I’ve always thought that knowing your heritage was valuable. Understanding who came before you is a pretty cool thing, especially when you consider the sacrifices or decisions they made to bring your parents — and ultimately you– into the world. To those of us who are cobbled together from European immigrants, that history doesn’t connect with one culture. I’m sure that America is a culture all of its own, but we’re such a vast, varied nation that it’s hard to pin down. (Apple pie? American Idol? Felonious Wall Street investors?)
So that begs the question –When you’re an American of mixed European descent, do you really have a culture to share with your children?
My husband’s family is from Russia. He doesn’t know much about his ancestors, though, which means we have little to no Russian influence in the house. If anyone knows of any national holidays or traditional dishes we could incorporate into the family menu, I’d appreciate them (please, no borscht).
My father and his mother were born in Wales, so we have a strong connection there. The other pieces of the gene pool are intriguing, but how deep do we go? We have smatterings of other cultures (Italian, Irish, French, German–my grandfather once told me there’s even some Gypsy in there). If we tried to celebrate all of these, I look ahead and see our family dinner table, with meals of Irish soda bread, sausages, and lasagna, all washed down with a shot of vodka. If I make the kids wear berets and sing “Frére Jacques,” we’ll be all set.
When transferring a heritage to your children, you want to tell the story. You want to say, “This is ours. We belong here, with these people.”
Your Welsh great grandmother fell in love with an American soldier during World War II. He proposed, and she turned him down because she loved him too much. He didn’t give up, and she finally said yes. They moved to America from Wales when your grandfather was small, and he didn’t speak any English — only Welsh.
Your Jewish great grandparents were lucky and brave enough to escape the Russia of World War II.
Your American roots go back before the Revolutionary War. Your ancestor was a patriot who fought for independence.
I suppose where you’re from is not as important as who you’re from. Those men and women who left their lives behind, for love, or war, or to start a new life. Their bravery and resilience led to you. My boys. If that fortitude stays alive, then it doesn’t matter if we have eclairs or tiramisu.