A Lost Past
I don’t really know where I come from. Sure, I could recite the cultures: German, English, Native American, Irish. I could wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, but I couldn’t tell you what it actually means to me, or more specifically, what it means to my family.
My family is small. Really, really small. My great grandpa was German, but I haven’t met him. Every ounce of the past I have is simply a story passed down from my mother. The heritage we have is captured in her faded childhood memories and black and white photographs. We search for it in the loopy handwriting of old journal entries, but no one seems to have recorded any of the stories I long to hear.
Maybe that’s why stories are so important to me: because I have a lack of a defined beginning, because of the stories I am absent of.
Maybe that’s why I have kept journals from such a young age: because I don’t want secrets. I don’t want my beliefs locked away, only guessed at, only speculated.
I know some of the customs associated with the cultures I claim as part of me, but that doesn’t mean I know how they affected my family. I don’t have raw, true accounts. I have textbook definitions that I’m supposed to use to understand where my family comes from. I have old photographs taken out of context. I have online family tree results. I have my dad’s stories of our Native American heritage.
I should have specific memories and stories and beliefs, but instead I am left with English Breakfast tea, green clothes on St. Patrick’s day, and various family trees. Is that all that I am? An American, here for so long that I am absent of anything prior? An American who stands every day to say the Pledge of Allegiance and gets fired up about presidential elections? An American who wears green and drinks English Breakfast tea while sitting in her yoga pants and tweeting about popular culture?
Is that what culture boils down to? After all the battles my ancestors fought, after all the stories that made their way into the air and onto paper, after all the beliefs that they stood for. Is that really all I have left?
My family’s stories still exist within us, in the evolution of our hopes and dreams and goals and beliefs. On the surface, it seems like I am absent of all details about my family. But truly, I can look at the photographs and begin to understand. I can hear the stories and try to make something of them. I can wear green and think about what it means to me, even if I don’t know what the culture meant to my ancestors. I can take my own meaning from the fragments in my past, and ingrain them within my future.
I’m proud to be American. I’m proud to be German and English and Native American. I’m proud of my family for all that they’ve done, even if I don’t know every detail. I’m proud of our journey even without knowing the specifics of every step. I’m proud of our story. It doesn’t end here. I will try my hardest to keep it going.