”Where am I from?” Interesting question. Times have changed. When I was a kid growing up in a small town in Upper Michigan, the question was: “What nationality are you?”
People asking the question generally surmised that I was at least a first-generation American; what they really wanted to know was the origin of my parents or grandparents.
This was an era and in a locale where many of the prominent town residents had “come over from the Old Country”. These were the “Wops, Polacks, Swedes, Cousin Jacks, Hunkies, and Frenchies” who had immigrated to the United States between 1880 and 1910. This was the generation that built our highways, laid our railroad tracks, and homesteaded the last of our unoccupied land.
I went to school with their children, first generation Americans, children who often became fluent in English only in the first grade. I was second generation American. None of us had the Founding Fathers in our backgrounds; we did not know what the letters “D.A.R.” stood for.
My mother, the last-born of a large Italian-American family, was fair-skinned and blue-eyed. “Wop” or “Dago” was rarely used to describe her. My father’s family, Canadian born, had been among the early settlers in the area.
With my Anglo-Saxon surname and fair complexion, I was always careful to specify that “on my father’s side I am Scottish-Irish but my mother is Italian.” I learned very early that this would save my questioner from future embarrassment.
I left that little melting-pot nestled among the Great Lakes when I reached my majority and have subsequently lived on another three of the five continents.
Chameleon-like, I quickly picked up the protective coloration and accent of the native born in Australia and in Europe (in Africa I was a marshmallow). But I still never quite fit. I was “the Yank” or “l’Américaine”.
Now I am back in my country of origin and, even here, I feel like “odd man out” at times. Part of the reason - I do not consider it a “problem” - is that I am missing thirty-odd years of the evolution of Americana. I am constantly saying, “When did this change?”
I still say “flat” instead of “apartment”, but when I write that polysyllable word it comes out French: appartement. My cuisine is an ethnic mixture, a mixed blessing as I constantly bemoan the lack of this or that ingredient. Rules of etiquette vary from country to country; I always seem to be lagging one country behind.
I sometimes feel as if I have left bits and pieces of myself all over the world. To replace what has been discarded I have picked up odd patches of this and that. I feel like a coat of many colors, a work in process, albeit a homemade job. I have dual citizenship, and I sincerely hope that the United States and France never go to war again.