I had occasion not long ago to talk about the nature of the immigrant experience with some of my co-workers here at Company O. It has made me reflective about my own immigrant past. It makes me wonder if something has not been lost.
Talking about the nature of the American Experience is always interesting when I am with my co-workers. Being in an engineering department within Company O., nearly all of my co-workers are from other parts of the world -- either as naturalized citizens, resident aliens, or holders of H-1B visas. I should further add that I am nearly the only person of European descent within my department. The rest are largely from various parts of Asia, mostly India and China.
One fellow, A., has a relatively unique status. He was born and raised in the Chicago area and his family is Japanese in origin. Owing to the nature of Japanese law, though he may be culturally American, he is a Japanese citizen and reportedly speaks the Japanese language with some fluency because it is spoken in his parents home. His family seems determined to strongly preserve their sense of being Japanese while remaining in the middle of America with an uncommon fierceness.
When I listen to the conviction A. has about continuing to preserve his cultural heritage, I get very reflective about my own immigrant heritage. My mother's parents are first generation Americans from an area that is currently held by the Slovak Republic (though it has been held by many different countries in the last 200 or so years.)
They are ethnically Carpatho-Rusyn. My mother's house was full of foreign foods and a foreign language when she was growing up. She also grew up going to an Orthodox Christian Church -- an old faith that is far from common in this country. When I reflect on the very Americanized, Roman Catholic upbringing I received growing up, I see that the language of my ancestors has been lost (my Mom's generation did not learn it and it died) as have many of the traditions. My family has turned out to be a religious crazy quilt on my Mother's side thanks to all the interfaith marriages by members of my mother's generation and my own... though it seems to be more Roman Catholic than anything else.
Yet, at the same time, I have to think that the sense of ethnic identity that remains in the form of strange foods and softening memories is somehow the leavening that has allowed my life and experience to take on a unique character. Be it the cold meats, red beets and horseradish, the giant scrambled egg (whose name I can never spell), or the special bread decorated with braids of dough (pascha) that we ate on Easter, or the six different soups made largely from beans and homemade bread with buckwheat honey on Christmas Eve... or the fact that two Christmases and Easters were often celebrated when I was growing up, these still are a unique part of me. It is a part of me I'm proud of... that makes me identify more with the Portakalos family than the Millers of My Big Fat Greek Wedding in my own way.
Yet, I wonder how much of that experience will be passed on to my children and how determined I am to preserve that past.
It is something I must think about. Returning to the bread and leavening analogy, growing up without that ethnic experience would have made my life more flat.
on 2003-10-15 at 12:48 p.m.
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