Where You Are and Where You’ve Been

By Allison Schoenauer

Elm Staff Writer

Everyone has a heritage—something that is passed down to us from our ancestors through our birthright.  Normally, we consider our ancestor’s national identity our heritage, and it’s something in which we take unfathomable pride.  This creates an interesting internal conflict, since we also take pride in the country in which we are raised.  Americans are proud to be American—even if our pride manifests once every Fourth of July.  Americans are also proud to be German-American, Native-American, Filipino-American, Mexican-American, African-American, Czech-American; the list can go on and on.  So what should we be more proud of: the past that makes us individuals, or the present that unifies us?

Personally, I have always been proud of where my family came from.  It just never seemed to be a big part of my personal identity.  It only seems to come into play when people ask me where my red hair came from.  (Answer: natural—my fellow gingers are everywhere in my grandmother’s hometown of Ballybofey, County Donegal, Ireland.)  In the way I identify myself, I am an American with an Irish and German background, but the identification with being American has the stronger influence on the way I view myself and the world around me.  Do my feelings, though, correspond with the feelings and identity of other Washington College students?  To answer this question, I sat down with Sophomore Ana Lipson, an International Studies major and Spanish minor, about her experiences with her heritage, which differs from mine, and how it has shaped her.

Ana, who was born in Quito, Ecuador to an American father and an Ecuadorian mother, feels much the same way as I do.  When asked if her heritage has in any way affected her, socially or personally, Ana responded, “No, I don’t think it has.  …It’s a part of me, but I don’t think it’s made me a different person.”  The existence of her heritage didn’t affect her the same way as living in Ecuador or America or Turkey, where she and her family moved  when she was six years old, affected her.  For her, the fact that she’s “spent a lot more time in the U.S….I have more of an American influence than an Ecuadorian influence.  …Like, I’ve been here ten years and I was there for only six years, so from when I was a baby until I was six.”

The presence of her two heritages did have an effect on her, though.  In the same vein that my red hair is a major indicator that I have Irish heritage, Ana’s fluency in both Spanish and English is an ability that ties back to her parents and the cultures they surrounded her in.  “My dad would speak English to me and my mom would speak Spanish to me.”  That dual-language household later helped her in learning Turkish during her family’s four-year residency in Turkey.

Ana also admits that living with two parents of completely different backgrounds has shaped her perspective of the world, but again credits this to the influence of her parents as well as the influence of living in three different cultures throughout her life rather than a direct influence from her heritage.

While talking to Ana, it was clear that she was proud of the people and cultures she came from, but the person she is came from a collection of different sources.  Her parents and peers taught her the three languages she knows.  Her experience living in different countries has given her a unique perspective and a unique set of customs that she follows.  So is heritage important?  Yes, of course it is.  Everyone should know where they come from.  Does that mean it is infused in every part of our being?  Only if we allow it—for the average person, it doesn’t need to be.

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