Sunday, March 17, 2013

Cultural Heritage (Slice 17 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

As multiple revelers are out and about in Irish pubs today, I find myself thinking about cultural heritage and immigration.  What makes people hold on to family lineage that is multiple generations back?  When do we start to recognize ourselves as Americans rather than the list of ethnicities that we might have?  Just like many people who grow up and go to school in the United States, I had at least one project in which I had to go home and interview my parents about the heritage of our family.  I can rattle off the list of nationalities I have in me.  "What are you?" some people might ask.  Well, I am English, Irish, Polish, Czechoslovakian, German, and maybe some Native American (we're not sure about that one but there was a rumor about an affair...) But aren't I just American at this point?  How many generations back do I have to look in order to figure out who came here from where?

On a day like St. Patrick's Day, you may see multiple people bedecked in green, wearing shamrock everything, and proclaiming "Kiss me, I'm Irish!"  But are they really Irish?  My cousin's fiance who was born and raised in Ireland by parents from Ireland would probably say no.  When is it right to hold on to cultural identity and when should we recognize that this is something that defined our ancestors but does not define who we are?  I do have some Irish blood in me, but are there any indications of that in my family traditions?  Perhaps the annual corned beef and cabbage meal that my grandmother had to recognize her mother's heritage is an example of one such tradition, but it has not been something we have continued.

This is a particularly interesting topic for me because I am married to a Spaniard.  I met him while studying abroad and brought him home with me.  The importance of his cultural heritage is important to me because I don't want him to lose his culture just because he lives here.  If and when we have children, I will want them to know about and celebrate the traditions of Spain.  I will want them to have that cultural identity and be proud of their Spanish heritage.  But would I expect that their children would get this same education and have this same identification with the Spanish culture?  I don't know.

As always when thinking about these deeper questions, my mind turns to the students in my classroom. Many of them have either Mexican or Puerto Rican heritage.  Some are first generation immigrants, but most are children or grandchildren of immigrants.  How much of their identity is wrapped up in this cultural heritage?  How much should be?  It is so important to recognize their culture and to help them to read texts and have experiences in the classroom that celebrate who they are and where their ancestors come from.  But at what point is this heritage maybe not so much a part of their identity?  Is there a point at which we should say enough is enough?

I do not have any big answers to these questions.  It is a compelling and very debatable topic.  All I know is that cultural heritage should never be used as an excuse to go out and make a fool of yourself by getting plastered.  I hope that all who choose to embrace and recognize their Irish heritage do so in a dignified manner.  Have some corned beef and cabbage or a rueben sandwich...yum!  Enjoy a Guiness or two but not a bar crawl in which the only purpose is to get fall-down drunk.  Luck of the Irish to everyone!

1 comment:

  1. Your piece makes me think about my heritage and how I haven't taught my kids about much of it, I guess 3 generations dulls things a bit.