I’m Not That Ethnic

Ethnic
*A member from a particular ethnic group.
*This group tends to be very old and can be traced down from generation to generation, and has a geographical location which is occupied by most of its members.
* Members of this group, share the same customs, language, and culture, and belong to one race, and common ancestery, and some tend to be family oriented.

What does it mean to be ethnic?  Frankly it can mean different things to different people.  Sometimes people use it in a negative way.  I’ve heard parents in Chicago say they wouldn’t send their kids to a school because it’s too “ethnic.”  That’s really just their way of saying their aren’t enough white kids there.  I look at the term ethnic as a positive thing, as a legacy of sorts.  To me people who are “Ethnic” have strong ties to their heritage and culture.  They have family traditions that go back generations.

I’m not that ethnic.  What I mean is my family doesn’t have a strong ethnic background.  By blood I am mostly Irish and Italian, some Scottish, a bit of English, some German, and yes American Indian.  I have always suspected that I am somewhat Spanish because I have a strange affinity for Flamenco.  Oh, and I can dance.  I don’t know where that comes from.  I don’t mean like white girl cheer dancing either.  Maybe that’s the Native American in me?  I don’t know.  It’s funny to need to connect these things to a culture.    These stereotypes are so pervasive in our culture we often don’t even notice when we perpetuate them, or limit ourselves because of them.

Mostly, I’m just American.  I’d like to say that I’m proud to be American.  I guess in many ways I am.  I certainly feel fortunate when I think about the rights that we have in this country.  I know that we have so much when others have so little and I believe in the value of Democracy.  But I’ve traveled enough to know that the United Stated needs to fix some things and I don’t broadcast my Americaness when abroad.

My husband is “ethnic,” at least what I consider ethnic. His parents are immigrants.  He speaks more than one language fluently.  He has strange holidays with odd little songs that go with them.  In fact I love to write stories about his ethnic family.  I have embraced his ethnic heritage as my own and when people assume that I am Greek I don’t really correct them.  After all, I have a general Mediterranean appearance, I could pass.  I don’t do it because I want to be Greek, only that it’s easier that way.  It’s easier to be one thing, than explain the lot of things.  It’s easier to say oh I’m Irish and Italian, than go down the whole list.  In a way, I guess I stereotype myself.  But If I say I’m Italian everyone assumes I have a big loud family, that I have a secret pasta recipe, and that I wax both my eyebrows and my upper lip.  No, No, well ok yes on that last one.  If I say I’m mostly Irish, which actually I am but I don’t look it, people get a weird sort of knowing nod.  What IS that nod anyway?  It seems pretty full of judgement which I just don’t get.  If I list everything out they sort of glaze over.  If I mention that I am, in actuality, part Native American from the Choctaw tribe they ask me if I had to pay for college.  Idiots.

What is my truth?  Have you see the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  Well that’s pretty much on par.  I’m the white toast and my husband is the lamb on a spit ouzo drinking big family guy.  I mean his family isn’t that over the top…only sometimes.

I am happy with who I am, but I have always looked on my lack of “ethnic culture” as a weakness.  In a way, something to be ashamed of.  There is a certain pride associated with connecting oneself to the “mother country.”  But this is my mother country.  So what is my legacy?  I guess the truth is I need to stop thinking that things about me should be explained or excused by my background.  It is okay if I don’t fit the stereotype of the typical white girl raised in the Chicago suburbs.  Afterall, that may be why I left.  I am allowed to like booty house music, dance flamenco, and drink Tsipouro late into the night.  Perhaps this is what being an American Ethnic is about.  We take the best of every culture, background, and person we encounter and we honor it by taking it into ourselves and making it a part of who we are.

I know that I am fascinated, humbled, and in awe of the human condition.  I know that creativity, art, and beauty know no boundaries among cultures and religions.   I know this much is true.

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Categories: Slice of Life Challenge | Tags: | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “I’m Not That Ethnic

  1. How much do I love the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding! I know what you mean about having a lot of different heritages, but not being affiliated to one. It’s an odd thing when you are with someone whose ethnicity defines them. There’s something really different about identifying with a group in that way, that I don’t have. But having traveled and lived abroad, I hope maybe my identity is about being open to all kinds of heritages. I loved this post. I’d love to talk more about this topic! Thanks for such a thoughtful conversation starter.

  2. I liked how you went through each of the nationalities and what you could say in each case. The Italian one made me chuckle….In northeast Iowa where I live. We have Norwegians, Germans and Bohemians–that’s about as ethnic as it gets. Nothing exciting. Not really much ethnic going on with me either. I guess that’s why this was such a fun post for me to read.

  3. I’ve wondered if you were Greek, from information in other posts. Thanks for clearing this up. I would have never guessed you were such a mixture. I lived in Chicago during my elementary years and after introducing yourself, the next question what’s your family background? I didn’t know anyone who was a mixture of undetermined parts. My grandparents (both sides) were immigrants. So blood lines were pretty pure in our family. When I moved away from Chicago I found out no one else thought that heritage was all that important. I still cling to a few traditions from the family.

    • You make a good point Elsie. It is very much a Chicago thing. We have so many groups of people who are so tied to their culture and history. I wonder if I wouldn’t notice as much living elsewhere?

  4. I enjoyed your post. Just today, my son and I were learning about Vikings. I promptly said, you know we have Vikings in part of our heritage – you have to go way back – and I really don’t know the details but enough to proudly say, “I have Vikings in my heritage.” But am I really proud of it or just that I can connect myself somehow to a group of people from “the mother land.” Or am I proud of it because I really don’t know much of the other side of my heritage. Great things to think on tonight! Thank you!

  5. Things to think about, for sure!

    I consider myself an “American Mutt”. Not in a bad way. I think you’re right. As ethnic Americans, we can choose to take or leave bits from ANY culture we choose. Honestly, how cool is that?

    I’m Italian (through blood and adoption) – I talk big and use my hands a LOT. No, I’m not Catholic, nor do I have a bazillion cousins. I don’t really LOOK Italian, though… because…

    I’m Dutch (grandfather came over as a merchant marine. I never met him, he died when my mom was two)

    I’m German (just a bit)

    I’m French (again, a smidge)

    I’m Irish. Okay, hardly a drop. But this is my adopted culture. I love the music, would die to learn the dances (I’m not coordinated enough) and I’d love to learn the bodhran. (again, not coordinated)

    If I wanted to be, I could be anything else I choose. For a day, for a year. Take it or leave it.

    Maybe it’s because my features are “waspy”.. maybe that’s part of why I have the freedom. Maybe I’d be laughed at if I tried to adopt a Native American way for a while, or an African American way. But I’d like to believe I could do it anyway..

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