Today is Independence Day here in the United States. We are not supposed to use the term “America”, as the Canadians, to our north, state they are also “Americans”, sharing the North American continent with us.
I have been thinking for the past several days about what, exactly, an American is…to which the most expedient and accurate answer might be “an enigma”!
Growing up in a predominantly Swedish town, interspersed with a large Italian population, I felt somewhat “out of place”. After all, the Swedes had their Lucia Queens, and the Italians, their Catholic religion, filled with festivities. Many of the kids I went to school with were (inappropriately, to my own mind) proud of their heritage…My hometown has more Andersons, Carlsons, Swansons, Johnsons, Ericksons and so on…all of Swedish ancestry! And the Italians were identifiable by names always ending in a vowel!
My neighbor referred to my heritage as “Heinz 57“. I felt kind of left out. As a tiny youngster, our neighbors often took me to the “Vikings”, a lodge for those of Swedish ancestry. I, with my blue eyes and dark brown hair, would mingle with children with blue eyes and bright blonde hair.
When I was in sixth grade, one of my classmates of English ancestry referred to me as a “Pollock”….a derogatory slur for one of Polish ancestry. I found this rather curious, as he was as much out of place as I….he was a “military brat” whose father was just passing through. Of course, there were a few families of Albanian ancestry and a few other “what-nots” dispersed here and there.
It was not until I was much older and all of those silly ancestral celebrations were left behind that I began to realize that my own “melting pot” ancestry was not something to be ashamed about, but rather, something to enjoy with some pride. After all, not everyone is Ukrainian, German, Danish, with some Irish and Native American thrown in!
As I matured, so did my attitude regarding my heritage. Suddenly, I could relate to Ukrainian festivals, ( found in cities far away from my own hometown!) German festivals (although I don’t like beer or pork products, both of which seem to flow in endless quantities!) and especially Irish festivals. Of all of the various heritages mentioned, I really seem to relate the most to Irish music and culture. It is the one that calls my name and holds the most interest in my life. I adore the rich culture….the land, the sheep, the knitting, the wonderful thatched-roof houses I have seen pictured in books…..I would love to travel to Ireland and the other British nations…. Ukraine literally scares me! Germany is of little interest. The Danes are wonderful, but that side of me just doesn’t “cut it”. The Native American heritage is readily available to anyone interested, and the names of many places here are derived from those roots. Canandaigua, for example, is derived from the Iroquois, and means “the chosen spot”.
My heritage has a few interesting details….my paternal grandparents had an arranged marriage. They came to the United States as young newly-weds in 1907. They traveled to Manitoba, Canada, then Montana, in the US. They eventually settled in Pennsylvania where they reared their family of eight children.
My mother’s paternal side arrived from Germany in the early 1700’s. Family legend has it that one of the early newcomers…a fellow by the name of Johannes Kester, did surveying work for William Penn. (English founder of Pennsylvania (Penn’s woods) which was named for him) As payment for surveying services rendered, Penn gifted Kester with 100 acres of land in what is now Germantown, Pennsylvania. Kester never laid claim to the land, however.
So, I am an “American”. I do believe that we are a misunderstood lot around the world…however, I am proud to be an American. Proud of each of the bloodlines that courses through my veins. Proud to be a part of this huge, diverse, sometimes incomprehensible land.
Just call me an American!
Happy Birthday, America!