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.