Frontiers

“Who Do You Think You Are?”

The Mrs. and I ended up somehow conversing lightheartedly the other day about nationality. She is English and Irish. I am, well, it is more complex…

As an American, I am a typical mixture: 5 of my 8 great-grandparents were from Italy; the other three were born in the USA, descended from Germans, English, and Irish. There may have been some French as well, and although not impossible that is much less clear…

[Screenshot of Ancestry.co.uk.]

Someone else’s ancestry has also been in the news again. You may have heard about yet another back and forth on Twitter and elsewhere in recent days over Massachusetts US Senator Elizabeth Warren‘s evidently microscopic amount of US Native American ancestry. Recently she took a DNA test which did prove she has a “tiny” amount.

The public issue for her started back in 2012 – long before a Donald J. Trump sought the presidency. A Boston newspaper ran an article that asserted she had declared herself “Native American” as an employee at Harvard Law School decades ago – which did at least violate “the spirit” of such ethnic self-declarations. It is information meant for the institution to enable them to ascertain the composition of their workforce or student body; she was not a tribal member and was apparently calling herself that for some personal reason despite her entire life being lived as a “white” American. As a result, President Trump has for years mocked her by calling her “Pocahontas.” In turn she fires back that he’s being racist calling her that and thereby attacking Native Americans.

Politicians, we also know, can behave like children. What is plainly visible in this case is Trump is being at least a “playground taunter” – making fun of her for what he believes she’s making up, or exaggerating ridiculously, in order perhaps to seek attention or to seem “special.” We must always also remember that this president expresses himself often in the manner of a “9 year old.” “Hey, look,” 9 year old Trump points at and yells at 9 year old Warren as she’s playing with her friends over on the swings, “it’s Pocahantas! Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah! Did you kiss Captain Smith today?”

I remember my dad telling me when I was a kid that one of his grandmothers had insisted she was “part-Cherokee.” He also said it was nonsense; that Nana liked to tell stories and even if it contained a kernel of truth it is so far back in the family tree as not to be worth mentioning. Interestingly Warren’s brothers’ support for her account – [we] “grew up listening to our mother and grandmother and other relatives talk about our family’s Cherokee and Delaware heritage” – sounds a lot like my father’s experience: older relatives telling of the family history to fascinated and impressionable children and grandchildren.

[Excerpt from Frontiers, on Kindle for iPad/iPhone. Click to expand.]

I just realized this. Being descended from Italians, some from Sicily, chances are if you go FAR enough back given Sicily’s history, I’m also probably “part” Greek, and also maybe even “part” Arab. Huh, maybe my uncle (my mother’s brother) was indeed, and therefore I am, “part Lebanese”?πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

To return to the serious. Talking about the wider issue, the Mrs. and I ended up asking each other: What nationality would you be if you could not be what you are? Do you ever *think* you’d like to be someone else, and from somewhere else? If I’m honest, I’m content to have been born in New York, and to be from the USA, and of the ancestry I “think” I am. If I could not have been an American, I suppose I would wish to have been a Canadian. After that, I would have chosen to be English. After those, probably Australian – for, aside from Canada, Australia may be the most “American” place I have ever visited outside of the USA: Sydney’s suburbs reminded me of southern California… except they drive on the left.

I suppose those just reflect my prejudices. Those other nationalities seem closest to what I think I am, so if I could not be what I am I would like to be one of them. If you were from somewhere else, you would also not be precisely who you are now as a person; of course you would be “different” in ways you could not now likely even fathom. However, often looks deceive, and matters are almost never simple.

That Insta pic above is from November 2017. I recall once we were stopped at a “rest area” on the New York State Thruway – which covers over 400 miles from New York City to the Canadian border, just south of Montreal – and having lunch in a food court. A few seats away I heard French – parents and a couple of teenage girls.

I had earlier noticed them park not far away from us; Canadian cars are common on the Thruway. They had a Quebec license plate on their car, so the French was no shock. My wife had been sitting with her back to them, and had heard them also – but she could not see them.

She remarked to me after we got back into our car to drive on that she was stunned when she got up from our table and was actually able to see the family. They were speaking French, she said, but they did not LOOK or DRESS like they were French. She believed that they looked like, uh, Americans… speaking French. A French man from France, in particular, she laughed, doesn’t usually wear a NASCAR cap.

From a parking viewpoint on Route 23, which winds westwards up into the Catskills from the north-south New York State Thruway (I-87). New York State is spread out immediately below. Off in the distance, to the center and right, you can see to Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. [Photo by me, 2015.]

[From a parking viewpoint on Route 23, which winds westwards up into the Catskills from the north-south New York State Thruway (I-87). New York State is spread out immediately below. Off in the distance, to the center and right, you can see to Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Photo by me, 2015.]

I love traveling, and I may admire some aspects of others’ lives and countries. Yet I think most of us are okay with being who and what we are. We know ourselves, and while we probably aren’t 100 percent happy with ourselves that doesn’t mean we necessarily really want to be someone else or from somewhere else.

Have a good day, whoever you are, and wherever you are. πŸ™‚

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