What percentage of Americans have contact or interactions with family members abroad or across a border or perhaps an island or two away? The numbers are large I think, depending on culture and country of origin. In Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Philippines or Iraq there are a whole lot of families with parents, children, siblings and cousins in America with whom they are in touch on a regular basis—their cultures of origin up close and personal. I envy them such direct connections, all that history that results in a unique culture.
Which is part of why am I so thrilled to have my own cousins abroad—it’s not an uncommon phenomena for Asians and Latinos or for even newer arrivals from the Middle East—so why can’t we hyphenated Europeans and Africans have the same privilege? The other part of my enthusiasm is because my cousins turn out to be quite special, the kind of family of which you really want to be part.
For those of us of European descent it is quite common to have misplaced one’s heritage; after all Europeans are not flocking to this ‘land of milk and honey’ anymore. Many European societies are at least as stable than the U.S., quite a few with better economies. The big waves of immigration that brought our forebears here are far in the past and we’ve carelessly lost touch.
The same thing could be true for African Americans. That migration, unwilling and generally undocumented, is also a long time ago and it gets harder and harder to trace one’s roots as time passes. Europeans, in many cases, do have the luxury of looking up a great grandfather’s name on a ship manifest or through Ellis Island records which is at least a place to begin.
It is a real loss on many fronts not to have a past. In addition to missing out on entire branches of the family, many of whom might become good friends, interesting companions and excellent guides to far places and histories, we are losing our own cultural place in the world. African and European cultures have been around a very long time; however we might define American culture it is new, a real newbie on the world stage unless you are Native American. Anyway, me, I want to know where I’m from…
Aside from the personal loss of a missing cultural or genetic heritage, there’s another problem. How can we be informed citizens, knowledgeable voters if we don’t even know who we are? How to think about the new people coming across borders and seas if we don’t even understand how we happened to arrive here? How to vote when it comes to international affairs, whether matters of war or peace, if we don’t have a clue about world cultures?
We can get all of this information from reading, studying and traveling of course. But how wonderful it is to also see one’s own land and get to know one’s own people. Then it is real.
Here are some of my cousins, all of whom I am so very happy to know.