Monday, March 10, 2008

Heritage, specifically mine

I will admit it, when I first saw Alice's challenge to write our ethnic story as people in science, I thought that I might compromise my anonymity. However, after some reflection, I have decided that, although unique, my story does offer some perspective on growing up white in America. As such, it is worth sharing.

In briefest form, my ethnic heritage is that of a European mutt. On my dad's side, there are two waves of coming to America: the Mayflower and through Ellis Island. As far as we can tell, my mom's side came through Ellis Island. My dominant ethnicities are English, Norwegian, and French; but it is hard to get specific. I remember much of my history because of what I have been told, but it took family members from both sides getting into genealogy to figure out our family paths. One thing that I personally find disheartening is we lost the really unique last names through the generations. Some of this was due to marital unions; some of this was due to Americanizing last names at Ellis Island.

However, I have recently had an ethnic awakening, which stems in large part to going to a large university in the Northeast. Growing up, I lived in a small Midwestern town with a substantial population of First Nations peoples. While I was exposed to their cultural practices in my elementary History of [Midwest State] curriculum, I did not come to see my town as ethnically diverse until I went to college. [It is also notable that I am a first-generation college student.]

Interestingly, I have to credit my religious faith for widening my world view instead of narrowing it. That and probably a good deal of cultural shock. My university was bigger than my hometown. The dorm I lived in junior and senior year housed more people than went to my high school. My freshman year, however, I lived in a very small house on campus by a luck of the draw. I did not have the instant experience of going out and meeting people, so I sought it out by way of student organizations. One of the best fits for me was a "multi-ethnic" Christian fellowship.

I put multi-ethnic in quotes above because at the time it really was not a multi-ethnic fellowship. We were mostly women with a Caucasian heritage. A student of an African heritage challenged us one day to wake up and realize how we fell short of our name. For me, it was eye-opening and alarming. It challenged me to see "human" in global terms, particularly as it relates to our social institutions. Through this fellowship, I had a chance to attend the Urbana missions convention in 2003. Ray Aldred, a Cree man, was one of the keynote speakers; I am grateful to this day that I got to hear his talk. This was the first time I was able to appreciate the distinctiveness of First Nations cultures, despite growing up with them my whole life.

Working through the awakening to actual life change takes time. I am still not there. However, I am a student of culture. I enjoy my own culture as a part of who I am; I strive to see the ways that I can live fully in a multi-ethnic world. A look through my bookshelf was a bit entertaining: I realized I own 38 books that are all around the themes of racism, classism, and gender. The choice to educate myself and live within the implications of that knowledge has been difficult, but I realize I am less willing to accept my life experiences as normal. This opens me up to share with others.

So that's about me and my journey.

1 comment:

Alice said...

Hey, thanks for playing! Much appreciated. And I wish I could see your bookshelves.