Los Angeles, CA
My children grew up in southern California and attended fabulously diverse schools that frequently featured “Heritage Days” where the school children were encouraged to wear clothes, and bring in food and other articles representative of their ethnic background. From their earliest years, my kids found this confusing. What were we anyway? My wife and I grew up in different states, in turn the children of parents who were from yet different states. While one could say that our surname was “Scottish,” we knew no one that had ever been to Scotland and the most recent ancestor to have emigrated left Scotland in the 18th century. Our cultural influences came from Broadway and Hollywood. Our favorite sports from Cooperstown and Springfield, Massachusetts.
My kids had friends that were “African- American”, or “Central American,” or “Chinese-American,” or any of a dozen other hyphenations. In some cases, these friends could identify recent relations that had lived in these foreign cultures. But many of them were just as clueless as my children about what these labels meant. Did the fact that we enjoyed sushi make us as Japanese-American as the Ito family? Did blond hair trump a child’s Spanish surname?
I have often envied the anchor that ethnic identity has offered to friends and colleagues. It gives them an extended family that can be an automatic source of support and comfort. But while an anchor can provide stability in a storm, it can also keep you in place when you might be better off moving on. My children are simply “Americans.” Perhaps their children will be simply “Earthlings.”