Family heritage is an important part of our cultural identity as Americans. We the people, and our ancestors have transformed this great nation.
Today, let’s explore some cultural heritage questions by exploring who we are.
My son’s second grade class learned about Ellis Island and immigration last week. Each child’s homework involved investigating family origins and reporting back to class to answer the question:
“WHERE IS YOUR FAMILY FROM?”
My son was intrigued by all the different answers he heard – Italy, Germany, Africa, Sweden to name but a few. His classmates’ heritage truly reflected America’s melting pot. His best friend is part Native American, Italian and Irish. My poor son was pretty disappointed. He could only report one country of origin. At seven the motto “more is better” rules.
“Do I only get to say Ireland?” he asked mournfully.
“I’m afraid so,” I replied. “You’re 100% Irish for generations.”
The very next morning I came across a blog post by Charles R. Hale on his website STORIES CONNECT, LOVE HEALS. Hale, an Irish-American writer and genealogist based in New York coincidentally asked the very questions my son was exploring:
Who Are You?
Where Do You Come From?
I found these to be very thought provoking questions, especially upon reading Hale’s previous post called Genealogy: Fascinating Folly?
This post explained how most people can trace their family for 200 years or maybe 300 years if they are lucky. But if the human race is over 200,000 years in existence where does that leave the genealogist trying to trace numerous ancestral lines? Hale concluded in typical lyrical style:
“I am a marauding Viking and a pagan dancing around a fire. I am an
archaeologist piecing together ancestral shards. I am a historian
mapping my ancestors’ spirits and emotions with words. I am all
their stories and all their wisdom. I am everyone.”
– Charles R. Hale
He urged his readers to add their interpretations of who they think they are in comments and by email. He then featured individual ancestral revelations in additional posts. The questions he posed set my mind reeling. I left a comment that goes like this:
“I am, I am, I am,” is resonating through my head. Until recently
there was only one answer in my mind to the question “Who am I?”
I quoted Yeats and answered solidly: “I am of Ireland”. But life has
taken me on a path of transition, of evolution I never dreamed of. I
have chosen to dance in America, not the holy land of Ireland, and
now I must decide who I have become.
After reading some of the beautiful responses and comments on the original post, I decided to try to put in words who I am, and where I have come from. Here is what I came up with:
I am lulled to sleep by droning rain songs. I am rich earthen clay
breaking between fingertips. I am forty shades of emerald green, the
smell of fresh-cut hay, waving daffodils and purple fairy kisses.
I am a weary farmer feasting on potatoes with melting butter,
washed down by tangy buttermilk.
I am a West Cork dreamer standing on towering cliffs above Atlantic
ocean swells, illuminated by the orange glow of the setting sun on a
distant, watery horizon.
I am a loving mother, watching her children play, leaning on the
half-door of a little stone cottage with white-washed walls, and a
bonnet of yellow thatch.
I am a survivor, inhaling the putrid smell
of decay, scraping the oozing earth from the roots of black potato
stalks, laying limp across cherished fields.
I come from a long line of survivors, searchers, storytellers, lovers
of words, and the company of friends. Their dreams and aspirations
are now mine, and inspire me as I shape my new life in America.
Charles Hale graciously featured my genealogical interpretation in his follow up. Here are the links for all the posts in his series. I thoroughly enjoyed his readers’ responses. If you have a moment, take some time to check out the beautiful answers on his website. (Update: This website is no longer available so these links have been disabled).
Genealogy: Fascinating Folly?
Who Are You? Where Are You From?
The Ancient Warrior, The HulaHoop And Yeats
Cowbells, Conquerors, Fishermen and Nomads
West Cork Dreamer, Indian Lullabies, A Caretaker And A Daughter Of God
A big thank you to Charles Hale for creating such a wonderful exercise and for featuring my ramblings.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
P.S. Feel free to continue the conversation by leaving a comment. I would love to hear who you are and where you are from.
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