses such as the Dutch Oven, Van’s Break Service, Lubin’s Builders, Wynveen’s Auto Repair, Heebink’s Wooden Farm Products, and Jan-Zee’s Bar, there probably wouldn’t be a Dutch Days festival.

When I drive through Baldwin, it seems as if every second home has a miniature windmill. A larger replica can be found at Windmill Park. The symbol of the town graces the festival’s posters, the local newspaper’s masthead, and even a Main Street storefront, surrounded by tulips and little Dutch boys and girls. The town may not be Rotterdam, but at least Miss Baldwin fits the profile of a Dutch beauty. Her name is Sarah Vande Berg.

After visiting Baldwin, I drove a few miles north in search of an Orthodox church that was the center of a Russian settlement in southwest Barron County, not far from the little hamlet of Clayton. I discovered it in The Atlas of Wisconsin Culture, a book my father received for Christmas.

The church was not easy to find. I roamed the backroads, paved and unpaved. Only after an extensive search did I find the light-blue onion dome of Holy Trinity Church. But maybe that is the point: Out here, surrounded by farm fields and rolled haystacks, woods and small streams, you could easily imagine yourself back in the old country. This is not a suburban church designed for four lane roads, eight-light traffic stops, and acres of parking spaces: It was designed to anchor a people.

Nothing could feel more peaceful than to be out in the middle of nowhere with the sun peeking through the clouds and the soft, cool breezes blowing through the pine trees in the cemetery. The Orthodox double cross was carved into the stones. Some of the names were written in Cyrillic. I wanted to see the holy icons inside the church, but it was locked. Over 100 parishioners come here, miles from their homes, to one of only three Orthodox churches in northwest Wisconsin and Minnesota. They want to protect what their ancestors built in 1902.

I noticed that one of the headstones read “Dzubay,” which happens to be the name of the publisher of the newspaper I work for. When I first met him, I saw the name and the icons in his office and deduced “Orthodox,” but I assumed that he went to one of those inner-city ethnic churches in Minneapolis. When I bumped into him at a recent county fair and told him about the headstone, his face lit up as he recounted his family’s history from the Carpathians to western Wisconsin, how and when the church was built, that his uncle used to be the priest at a similar church in Cornucopia on the shore of Lake Superior, and that, up to 20 years ago, the liturgies used to be conducted in Russian. He even invited me to a dinner service the church was holding the following month.

Some of the family names I found in the cemetery are still found in the area, but obviously this wasn’t Rostov-on-Don, just as Baldwin wasn’t Amsterdam (thank God) or The Hague. Time, change, and the forces of intermarriage, rootlessness, and globalization have altered these enclaves as they have the nation. And yet . . .

“You had the Dutch in Baldwin, Norwegians in Woodville, and the Irish in Hammond,” my Klompen Dancer friend told me. “But now it’s gotten a little mixed up.”

Indeed. Her name was Eileen Helgeson, not exactly a Dutch name, and she was from Woodville. When she saw her granddaughter on a Woodville float, a replica of a Viking warship, she waved and called out loudly. As she did, a young Hmong girl walked by. Like Eileen, she was somewhat out of place in her Dutch costume and wooden shoes.

“They’re taking in anyone they can,” Helgeson said of the Klompen Dancers.

It seems that the entire country feels the same way. Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest aren’t immune: Mexicans are making their way up to the southeast and Milwaukee, while the Hmong inhabit such midsize northern cities as Ea Crosse, Eau Claire, Wausau, Appleton, and Green Bay.

But Wisconsin remains a European state; that’s arguably not true of California, Florida, Texas, New York, and the great population centers of America. If we in the Upper Midwest become anything in the next century, it may be the last bastion of resistance to the forces of unlimited immigration—so long as places like Baldwin keep having “Let’s Go Dutch” Days.

One sign of hope: Eileen, in her 70’s, was the oldest member of the Klompen Dancers.