Culture and Language Matter Not

Clark   Saturday, May 31, 2003, 07:46 GMT
A Spanish friend of mine once asked me why Americans were so obsessed with finding their 'ancestors'. We were in the Public Record Office in London in the midst of a swarm of Americans in shorts going on loudly about their great great great great something or other who had a family heraldry or was in the miliary for Britain or whatnot. And frankly, I couldn't really explain it to my friend beyond that at least where I grew up, where you 'come' from is very important. We all knew that we were a quarter this and an eighth that and were slightly jealous of people whose grandparents really had come from Europe. They seemed so much more genuine than us.

Which comes down to the heart of it, I think. Run of the mill WASP Americans are obsessed with geneaology because we don't seem to have a culture. There are definite cultural groups out there... Italian Americans, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Chinese Americans, etc etc. But there aren't... what... what culture can we claim as our own? Certainly not British American or Irish American as there's a fair chunk of German in there. Our 'ancestors' were around too long to have any claim to that European heritage which created our culture 100-200 years ago. So, we tend to feel like we have no culture and we must reach back to our roots to find it.

So that's why so many mainstream Americans are so obsessed with European culture. It's deemed better than our nonexistant one. Except it's all a gross misunderstanding, a blatant lie we've told ourselves as we grew up. How can we not have a culture? Of course we do. All humans do, despite their genes. Being descended from some Scots, Irish and Germans does not make me German or Scottish or Irish. It makes me a descendant of a German or a Scot or an Irishman. It's as simple as that, yet somehow we see that as inferior. I've found in my time living abroad that I have huge cultural attachments I never knew existed. I thought I hated my home and it's still true that most Americans annoy the hell out of me. They did when I lived there and they do now. But I can no longer deny that I *AM* American. I adore open spaces, unattached houses, and healthy plumbing. I feel it's an inherent right to own a car and not pay through the roof for fuel. Of course that doesn't mean I have those things.. but I feel the necessity for them, it's how I grew up, it's something that my friends and I all share in common and I'd suspect a large proportion of my contemporaries in middle-town WASP American would as well.

Which is why now I am so irritated at the mass of geneaology sites out there and the driving urge so many people have to find their ancestors. What's the point? I know that I have a grandfather born in Virginia before the Revolution. So what. How far back should I trace it? Will I find an ancestor buried in some sweet English graveyard? What then? Trace long-lost relatives? What good does that do. I probably won't even like them. Where once I was driven to know where I came from, after living in England where so many Americans flock to find their roots, I fail to see the point. I doubt most Americans recognize that to be 'English' is hardly a set definition. Is my English ancester descended from Vikings or Normans? Is there Celtic blood in there? Maybe Roman? How far back am I meant to go to 'find' myself?

So now I think this geneaology surge is useless. If people want to find themselves they better look at what's around them, not the circumstances that brought some ancestor over the ocean. I am grateful my ancestors went where they did for whatever reason.. I quite like my life. But I am only who I am and their lives are of no consequence to mine. What has made me, me, is not who I descended from but the circumstances of my life. I wish more people would realize that, and maybe then America could start healing some of its self-afflicted wounds.
Clark   Saturday, May 31, 2003, 07:53 GMT
I got the above post from:

I think a lot of us (Americans usually) get caught up in finding "who we are." I sure did. But I have come to realise that I am who I am, and that is all I can be. I feel sometimes like I want to move to Europe to get back to my roots, but where ever I end up is how God will have intended it to be.

To come at this a slightly different way, some people, like me, have only wanted to learn languages that their ancestors spoke. I have been thinking that this is a bad way to go about things. A person should learn what ever language strikes his or her fancy.

So, if you are like I have been in the past, maybe one day you will realise that we are are Gods' creatures and earthly things like language have little significance in the grand scheme of things.
kurre   Saturday, May 31, 2003, 08:05 GMT
I am an American, but my father was born in Germany. His father, my grandfather, always told me about the Alps where he lived when he was growing up. He told me about how our family had once lived in Austria long long ago, and moved around Europe until they finally came to America in the 1950's.
Not too long ago, I got a job in Germany, not too far from the town that my father was born in, and I took it. This was an amazing experience. I traveled a lot in trains, and I took the train over to Austria near the place where my family had lived in the 1800's. Now, you may say that this is not important, but I can't describe what an enormous sense of contentment I felt just by being there. Just to walk along a street and look up at the Alps that my grandfather had told me converse with the people in German, without listening to any American music in the background or hearing anyone speak English around me, this was a great experience.

Sure, I'm an American too, but knowing where my family came from is a big part of my life. It led me to really think about who I am, and how I ended up where I am. I feel that my attachment to Europe and my ability to speak the language of my ancestors contributes to our diverse American culture just as much as the chinese man speaking his native tongue with his family or the mexicans speaking spanish or whatever.

If you don't want to look at your family tree, then don't. But it is important for a lot of people because it reassures them of who they are.
Clark   Saturday, May 31, 2003, 08:59 GMT
Kurre, I am in the process of doing my family tree now, so I am not against finding roots and stuff. My main purpose, though not apparent at all, was to point out that a person can learn a language of which ever culture/people they want to; we should not tie ourselves to just one or two cultures because those are the ones that our ancestors came from. I think it is all very nice to know where our origins started, but for me, the religious aspect has a much greater importance.

