interesting conversation with a friend yesterday. Her family is from Kentucky and Ohio and has no memory of any native american ancestry, but as i shared with her my idea that because our white ancestors shared a history with the native peoples, some intermarriage and also a shared lifestyle, we have a different cultural development from what is euphemistically called the 'dominant white culture.'
reading about native americans enlightens me as to the values and world-view of my own ancestors who were not primarily european-based in their orientation, neither were they 'indian-haters' or any other kind of 'white-supremacists.' I still feel the person who has come closest to articulating who my ancestors were is Brewton Berry who wrote, "Almost White." i see my ancestors as a blend of european-american and native american. For example, we did not value autonomy as some kind of measure of maturity or character-development, but valued our kinship-based community first. we adopted people into our families. I remember a european-immigrant friend becoming absolutely livid that my cousins, aunts and uncles couldn't possibly be my cousins, aunts and uncles because they were not blood relatives. Hey, we were short of blood relatives, so this seemed good to me, and i just accepted it as the way things were. Yet something about it really offended my friend. In her eyes, it was some sort of act of dishonesty. As for my friend, I think maybe she and her family were confronting their own issues as immigrants, fears of no longer being 'a people.' Nowadays they make annual trips back to the old country.
actually, i find that the people most sympathetic with my point of view tend to be african-americans who seem to have no problem 'getting' that i have varied racial tributaries in my background, that I may look white but am not exactly. even when i was a kid the african american kids would say things like, 'you don't seem white to me,' or 'you look white, but you don't act white.' anyway, if i deny my native american ancestors it seems disrespectful to them.
i think part of the reason this is particularly a problem for me now is that i live in a different world from the one in which i grew up - and the older i grow, the more i realize i will be living in this world for the duration - a world in which there are a lot of upper middle-class whites, and a large number of asian-americans, hispanic-americans, african-americans, and both immigrants and foreign students (UC Berkeley) in that order. by default it would seem that i ought to belong with the upper class whites, yet these are people whom i feel i do not understand. so this is my problem. i'm supposed to belong to a group with whom i have nothing in common - my appearance places me there, and probably also my address. my original family, both blood-ties and adopted, are for the most part deceased or live far away, so i am struggling to understand myself in this environment. i feel so fortunate to have my partner who is from a similar background to mine and also from the same regional world. we've carried our origins with us through being able to share our values, place- and people- memories, and so on.
right now i'm reading 'native american postcolonial psychology' by eduardo and bonnie duran. they outline the importance of taking culture into consideration when working with native americans, and i find that what they write would apply to our people too. this book is really helping me understand why i don't connect with so much in terms of the dominant expectations of behavior and thought in our world, even though I am perceived by most people to be white.
My mother's mother's people were from the mountains of Pennsylvania, a former stronghold of native americans in our region. I was brought up to believe they were Irish, but there is one of those 'Cherokee great-grandmother' myths floating on that side of the family that there is native blood. However, I have only the most circumstantial evidence supporting that claim. there is something to it, but just what, i don't know.
On the other hand, my mother's father's mother was definitely descended from the remnant of the Unalatchtigo Lenape people whose identity was watered down (and disguised) as 'Moor.' 'Moor Indians.' Apparently the Unalatchtigo dialect was very similar to the Unami Lenape dialect that is currently being taught online out of both Oklahoma (land to which the Lenape were removed) and Pennsylvania (where a remant remained, marrying in with each other and European-Americans, accounting for why these Lenape look less Indian than the ones in Oklahoma who primarily married other native americans of varied tribes).
In any case, I am enjoying learning Lenape because it helps me to feel my connection to that land back there where I'm from. I feel some kind of very deep connection to it, it's sort of like a language in itself to me, and the Lenape language feels to me like the original speech of the world - but maybe it's only like that for me and a smattering of other people, not for the whole world. hard to believe, but possible. *smile*
I'm also reading another excellent book called 'Yesterday's Self' about nostalgia, and how it can either hinder or help a person's adjustment to a new environment, as in the case of refugees, immigrants, exiles or people who, for whatever reason, have left an environment and culture that was very meaningful to them, for another new world that offers multiple difficulties in terms of identification and assimilation. It's just really helpful to me to read a book that addresses issues of identity, since this is so up for me in this lifetime.