If there’s one thing that I have come to loathe since living in America its that every time I meet an American for the first time, they feel an innate need, nay driven even, to expound on their personal and family heritage with me. Its quite often the conversation starter that immediately follows the ice-breaker “what part of London are you from?”.
I have not spent more than 2 minutes in the presence of an American yet without them telling me what generation of American they are. What country or countries of origin they, their parents and their grandparents hailed from. Even those who have since become my best friends have rolled this one out on me on at least one occasion. A typical conversation will take the following form:
“I’m 3rd generation American you know! My mother is Italian and my father is from Scotland. Hey that makes us countrymen right? My grandfather on my father’s side was from Poland and my grandmother on my mother’s side was half German and half French. (I’ve usually tuned them out at this point but being polite I feign interest, perhaps even dropping in the odd ‘Oh really?’ or ‘That’s great!’). I guess that makes me half Italian and half Scottish… or is it a quarter Scottish, a quarter Polish, a quarter German and a quarter Italian? Oh wait.. I forgot French! Oh but we don’t like the French do we!”
Now the reason I switch off is not because I am rude. On the contrary, I am a true people person and if you met me in person you’d know this. No, the reason I switch off is because after 10 years I’ve probably had this exact same one-sided conversation play out at least a thousand times.
Here’s where I usually let them take a breath and I ask my questions.
Me: “Where were you born?”
Me: “OK, and where were your parents born?”
Them: “Well my father was born in Pittsburgh and my mother was born in San Diego”
Me: “So you’re American then”
Them: “Well yes but…”
Me: “And your parents are American also”
Them: “Well yes but I’m quarter Italian, quarter this..quarter that.. (you get the idea)
Now for me as a Limey, here’s the paradox. For a nation that is so nationalistic and full of self pride, why would almost all of its subjects choose to harp on about the fact that their ancestry is anything but American? Its almost as if to call yourself a full-blooded American – born and bred, is a dirty word. Yet, you will never find a country that waves its own flag harder than the United States.
America is the best and worst of all things. It is truly the world’s greatest nation at this moment in world history. A true world power. That alone would make me believe that if you were born here, you would want to call yourself “American” first and foremost, especially to foreigners such as myself. And yet, when I question an individual that feels this need to proclaim their diverse ancestry to me and I ask them “why they don’t just call themselves ‘American’“ I am either met with confusion or in some cases actual hostility.
Every great world power that has ever been started out a pure ethnicity, but by its very nature, a world power must continue to grow and expand in order to survive and not stagnate and as such expands its physical and political boundaries to draw in other cultures and ethnicities. Look at any of history’s great super powers, the U.S.S.R, the British empire, the Roman empire, the Egyptian empire, the Mongolian empire etc. etc.
In heritage terms, the only thing that separates an American from an Englishman is time. If I were to be pedantic, I could argue that I am part Roman, part Saxon, part Norman, part Goth, part Viking etc. but centuries and millenia have molded the English in to one unified nation. I was born in England, therefore I am English, and proud of it.
So, to all Americans I say this, if you were born in America, you are American! Be proud of it. This nation is a great one and although it seems at times that the world is against you and you are alone in your struggles, you are not alone and you need not mask your pride in your birthright. So cast off the chains to past heritage and association. You can be proud of your ancestry without having to try and be anything else but what you are, an American. So, move forward as Americans and stop telling Limeys like me that you’re anything but pure blooded American!