I feel the same way you do about Germany/Austria, just with England. When I go to England, even though it is a foreign country, it is very much like my home.
Clark   Saturday, May 31, 2003, 09:00 GMT
Wo bist du aus Deutschland?
Kabam   Saturday, May 31, 2003, 10:38 GMT
I'm learning English, and my mother's father was British.
I don't learn Italian, despite my father's father and mother are both Italian.

No matter if the language your learn is some of your ancestor's one. If you have the courage to learn it whithout weariness, this means you simply fancy it, and that's what really counts.

As for finding one's own ancestors, I find it interesting but I agree this won't bring you many answers about this question : "who am I" ?
I you want to know yourself, better watch your own mind and note how you psychologically "work".
hp20   Saturday, May 31, 2003, 13:02 GMT
i'm a wasp and i identify with american culture over any other. i don't think much about my european roots although my grandfathers were born over there. it has little to do with me. if anything i recognize my southern roots more.
Clark   Saturday, May 31, 2003, 20:09 GMT
Kabam, juis suis d'accord avec toi.

For those interested in language, or anybody really, what do you think about learning a language that your ancestors did not speak? For example, I have no Russian or Romanian ancestors, but I really love the Russian and Romanian language and cultures.
Kabam   Saturday, May 31, 2003, 22:05 GMT
My sister is fond of Japanese language despite we have no ancestor from there.
I really understand her reasons : the sounds, the writting system, the completly different grammar, no word sounds familiar (safe the few imported from English), the old words from chinese and the numerous onomatopoeia (like "péko-péko").
I'm also interested in this language but I prefer to focus on English at the moment.
If you're interested in a completely foreign language (no link with your family or anything), you have probably make a great job to find out some information about it and it shows your curiosity, which is a quality, I think.
Clark   Saturday, May 31, 2003, 23:48 GMT
Kabam, you sort of gave me a complement and you did not know you did.

I have been a bit on the fritz for a long while, and I am finally coming down to normal, so I think that I might take up Russian again. But, this will only be very minimal as French has been taking up a large amount of my language-learning time.
Clark   Saturday, May 31, 2003, 23:52 GMT
Kabam, j'ai oublié a te demander si tu es réligieux ?

And about writing in English; we make our punctuations marks and everything come directly after the word unlike in French where a space is needed. For example, "...went there !" should be "...went there!" Or, "...the following :" should be "...the following:"
Kabam   Sunday, June 01, 2003, 01:16 GMT
Clark, thanks for this explaination about punctuations marks! I'll remember it. And feel free to indicate me any other mistake.

Si je suis religieux ? Non, pas vraiment Clark.
Actually, my parents both questioned their faith in god (there are from catholic famillies) when there where young and eventually stopped to believe.
They let me free to decide if I wanted to be religious or not. I've been thinking about it for a while, but I still not have the answer: I could not tell if there is a god or not.
When I think about the creation of the universe, I think there may be a god, a power or something in which we all originate.
But when I want to know who I am, I think that nothing can satisfy me completely, even the religions, for there are things I like and things I dislike in each of them. I prefer to build my own way, being inspired by the qualities I find in each trend, each people, each cultures, etc so as to find what I really want to achieve in my life and how I want to behave.
Of course you needn't be agnostic like me to have such an attitude (which is a good one, I think). I met some religious persons in my life who didn't respect all the rules of their religion for they didn't think all of them were good, but even so, had a rock-hard belief in their religion.

To conclude maybe my only "religion" is feeling free to think my own way.
And even if I don't know you very much and I don't know if you are religious, Clark, I have the feeling this is something very important to you too.

Est-ce que je me trompe, Clark ? Et es-tu religieux ?
Clark   Sunday, June 01, 2003, 02:54 GMT
Non, tu te trompes pas. Oui, je suis réligieux.

I do not try to convert people to Christianity. I may talk about my religion, but I have no desire to ty to convert people. I guess this comes from my personality being very shy for the most part. If I get to know a person I lose that shyness, but I still do not feel very comfortable trying to convert people. Anyway, I do believe in God and my Savior, Jesus Christ.

I wish I could speak French like you can speak English. I think that my problem is that America does not feel the need to educate our children in foreign languages at a young age likea lot of other countries do. Although, in America's defense, we are essentially an isolated country in that our two neighbours are Canada and Mexico. And we do not do much with Mexico, and Canada is a close friend, but they speak English. My point being is that America does not have a lot of incentive to learn a foreign language unless you are in a state that borders Québec or a state that borders with Mexico. However, the states that border Mexico, the Spanish spoken in the states is more "Spanglish" than anything.
hp20   Sunday, June 01, 2003, 05:04 GMT
i think the need to learn spanish is increasing, and young people today reflect that. spanish is very important nowadays, even in places you don't expect (for example, the hispanic population growth in the rural south is amazing). so lots of people are learning it (i know i am) and practicing it--Lord knows we have enough opportunity. that was my response when i went to germany to visit friends--people there assumed that i was uneducated because i didn't speak THEIR language. well, bud, find over 30 million spanish speakers in YOUR country and suddenly fluency in german is not a priority...
Clark   Sunday, June 01, 2003, 05:40 GMT
Spanish is a nice thing to have here, but I guess I always forget that I want to move to Europe or Canada where Spanish is not that important; so I always frown at people when they say to me "why don't you learn Spanish; it is almost essential to speak it here [in California]" I guess people just think that I am content living here when I really want to live somewhere else with a different culture.