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Thursday, December 10, 2009

On Being an American

You never know what you are going to see when you drive down the road. In September, I pulled up to a traffic light behind this truck. The tailgate lift (for a wheelchair) was boldly emblazoned with the American flag. The decal in the corner of the window is the Marine Corps emblem. Here in Ohio, the American flag is ubiquitous, including a mammoth sized one at a local car dealership.

I wondered about this, did the person who was driving the vehicle sustain injuries in the service which resulted in being wheelchair bound?

Sometimes being an American puzzles me. Just before I went to Montana in September, I undertook filling out "The American Community Survey." Sheesh. I don't know how I manage to get the long form from the Census, and now this. There was a lot of information, much of which I had to look up. Not only was there information on how much our house cost how much money we made, and how....but lots of other things too.

I also admit, I'm a procrastinator. Not that I like it. Usually I put off doing what I don't want to do, what I'm afraid of doing, and things which require a lot of thought. Now the American Community Survey is sort of like the Census, but it isn't. It is issued in years that the census is not taken and supposedly takes an average of 38 minutes to complete (that is assuming you have all the information at your fingertips...). Imagine my surprise when I received a second copy (after I had started the first) with big, bold red letters stating that if I didn't fill this out and return it, I was breaking the law. Oh Brother!

Some of the information sort of made me giggle. For instance, "Does this person speak a language other than English at home?" Hmm. Depends on how disgusted he gets with his daughter's conduct...and then it is a muttered Spanish swear word under his breath, and that's quite rare.

One question really gave me pause. "What is this person's ancestry or ethnic origin?" For my husband, that was easy. He was born in Havana, Cuba and his grandparents were from Spain. Easy peasy.

But what about me? Under this question is said "For example: Italian, Jamaican, African Am., Cambodian, Cape Verdean, Norwegian, Dominican, ...and so on." Hm. My mom is of Scottish, Irish, Croatian, Danish, and Welsh descent. My dad is half Swedish. The other half? grandmother, Blanche Mary Reed Broberg is descended from a long line of early settlers. Among her ancestors are English Puritans who came to Massachusetts (from thence to Connecticut and Rhode Island) in the 1630s as well as the Gunsaulis family who were Mennonites who came at least as early as 1698, if not earlier...some records put them in New York with the Dutch settlements. So what am I?

In my veins run the mixed blood of immigrants. The best that could be said of me is that I am Northern European....but then that denies the presence of Mary Majestik Ross, my great grandmother who was my great grandfather's Croatian housekeeper before he married her after his first wife died. Why do I have to be anything?

Then, that also presents the problem of my daughter. She is half Cuban and half mutt. Her surname is Hispanic. She has a Cuban flag hanging in her bedroom. I have always worked hard to educate her as far as her father's family history goes (even so far as to make a traditional Cuban meal for Dia de los tres Reyes (three Kings Day or Epiphany on January 6), but somehow that seems to discredit my part of the family.

When people leave their country and come to a new one, quite often all that they are able to take with them is their language and their food traditions. While I can understand a lot of Spanish, I don't speak it (although I can make myself understood on occasion). At one point in my life, I was fairly fluent in French, even to the point of giving tours in French when I volunteered at the Fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia. However, 30 years of not using it much and the close proximity of the Spanish language means I now sort of speak Sprench.

Traditional foods from my side of the family are sort of non-existent. On Christmas Eve, my mom used to serve Potato soup. I found out later it was because her family (the Scottish-Croatian side) used to eat Oyster stew....which was a no-go with my father. But that's just about it.

I often revel in the fact that Americans, because we ARE such a melting pot, eat just about anything, and combine things in surprising and delicious ways. Sometimes though, I wonder if there is a genetic component in the foods we gravitate to. My husband prefers rice over potatoes....and I prefer potatoes over rice (and I blame that on the Irish and Germanic bits).

So...I'm an American. Not a Swedish American (although I do make a mean Swedish own recipe please, not an inherited one), nor any other nationality...just plain old American. I realize that the Native Americans might have something to say about that, but I wonder if they make a centrifuge to separate out the various strands of DNA to send me back to which ever part of Europe the proportions (long lost in my history) might have originated.

And I did have a chuckle the other thoroughly American daughter, whose accent in Spanish class is deplorable gave me a rare compliment. On Monday, I went to Columbus, Ohio to have a quilt appraised. I brought along my neighbor for company and we stopped in at German Village. I love looking at the architecture there and am amazed at how many early buildings have managed to survive.

We stopped for lunch at Katzinger's Deli and I saw that they had latkes (potato pancakes). My daughter loves potato pancakes and since my husband was away again, I bought one for her for dinner. After she ate it, I asked her how it was. "Well...OK, " she said. "But yours are a thousand times better. Yours are lighter and more fluffy...and yummy." Wow. ....and I don't even follow a recipe! Must have been my Gunsaulis family genes cooking that one!

And for the record? Just call me American.

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