On Being a Cultural Transient - Genealogy Research 11/4/10
Here we go on a random brain purge. You know, I was rambling about the bandwidth recently when I engaged in a an exhange with a friend that got me thinking about my own personal condition. (Oh Good Lord, here it comes...yes. Its inevitable) For the purpose of this post, I am going to blur the lines between "culture" and "ethnicity" for ease of communication. In my specific line of thought - they are conjoined twins. I've lived in New Mexico since February of 1979, and while I've assimilated to the rich Hispanic culture (I can make posole from scratch, I cuss in Spanglish, I WILL bump a track at intersections...) but at the end of the day, when I look in the mirror - I don't see a doe eyed, sunkissed chica. I'm white to the bone. And unfortunately, sometimes that makes me the village idiot instead of the adopted daughter. This is not my original "home" and many can smell the white on me like I can smell the prechewed food on a cattle hauler.
Truth is, I'm a cultural transient, a parasite I suppose. While doing research on my family I've found most of them were sturdy Cornish and Scandinavian types who immigrated to Michigan and the Dakotas to work the copper mines or till the red soil. They left little of themselves for me to pass down, just scant notes on backs of family tree sheets and a few pages of "memoirs" I've scrounged from throwaway collections of curling, moldy, photos. My grandparents didn't share stories of "their" parents and my own parents were so consumed with other things - even the cordial week vacation visit to the grandparents ceased when we moved to the high desert. You see, my mom was born with congenital birth defects right after her dad came back from WWII, and he refused to accept her as his blood child. From that point on, my grandparents slept in seperate rooms, and my mom, shortly before her 18th birthday, took the first opportunity to leave her parents. She never looked back. My dad, his parents divorced, when he was young, did the same thing.
While I was growing up, they never shared with me that secret recipe for melt in your mouth rosette cookies (after my great grandma's death I learned they were her favorite cookie, she said they were the most beautiful cookie she'd ever seen) or the ingredients to a Cornish pasty that will stay with you the entire day...no music, no words (they learned English and forbade their 1st generation offspring to speak Norwegian) nothing but the physical indicators of my heritage. This pale, freckled skin and reddish hair, the clown shaped pale eyes - so foreign out here in the land where families have settled and stayed for a dozen generations.
Perhaps my ancestors were simply a "practical people" not given over to emotions, and traditions and legacies. They survived with little and left behind even less. Those of us with recessive right brain tendencies were consigned to the dark side if we remained uncompliant. Stuffing our dreams by beating our children, or self medicating with liquor, or morphine..."Uff da. We don't talk about dos types, donchano?" But all that genetic sludge puts me at ethnic ground zero with no personal identity and no method to simply melt into the blur of my current adopted culture.
I know that some Norskies kept their culture. I've found evidence of two ancestors' membership in something called a "bygdelag" - (they still exist) I know that the church where many of my ancestors were baptized not only stands but is one an active church in Norway. In their determination to become "American" they abandoned all of who they were. (The ancestor is TK Axness)
So when I stroll Old Town plaza at Christmas and I see the little girls dancing flamenco, and I hear the mariachi's, and I smell the biscochito's, and chile, and I hear the church bells, and I hear the lilt of a language that is not my own, I ache a little. What I would give to have that fullness of identity. To know where I've come from, where I'm going, and what progress I've made along the way. To know that I'm part of that beauty I see around me...wow. I want family. I want heritage. I want to belong...
And so this year at Christmas, along with the tamales at my table, I'm going to find some cookie irons and try my luck at rosettes. I'll probably end up with scorched concrete in my deep fryer, but its worth the risk. Anything to cover that bovine perfume that makes me forever uncomfortable in my own skin