Did you know that every time I see or read The Joy Luck Club
, I have the overwhelming desire to be Chinese? Or when watching Under the Tuscan Sun
, I want to travel to Italy to reclaim my roots? Or possibly, did you know that when I read The Chosen
, a novel by Chaim Potok, I became fascinated by Judaism?
Well, you probably didn't. That's ok, too. Who would?
What with all the death looming over my family, the WCM and I have dug a bit into our respective families' histories. I knew already that my maternal grandmother's parents were straight off the boat from Italy. I didn't, and still don't, know exactly when the Grahams came over - my maternal grandfather's family. Never having known the old bastard, I couldn't say I want to know out of any personal attachment to him. He sounds like a complete waste of skin - oh the stories I've heard! It would be nice, though, to know how closely related to Saint Andrew I am. On that side of the family, we've all considered ourselves to be "Eye-talians," or Italian-Americans. The whole Scottish link has sort of been erased from our family. During my Uncle Armand's funeral a few years ago, my brother turned and whispered to me "why is there a bagpiper playing Amazing Grace
at an Italian funeral?" I whispered back "'Graham,' dummy!" but inside, I was kind of wondering the same thing.
My paternal grandfather was born here, but his father was born in South Wales. We don't know where his mother's family was from yet. I haven't started looking for my paternal grandmother's family yet, although I know they're pretty much English & Welsh - Hills & Abernathys. That part of the family has always considered themselves to be Welsh Americans - pretty easy when you're living in areas of Pennsylvania named Bala Cynwyd, St. Davydd, and Bryn Mawr.
The WCM has managed to find a Civil War veteran in his lineage - I was impressed. Then he told me that the man joined up, then promptly deserted four months later. Hee hee! We can even find this guy's
parents. The internet is a wonderful thing.
It still doesn't help me, though, with my missing cultural identity. The thing about all those movies and books that I listed is that they all have one unifying culture. I have a mish-mash of cultures to choose from. There is no shared past or language that unites us. "American" has so little meaning to me - not because of some liberal shame or denial, but because America is so culturally diverse to begin with, you can't identify any shared past or language among its citizens, even English! Not all Americans have to speak English any more. Do I think this is a good thing? No. The WCMs ancestors and mine don't have any shared past, except the ones that were born here. My grandfather and the WCMs father both fought in World War II, but in different theaters. But I digress. The Americans you'll see in Louisiana aren't the same as the ones you'll find in Maine, or Wisconsin, or Arizona. Can I identify with these people? Well, maybe some of them - I know a few Maine-iacs. I like 'em. But hell, if I identify with the Mainers on a national level, why not the Canadians? They're pretty similar. And if I identify with the Arizonans, why not the Mexicans? Similarities again.
I'm always kind of lost on the Fourth of July, where I fly my flag without truly understanding what it stands for. Our current administration isn't helping my dilemma either, since they're making the American flag a symbol of imperialistic interference the world over. But, once again, I digress. What's it mean to be an American these days? I just don't know.
I know that this is just pointless rambling, where I gather all my navel lint and contemplate the meaning of life. Thanks for reading, if you made it this far, and may I offer you a mint? It's wafer thin!
Labels: navel lint