Monday, November 17, 2014

From the Land of the Ice and Snow

My parents recently joined a local Vasa lodge. My dad is all Swedish. I mean, he’s all American, but 100% Swedish. His mom? Totes Swede. Well, she was American born, but her parents went back to the Arctic Circle when she was still a baby. And as soon as she was 18, her mom sent her on the first boat back to ‘Murica.
So, Vasa is historically a Swedish cultural organization, although they now encompass all Scandinavian cultures. Their lodge even  has a children’s group and (of course) we’re currently preparing for a Santa Lucia pageant.
I’ve had Sweden on my mind a lot lately. And I’ve had to explain my three-degrees-of-Kevin Bacon a few times this year, so it got me thinking about how we Americans relate so much to our ancestral origins and not nearly as much to our American-ness. Or at least in a different way.
If I had a krona for every time I told someone “I’m Swedish!” I could probably afford to take the family to Sweden for a family reunion next summer.
But the fact is, I’m not Swedish. I’m sure if I asked my Swedish cousins (second, actually), they’d think of  me as their American cousin. So why do we Americans go around saying we’re something we’re not, at least not exactly? Sure, we need a connection for our identity. Because duh. But why is it not enough to primarily identify with the culture of which we are currently a part?
Perhaps it’s the “melting pot” fallacy: despite it all, my American-born grandmother (that’s “Farmor,” to me) was Swedish. She maintained the cultural traditions from home and passed them on to her children and grandchildren. She spoke Swedish in the home until my aunt started school (barely knowing a lick of English). So for me, it’s not at all far removed.
For others, like say Fella. He can stake a claim to the Sons of the American Revolution on multiple sides of his family. So his degree of separation is much more distant. Maybe he’s a bad example because he doesn’t go around saying he’s this and that. However, it might be the Latter Day Saints in his bloodline, but he is totally into genealogy, searching not only his ancestors, but mine, as well (maybe yours, too, if you’re interesting enough to him).
So. What is it about us that we can’t shout from the rooftops (figuratively speaking, of course): “I AM AMERICAN!” without some sort of clarification or caveat? And does this phenomenon exist anywhere else, especially where there is a concentration of immigrants and the subsequent generations among the population?
I’m sure many more have discussed this far more eloquently than the butcher job I’ve done here (my eyes are actually slamming shut every few words). Please share in the comments your thoughts!

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