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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November: Heritage and Ethnicity

Marlene says, "Sarah and Mattie's ability to preserve their Mohawk heritage is threatened as soon as they arrive at the school. Does family heritage/ethnicity play a strong role in your sense of identity? How so?"


18 comments:

Lorie Ann Grover said...

It really doesn't for me. Except for explaining my height, I suppose. And I reach for it when everyone is talking about their own ethnicity, so I feel I belong to a group as well.

Little Willow said...

My identity is mostly comprised of things I think and things I am in the sense of doing - acting, singing, dancing, writing - more than what I am as far as ethnicity. However, I'm proud of what countries make up my personal map, and I like my name a lot.

Melissa Walker said...

I feel very proud of having grown up in the south, which I think of as part of my heritage. And when the New Yorkers around me put it down, I have to (politely) remind them of my roots, and why you catch more flies with honey down south.

Marlene Carvell said...

Unfortunately, the biggest role heritage played in my growing up was FOOD. My father’s German background led to the belief that life was good when lots of food (sauerbraten, potato pancakes, kuchen, etc.) was available and plates were cleaned faithfully. As an adult, learning that one could actually survive on salad, yogurt, and no gravy was enlightening.

My own children benefited from a very multi-cultural upbringing with my English/German heritage being combined with my husband’s Mohawk/French background. An interesting genealogical note, however, is that my husband’s French grandmother’s family changed the surname from Gervais to Jarvis and his Mohawk grandfather changed his name from Tarbell to Carvell; in both cases it was to avoid discrimination.


On a very different note, when I was teaching high school, I had students write an essay on this subject and one student wrote that he was American and, therefore, had no ethnicity and so couldn’t write the essay. (Ha! Nice try!) It became what we call a teachable moment, leading to a very interesting discussion about every individual and every place and every experience that contributes to making us who we are.

Marlene Carvell said...

So, Lorie Ann, are you short or tall? (And either is cool; I'm 5'2"; my husband is 6'4".)

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

I think of myself as both the child of my Native ancestors and my white ones--it's not so much about me, but the idea that I'm honoring the gifts they passed on, from both sides. Melissa, honey, it breaks my heart that regionalism has become an "ism." You hang in there! I'm a mid-to-southwestern, and I credit it with my work ethic and good cheer.

Marlene Carvell said...

Good point re "regionalism", Cynthia! I've lived in New York on the Canadian border and in Texas, not too far from the Mexican border. Both areas are unique and have very different cultures; it is the diversity in our world that keeps life interesting.

Lorie Ann Grover said...

6', Marlene!

When I think ethnicity, my thoughts move from America to Europe. So I wasn't thinking of the impact of generations of my family here. That said...

Melissa! People tell me I wasn't raised in the south because it was Miami. Paalease. Pass me the beans and corn bread, and just make room for me at the table, ya'll. I'm proud of the graciousness of Southern women. They set the bar high.

Shelf Elf said...

It really doesn't play a big role in my sense of self. Sometimes around St. Patrick's Day I'll crow about being 1/2 Irish, but other than that, I don't think about it much. I'm Canadian, and I love the fact that it's not easy to define who a Canadian is, what with our tremendously multi-cultural society.

In terms of heritage, I'm not sure if this counts, but I grew up in the country (middle-of-nowhere to city folk) and I think I'll always be a country girl in my heart. That part of my past experience seems to have left more of an impact on me than my ethnic heritage.

zaramarshmallow said...

Being British, I suppose I do feel a strong sense of identity- but I never noticed it until I spent time with people from abroad, where it became something noticed rather than the norm. I was on holiday, and spent some time with some American teens, and was quite shocked when they mocked my accent. It made me conscious of my nationality, so was a positive experience. I think it is one of the things lacking from education, however: I don't think teens ever really get a chance to talk about their culture and identity, and perhaps by discussing it and learning about it from a young age, racism and discrimination would be less rife.

Dia Calhoun said...

Zaramarshmallow--the reverse happened to me. When I was in England at 21, some British teens mocked my American accent! It made me feel alien and inferior.

I have always been proud of my Scottish/Irish/English background. Home of such great literature! I would be bereft and a different person if I had not grown up with English Literature.

Marlene Carvell said...

zaramarshmallow and dia: My husband and I spent a week in London this summer; we wondered if there would be language issues because, as former English teachers, we understand there are differences not only in accent but also in vocabulary and syntax. We found everyone wonderful and even though we were generally recognized as American as soon as we opened our mouths, we felt comfortable wherever we went. Ironically, we have had more issues traveling in the south in our own country, not so much an issue of acceptance but one of general communication. When we lived in Texas decades ago, we were given directions to turn left after the tank. We looked for a tall water tank but we were supposed to look for what we called a pond. I still contend these are the differences that keep us all interesting. It is frustrating, though, that some people focus on those differences to make others feel bad.

On a related language note, Indian children in the boarding schools were not even allowed to speak their own language,

Sarahbear9789 said...

I am from the Pacific Northwest, but my ancestor were from Germany and Ireland. We still celebrate Saint Nicholas Day and get small gift in our shoes before Christmas. Saint Patrick Day is also celebrated. I love and am proud of where I come from and my parents have tried to teach me as many different cultures as possible.

Marlene Carvell said...

Hi there, Sarah! Looks like we both have had some German influence in our lives. When my sons were children, presents came from St. Nick, not Santa Claus.

zaramarshmallow said...

Dia and marlene: I suppose it's natural to respond negatively to the alien, and so I'm sorry you had such an experience dia. But I do agree with Marlene: it is the differences that are often more interesting than the similarities. I think it is particularly so when cultures (and so languages) can become cohesive as they do for sarahbear.

Marlene Carvell said...

Absolutely, zaramarshmallow! When cultural differences are "targeted"by some, however, it is especially hard on young people. When my younger son was in high school and trying to change the Indian mascot of his school (see my first book, Who Will Tell My Brother), he experienced so much harassment that he still refers to his senior year as the year from hell. And when his Navajo girlfriend (now his wife) flew home from college shortly after the 9/11 incident, she was subjected to more security scrutiny than my son (who looks more like his German ancestors than his Mohawk ones). At nineteen, she was intimidated and later very upset to realize she was being targeted because of the color of her skin . . . and in a situation where to assert oneself would only make things worse.

Cara Mengobati Kencing Nanah said...
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