Sunday, October 19, 2014

Just Thinking

When working on some of genealogical research the other week I had one of those moments when the world made a little bit of a shift. It comes with just a simple questions:

Why do almost exclusively self-identify with the "family" of our birth surname?
I was looking at my family tree and realized that just three generations back (my great-grandparents) I can potentially find as many as eight surnames and the one more generation (great-great grandparents) there would be sixteen. Does that mean I am as much a Klein and a Keller and a Freighley and a Ritchie as a Lehman? Then, by marriage I am also related to another whole set of family names on my wife's side. But without confusing it too much, just sticking with my direct ancestors, who am I?

This made me think back to a part of the Race exhibit that was here in Rochester a few years ago that was originally developed by the Science Museum of Minnesota. The basic point of it was that, at the very heart of who we are, we really are mutts. We are a mixture of ethnic, national, religious and probably racial parts. Genetic research is showing this truth at an even deeper level.

Another piece of the reality also goes to what portion of who I am is what national background. I know there are Ukrainians and Germans, Scottish and English back there. Because of ghettos in the Ukraine before 1900, that may be the greatest part of my heritage. Yet all these years I identified as of German background. And, since the Germans arrived here at least 80 years before the Ukrainians, that also makes me American, since here is where I was born. As were members of my family back at least five generations.

Maybe, then, for me it's time to even drop the hyphenated ethnicity and just be American.

See what I mean when I say it caused a slight seismic shift of self-identity.

Which brought me back to a discussion some of us were having on an ethics meeting about diversity. We finally got to the idea of self-identity. Different people talked about different ways of doing that. It struck me at that moment that my cultural identity is as much 60s Hippie Radical as it is a German-American or whatever. In fact, maybe even more so. A great deal of that ethnic identity has broken down in my life.

That wasn't true of my family. But perhaps being part of a religiously mixed marriage of the 40s and 50s helped move me the way I have.

So that's where it has taken me today. I look forward to the day when these issues are resolved in favor of being part of the one and only human race and where nationality is truly as a citizen of the world trying to keep our world from falling apart.

I think know that's what John Lennon was singing about.

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