|They only met online, but it |
changed their lives forever
I signed up, but let me tell you, I've spent the last month racking my brain. Just what "A" word would I share?
Then, when the dude and I were walking around Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia, I had an idea. (We were traveling home today so this post is a little later than I would have liked.) As I've reviewed what other people have written about, I realize that my take on the exercise is a little different from other people's. But I'm sticking with it.
My word is ancestry. I know you all have ancestry, whether you know much about your forebears or not. But there is a sort of slant way of looking at it in America, which I think is pretty particular, but may be shared with some other places where there are many immigrants. Maybe not; let's find out.
What are you?
In America, if someone asks, "what are you?" they have a very particular meaning in mind that almost every other American understands immediately. They are not asking whether you work as a lawyer or plumber or teacher or doctor. They are asking what your ancestry is.
Almost no one will answer "American" even if we have been here for generations. Oh, when the Olympics are on or on the Fourth of July, people will embrace that identity, for sure. But when faced with the question "what are you?" people will go to great detail to tell you what their ancestors' countries of origin are. Usually, I stick with 3/4 French Canadian and 1/4 Polish, even though my great grandfather left Vilnius when it was Russian, and there's possibly a little Lithuanian in there. And the French Canadian--there are claims to Native American blood as well as the shame of being part Campbell. But generally speaking I round up. (There are those who will tell you they are 1/16 something or 1/32 something else.)
This struck me particularly in the French parts of Nova Scotia because I realized 1) I had only vague knowledge of the Grand Deportation* --how can one claim a heritage when one doesn't know its history? 2) I came to the realization that names I knew from my youth--in the 1980s, three-quarters of New Hampshire natives were of French Canadian descent--were completely Anglicized (for example, we pronounced Gagne, "Gag-knee") (frankly I can't even pronounce my own name in French with a straight face**) and 3) related to number 2, there were names that were French that I had no idea were French. Interestingly the greatest of these was "Melanson" which was just everywhere in Nova Scotia, and especially important historically.
I had a similar experience on a teaching trip I made to Poland, the land of my people. Where I realized that besides eating pierogies every now and again, and celebrating (in a half-assed sort of way) Wigilia, I was Polish only insofar as I was Polish-American. That is, I had much more in common with other Americans than I had with Poles.
Now this may be different for people who still speak their ancestor's language(s) in the home, or who live in ethnic encalves, but I'm pretty sure if someone who is 1/32 Italian shows up in Rome, they are going to feel pretty disconnected from the ancestry they hold onto with both hands.
I'd love to hear if people in other parts of the world have this sense of ancestry.
I will add a couple of photos of "French" and "Polish" Santas that I have stitched, but I need to dig them out of storage.
*To be fair, my people are from Bas Canada (Quebec) and not the Maritime Provinces.
**True story. In second grade, when I started CCD (religious education) each teacher read out the names from their list of students to gather their classes. Faced with my name, which isn't that difficult, the teacher called over an old French nun to say it. When I heard it, I had no idea she was calling my name. At the end, they asked if anyone's name hadn't been called, and I raised my hand. They assigned me to a new teacher, presumably one who could say my name in English. ;)