I don't even know who George Friedman is, but I've read a number of his essays recently, and I'm hooked. From November 7, The European Diaspora touched a nerve for me that has been aching since elementary school. You see, my ancestors were all early immigrants to this country, and in my school that was not respected. If your ancestors came to America recently enough that your parents or grandparents were immigrants, that was cool. If they came here really long ago, i.e. if you were of American Indian descent, that was the coolest of all. But in between? You were white-bread, plain vanilla, WASP-ish. Definitely uncool. I used to joke that I was considering becoming a Catholic, as that was the only part of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant I had the power to change.

For reasons I still don't know, my parents never shared much about my family heritage and resented the homework assignments that asked about it. The message I heard was simply that we were all Americans, and that was what was important. Did my mother grow up hearing her grandmother talk about being a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and had she found that boastful, or boring?  Were they aware of some anti-immigrant sentiment and did they want to keep it far away from me? I have no idea. But of course I interpreted the silence as meaning there was something negative or shameful about my ancestry. And being ashamed, I was foolish and never talked with them about the atmosphere at school.

It's really not any better now. We live in a time when "dead white [European] males" are safely vilified, and living ones not much better off. "Black Pride" is a positive, uplifting thing; "White Pride" evokes images of the Ku Klux Klan, Adolf Hitler, Skinheads, and Deliverance.

I can't imagine why the color of one's skin should be a matter of pride for anyone, but long ago I grew tired of being ashamed of my heritage. Studying genealogy gave me a better sense of history than school ever did, and assured me that my family tree is as filled with heroes and rogues, the persecuted and the persecutors, those who were well-off and those who were desperately poor, as anyone's—even if it did reveal a still more solid base of white, British Isles/northern-European, early immigrants.

George Friedman is kinder than most to my family heritage. We, too, come from courageous survivors, refugees who were desperate enough to leave everything in search of hope. Where we have travelled, we have done terrible evil and brought immense good. But mostly we have simply been human families. If our stories are a little older than those of some immigrants, and newer than others, they aren't any less important.

When I come to this part of the world [Australia/New Zealand], I am always struck by a concept we never hear about: the European diaspora. The various peoples of Europe have collectively constituted a vast and ongoing diaspora. We speak of the Jewish, Armenian or Chinese diaspora. But somehow we never think of Europe as scattering its deeply divided peoples throughout the world.

There is a difference between imperial conquest and diaspora. Imperial conquest is carried out by governments and the elites. They do it for power, money and strategic advantage. The rest of us, who have moved from one country to another, are part of a diaspora. We hope to find a better life, some food to eat, a house to live in, a policeman who will not beat us. Thus, the great European conquest of the world had two sides. One was the movement of the geopolitical plates of the world. The other was the individual acts of desperation.

The diaspora was not peaceful. Europe’s wars shaped the places Europeans sought refuge. And the diaspora displaced, subordinated and killed those who were there before, much as the Zulus, the Comanche and the Aztecs did when they arrived. The settlement of the diaspora involved brutality, as do many consequential human acts.

It is odd ... that many think the settlement of the [European] diaspora is unjust because, in the process, others were displaced. But it is simply human, and like all human things, it is both just and unjust.

The European diaspora included migrants from all of Europe’s countries. There are vast areas where Spanish and Portuguese are spoken, and other regions where people converse in French or Dutch. But I will assert that the English-speaking regions have had the largest effect on the world. This may not be a popular view, but it is true that the colonies created by the English became the places where refuge can be found now and in past centuries. Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, received the English language, marvelous in its subtlety and dynamism. And these countries have formed a web of relations with each other that has been a driver of the global system. They are not always comfortable with each other, but they have fought together and created together. They have also welcomed the wretched refuse of Europe’s teeming shores with an ease and openness not quite matched by others.

Would I still be thrilled if genealogical research confirmed the one, long-ago possibility of a Native American ancestor? If a DNA test reveals something sub-Saharan African or Ashkenazi Jew? Absolutely. But I'm done with being embarrassed by my heritage, even if it turns out to be 100% northern European. My parents were right: we are all Americans, and that's what counts. I'd go further: we are all human beings, made in the image of God, fallen and broken, but capable of being redeemed—and that's what counts. But particulars count, too:  my family, my community, my culture, my heritage—and yours, and yours, and his, and theirs.  No heritage has a monopoly on shame, or pride.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 5, 2016 at 6:46 am | Edit
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By the way...I do have some Ashkenazi Jew in my dna LOL

Posted by Pami on Monday, December 05, 2016 at 10:59 am

When my father-in-law was in elementary school in Texas, a teacher asked the class about their ancestry. Most of the children just said "Scotch-Irish," but when it was Daddy's turn, he started "a bit of German, and some English, and some Cherokee.." The teacher finally interrupted and said "You're the biggest mongrel of us all." Daddy was very proud of this.

Posted by Kathy Lewis on Monday, December 05, 2016 at 3:56 pm

Before I had any real answers to that question, I used to answer "mutt." I think I would have liked your father-in-law, Kathy. Now I know I have English, Welsh, Irish, Scottish (and yes, plenty of feisty Scotch-Irish), German, French, and Dutch. I'm still trying to confirm the tantalizing Swiss connection, but it's proving elusive, despite the fact that a name like Hess has great potential. The great advantage to having early New England ancestors is that they were such good record-keepers. My Pennsylvania ancestors are a lot less documented, and those from West Virginia are pretty hopeless.

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, December 05, 2016 at 4:58 pm

My mother figured out that I have maternal Swiss ancestors. Talk about circling back...

Posted by Stephan on Monday, December 05, 2016 at 5:59 pm

Blood calls to blood, apparently. :)

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, December 05, 2016 at 6:32 pm
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