Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Is "American" an ethnicity?

Back in 1995, I joined the Peace Corps.  At the time, I was 22 years old and didn't have a whole lot of experience with people from other places.  I mean, I knew people who weren't white like me, but my community was not the worldliest place on the planet.  There was one guy in my Peace Corps group who was Asian.  Indeed, he was the only non-white person in our group of 32.  One day I asked him what his "nationality" was.  I didn't think to use the more correct word, ethnicity.  I think it was because when I worked at Busch Gardens, I knew a girl of Indian descent who had asked someone what their nationality was, when she really meant ethnicity.  She was a student at the University of Virginia, so I figured she knew better.

So when I asked what his nationality was, my Asian colleague said, "I'm an American."

Then I clarified and he said, "Oh, you mean my ethnicity.  I'm Chinese."

We became pretty good friends for awhile, until one day in 2008 when we got into an online argument about Mitt Romney.  We apparently dumped each other because I haven't heard from him since 2009, when he sent me an email out of the blue.  I responded, but I guess he decided he didn't want to make up.

Anyway, for some reason, the other day I started thinking about "ethnicity".  I mean, everyone must have one, right?  But America is the "great melting pot", which means our population is made up of people from all over the world, most of whom came here from somewhere else.  It's not like being Chinese or Spanish or Nigerian.  Unless you are of Native American descent, chances are your people came here within the last 200 or 300 years.

All evidence points to most of my ancestors being from the British Isles or Germany-- mostly from the British Isles, though.  There's a chance that there's some Native American blood in there, too.  My dad's side of the family has mostly dark-haired, dark-eyed white people with freckles.  My dad's hair was black before it turned silver, though his beard would grow in reddish the few times I saw him unshaven.  My oldest sister looks like him and has almond shaped eyes that almost look a little Asian, which makes me think someone on my dad's side of the family got with a Native American at some point.  I have a few other relatives who have those "Asian" looking eyes, though most of us have rounder eyes.

I look like my mother's side of the family, which is very Celtic.  I have big blue eyes, reddish blonde hair, pale skin, and not many freckles.  I'm short and stout, with small hands and feet.  I don't look a thing like my dad, though there are a few folks on his side of the family who have blue eyes.  They are all taller and thinner than I am.


A somewhat recent picture of me...

From what I can tell, my family came to Virginia in the 1700s.  My dad's side of the family settled in Rockbridge County, while I think my mom's side came from Amherst, Virginia-- though my mom was born and raised in Buena Vista, Virginia, which has ironically become a Mormon mecca.

Indeed, the road that runs in front of "Granny's" house (my dad's mom) in Rockbridge County is named after my grandfather, who died in 1974.  So does that mean if someone asks me my ethnicity, I tell them I'm American?  Or would I tell them I am of Scottish/English/Irish/German descent?  I'm obviously of European extraction.  If you stand me next to my mom, you can tell we're related...


Me and my mom on my wedding day...


A very old photo of my dad and me...

Ah, the things that run across my mind when I'm bored...  I will tell you that when I was in Scotland last year, I felt very much at home.  It was a lot like being in a more beautiful part of Virginia.  Even the smells were familiar.  Scotland is one of those places I would love to see again and again, if I ever get the opportunity.  But I guess given that several generations of my family have been born and raised in the United States, I am an American above all, despite all that Celtic blood.  But when I was in Scotland, I fit right in.  Local people even stopped Bill and me and asked us for directions, then backed off when they heard our American accents.  I met a woman on our cruise whose maiden name was the same as my mom's maiden name and I commented that we could be long lost relatives...


Bill and me... I look more like him than I do my sisters...





No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments on older posts will be moderated until further notice.