Let’s face it. There’s nothing light about Russia’s most recent threat to reduce America to ashes. But there is also nothing new, thankfully, and all the blustering leaves ordinary Americans and ordinary Russians scratching our heads and wondering why we can’t just have a cookout (that’s a “braai” for you ZA’ers) with some hot dogs and a bottle of Smirnov and toast to our frustration with all of our world “leaders”.
Welcome to Manuscript Monday, where tidbits from my manuscript are shared with readers here. Identity is a recurrent theme in my book, and I thought this latest Russia/US crap was a good segue into themes from the manuscript…
On this St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2014, I’m going back to my roots. Of course I’m American. But I’m also Irish. And German. And English. And Swiss. And Silesian (a country no longer there, where Poland sits now). And Welsh. And Scottish. And, (once-upon-a-time) Seneca Native American.
My husband is half Slovak and half Polish.
I have friends and relatives in the states whose heritages and those of their spouses include a variety of South African, Nigerian, French, Spanish, Ukrainian, Croatian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and even (wonderfully, proudly, beautifully) Russian.
Some, like my husband with his half and half ethnicity have stronger cultural ties to their roots, including food, language and traditions. Others, like me and my watered down version of old-school American, embrace that we are “pavement specials” (as they call us in South Africa) and enjoy celebrating any cultural holiday that might let us toast, drink, eat and enjoy getting along more frequently than we fight.
Americans are everyone else, and yet nobody else.
We’re a land of immigrants (from Puritans to criminals) and natives, intermixed and scattered across a vast country whose common “identity” tends to adopt the strongest traits of the cultures we come from, even if it means those cultures clash with one another; even if it means finding a “typical American” is as difficult as asking someone from Kansas City vs. someone from Houston vs. someone from Boston what barbecue sauce should taste like; or as ridiculous as arguing over whether you’re drinking “soda,” “pop,” “cola,” or “Coke” (even when it’s Pepsi).
We’re simply all different, which means we have a difficult time finding a national consensus on whether, as a nation, we’re liberal or conservative, moderate, green, or even anarchists. In other words, Americans are simply individuals with a variety of opinions, collectively hoping to vote for leaders who won’t f*ck up the world and keep improving life for those in their care, whether that’s at home or abroad.
Also like many Americans, I was lost for awhile as an American. It is hard to grasp identity as just “American” when you have so many branches of the tree stretching in different directions. And like many Americans, I searched for my identity by tracing my own family lineage through each matriarchal and patriarchal line as far back as I could.
What I found, despite knowing my roots and participating in genetic testing, is that I am simply whoever I choose to be, and whoever I choose to identify with. I’m an old American, and a new American, and I hope I’m a fairly decent citizen of the world, because the faster technology connects us, the faster we need to learn to navigate an increasingly smaller global community.
Today I choose to identify with my Irish roots. It’s St. Patrick’s Day, after all, and while I come from a fighting culture, I’m really not in the mood for all this war nonsense, whether cold or hot.
“Kiss me, I’m Irish!” is a button I wore many years on St. Patrick’s Day. It was a fun day, once a year, to remember our Irish roots, which I had on both sides of the family, in the lines of Ewing, McCreary and Murphy to name a few of the strongest. I came from Protestant Catholics and from Irish Catholics and several drunk agnostics.
My grandmother was a Murphy. And Murphy stock is a typical rough and tumble Irish family. Murphy is such a common Irish-American name that even today, this very day, on Facebook, a friend who works at a bar in Pittsburgh used the name “Murphy” as a means of describing an Irish person (as in “so many Murphys in the bar we’ll need a few days to clean up the mess”. Surprisingly this stereotype is not really that insulting, since Irish-Americans are often proud of the drinking, cavorting, brawling stereotype.
I remember the fights my Gram and Pappap would get into. But I was also aware, always, that they loved each other deeply and that fighting, for them, was just part of communication.
My area of America (western Pennsylvania) has strong Irish roots and each year sees a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Pittsburgh, where participants and spectators are decked out in green and occasionally going so crazy that they look like a leprechaun barfed shamrocks all over them. We drink green beer and put green food dye in our mashed potatoes, and sing. Loudly.
My niece decided she did not have enough Irish so she married a man with Irish roots on both sides of his family, and that handsome family of Irish Catholics know how to sing and drink well enough it would make their Ireland-Irish cousins quite proud, I’m sure. I’m excited to watch my niece’s daughters (my grand-nieces) grow up in such a celebratory and loving family.
I celebrate my heritage today, as an American and as an Irish descendant, with a toast to the blood and mindset that make us cling to a particular heritage, and with a toast to the blood and mindset that makes us realize we’re not all that different around the world: a bunch of individuals who celebrate and mourn; who eat and drink to bond with one another; who elect both good leaders and stupid ones; who know that regardless of who wants to turn whom into ashes, most of “The Americans” and “The Russians” can’t really be accounted for as a clump. We are just individuals going about ordinary lives in extraordinary times, without daily thoughts of ruling the universe.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, dear readers. Although I wear my green today, I regret so much that I didn’t bring along that “Kiss Me, I’m Irish!” button to South Africa.