Being an American appears to be a questionable and sometimes dangerous way to identify oneself. I made a trip to England in 1988 to receive a genealogy award. I did not plan to do client research, because I wanted to visit the places where my British Isles ancestry originated.
The right hand rear view mirror snapped off as a lorry passed me too close and too fast. I stopped in the roadway, got out and retrieved the mirror (which did not appear to be damaged) and scrambled back into the driver’s seat quickly. I moved the car some distance so that I could pull off the road. A gentleman approached the car and tapped on the window.
As I opened the window he asked if I was alright, addressing me as “miss” and then as I replied that I was fine–the car not so much, he said to me,”You are a Yank!” I admitted I was. His next question was “How long have you been driving in England?” I laughed and said, “Just one week.”
I am an American. I am a Yank. I am British in my origins–all of them: 3/4 Welsh, some Scots, some Isle of Man, the rest English–as far as I know. I began driving in England on the right hand lane by heading for the Motorway where all the cars were going the same direction. I didn’t have to face on-coming traffic, just follow along behind and among everyone else going the same direction.
The gentleman did not call me a racist, or an idiot. Neither did he yell at me to learn how to drive. He courteously asked his questions to discover who I was. Then he directed me to the nearest garage, where I could get the damage assessed and the mirror replaced.
And I wondered this past weekend, if my ancestors faced discrimination because they pronounced their words differently, dressed somewhat differently, cut and dressed their hair in styles which appeared different than the rest of the persons they encountered. If my ancestors had been Irish from Ireland–and I hope that because of how many Welsh ancestors I have I may still have Irish from Ireland in my background–they would encounter signs in the window, “Irish need not apply.”
What makes America different and, in my opinion, richer, is the variety of persons who make up our diverse population. And the even more diverse ancestors from whom we all descend.
I’m proud to be an American and a Yank. My ancestors have not always been from those backgrounds. My descendants will all qualify as Americans. And I hope, they too will be proud to salute the American flag, sing the national anthem with their hands on their hearts, and eat hotdogs and root beer on Independence Day! Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://arleneeakle.com
PS And on July 4th, my son Richard, sang, acappella, Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American,” from the Church pulpit accompanied by my tears.