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    Starcrossed Seafarer Aquarelle's Avatar
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    Default European-Americans' interest in (obsession with?) their ancestry

    I'm curious how you all feel about the fact that Americans of European descent hold on to their immigrant ancestry even many generations later, and even if their parents didn't raise them practicing any customs or traditions from that culture. It's not uncommon in the States to be asked, "What are you?" (meaning where did your ancestors come from) and I've always thought this probably seems kind of strange to other people in the world.

    I'm especially interested in what European members' thoughts are, but I'd be interested to hear everyone's thoughts. I have some of my own ideas on this, of course, but I want to hear yours first.
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    Honor Thy Inferior Such Irony's Avatar
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    I have some interest in my Ancestry in the sense that I find it interesting to know what countries my ancestors came from. Yet I'm not as interested in the customs and traditions aspect of it. It doesn't seem relevant to my life today.
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    i've never met anyone obsessed with it but i do find it interesting...everyone here came from somewhere else.
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    ¡MI TORTA! Amethyst's Avatar
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    The only people I've seen who were obsessed with their ancestry didn't really have an identity of their own it seemed. It can be fun to talk about though, although I couldn't care more or less where I came from (except maybe I sometimes wish brunette hair were in the genes).

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    Just a statistic rhinosaur's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aquarelle99 View Post
    I'm curious how you all feel about the fact that Americans of European descent hold on to their immigrant ancestry even many generations later, and even if their parents didn't raise them practicing any customs or traditions from that culture. It's not uncommon in the States to be asked, "What are you?" (meaning where did your ancestors come from) and I've always thought this probably seems kind of strange to other people in the world.

    I'm especially interested in what European members' thoughts are, but I'd be interested to hear everyone's thoughts. I have some of my own ideas on this, of course, but I want to hear yours first.
    I'm an American, and most of my ancestors originated from Germany, but I don't consider myself a German-American.

    I think if I were part of a large immigrant family who took pride in practising their old-world customs, it would be different. Let me elaborate.

    In my case, it was just one family, maybe four people who came over from Germany, about 5 generations ago. AFAIK they lived mixed among all kinds of other people, rather than in a mostly-German community, and their kids married non-Germans, and didn't speak German, etc.

    Now, on the other hand, if we had four or five families all immigrate at once from Germany, and they formed a big German community where everyone spoke German and practised the same culture and traditions they practiced in the old world, and the German kids married other German kids, then I would probably be sitting here today calling myself a German-American.

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    Senior Member Adasta's Avatar
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    We (the British) sometimes make jokes about this very phenomenon. It's considered a very American concern.

    In England, your "lineage" is generally considered to go back to your grandparents. So, for example, if your grandparents are Italian (like mine), people might say I'm half-Italian. However, I would always call myself English (if in Britain) and British (if elsewhere). If people make a comment about it, then I'll tell them, but it's not at all imperative.

    It strikes me as ridiculous and I'm at a loss to understand why Americans do it. The Italian-American community bears little resemblance at all to the original Italian community. Being loud and eating a lot does not "make you Italian", so to speak. I can only suppose they call themselves "Italian-American" as a way to create a culture in a country that has/had none; I imagine it's the same for other communities. There exists a concept of "The American Dream" yet everyone seems bent on not being American, unless someone suggests they are un-American, at which point they become super-American.

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  7. #7
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    Well, I'm a European. To me, this kind of phenomenon is in the category of "Fun facts about me", just something for people to use when they start talking about themselves and get to know others. Something to give "flavour" to your identity in the comparison game even though mentioning the fact might be the only connection to that ancestry. I guess some people use it for laying foundation to their identity among other details.

    I've sometimes wondered if, aside from taking pride in your ancestry, for some people it has something to do with "mapping" others, as in trying to accentuate some perceived superiority in themselves that stems from historical regional understandings of superiority. Or something along those lines.

  8. #8
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    It's not really that odd when you look at American history and the basic logic behind it. America, like any country really, is a community of communities. And in America's particular case, our plurality of communities included immigrants from various countries who came here and settled in common neighborhoods and communities; and thus mixed the traditions of the old country with those of the American mainstream. You find this among many diaspora communities around the world, not just America.

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    Senior Member Tiltyred's Avatar
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    It's interesting to trace your ancestry because in America, unless you're Native American, you could have come from anywhere. Your mother and father could be from two different continents. It can carry meaning in how invested you are in the country itself, too. It's different if your people came here in the 1700's than if your parents are from Europe, or you moved here as a child. There's a different degree of emotional investment, I think. I read someone's remark here, I can't remember what the whole conversation was, just someone wrote, "Anyone can be an American," and it was kind of a kick in the gut. I suppose it's true, but I do think there's a difference between being an American since the Indians outnumbered the whites versus being a recent or fairly recent immigrant.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Peguy View Post
    It's not really that odd when you look at American history and the basic logic behind it. America, like any country really, is a community of communities. And in America's particular case, our plurality of communities included immigrants from various countries who came here and settled in common neighborhoods and communities; and thus mixed the traditions of the old country with those of the American mainstream. You find this among many diaspora communities around the world, not just America.
    This. In addition, many of the immigrant communities in early America did not get along well, to put it mildly. So your identity of ancestry also determined who had your back and who you should be wary of. I'm sure that kind of thing has an effect down through the generations even if the original reason for it is rendered moot.

    I've also always thought that perhaps this is a way for Americans to have history. We're a very new country, and we don't have a lot of history. Identifying with your European roots is a way to connect with history. I'm almost 100% of Irish descent. I wouldn't say exactly that I'm proud of it, but I enjoy knowing that and exploring Irish culture and history to give my family a context. It also definitely enhanced my experience when I have visited Ireland in the past.
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