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Embracing Cultural Heritage

Updated on January 19, 2020
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In the middle of the 20th century there were only a few raising their children to be like the American Indians before Columbus.

Cultural roots

My grandmother and mother embraced their cultural heritage (roots) long before it was "acceptable". Grandmother grew up learning to understand the peers she spent the most time with. Because of her parents choices she was to be denied her heritage. Her Aunts, uncles, and cousins who were often visitors taught her the language which should have been hers from birth. She learned in reality because she had no choice. The language spoken in her home was English, her heritage, and her relatives were Cherokee.



They also taught her enough that she was able to become the person she wanted to be. In the end she was better educated in "her own" culture than from the three years she spent in the "American school system." If American education hadn't been mandatory chances are my mother, my siblings, nor I, would have been "sent to American school." It ended up that those of my generation were exposed to all the cultures which made us up.

Treatment by others

My mother grew up treated badly by her peers, yet chose the same for her children. There were choices made which made it easier than it had been for her though. Both generations realized the importance of sharing all the cultures which made each who they were, not only that but the diversity gained with each new parent, creating a melting pot within the family. In my own life many choices were made based on what I had learned of the different cultures which make me who I am.

Being accepted

As a preteen it was believed that my mother ran away from home by her step father. What I learned is she was removed from the home for her protection. She went first to family in Oklahoma, then into the southwest United States. After that to about every of the countries in Central and south America. This is where she increased her knowledge and ability to speak and write every Spanish/Portuguese language. The people of those countries accepted her for who she was. This influence guided her life in many ways for years. Cherokee and Spanish became the languages of our home as she knew her children would be living among those who spoke those languages.

Blending cultures

Each of five cultures added something to my overall being at different times in my life. As a child American Indian (Cherokee/Mohawk) was the ruling factor. Cherokee and Mexican Spanish were the languages spoken at home. The area where we lived contained more Mexican and Indian inhabitants than “Americans.” German and Mohawk/Amish through the men who were father, stepfather, and grandfather were the others. African American came into play three times also, in very unique ways.

Learning cultural differences

When my mother remarried Amish Culture was brought to the fore. My maternal grandfather had been raised as Amish even though he was more Mohawk than Amish. One of my stepfathers had been raised in an area which contained mostly Amish inhabitants although he was not of the faith. At the point he came into our lives we each understood enough English to enjoy his stories about the differences he had seen in his life.

The child he added to the mix like the rest spoke Cherokee/Spanish as she didn’t have much choice. They were the languages of our home. Since her father was in and out he didn’t object, but did make sure she had more time spent learning English before starting school than the rest of us had.

What a mess

My father was full blooded German. He was raised in America and came into my mother’s life after teaching his first year of high school. His languages were German and English. How and why he and my mother hit it off I will never understand. They had a love/hate relationship which lasted my lifetime. They came together more to fill my needs than any other reason. Those times were the times they got along best.

My time spent with him as a young child was few and far between. He didn’t know I had been born until I was eight years old. At that time my maternal grandmother was spending more time with me than anyone else. My grandmother told him how things would be and he had no choice but to accept. I didn’t carry his name, and he paid nothing for my support. Knowing those things he still accepted and wanted me to be part of his life. He actually spent more time with my grandmother as a house-guest than he spent with my mother. She was always welcome in his home.

While my grandmother was with him she was learning about him and of his culture. As always she took the best and left the rest. She did find that he was a worthwhile person and learned to understand the reason he wanted me to be part of his life.

Both grandmothers spent time together and communicated each with broken English, each had a different core language. I won’t say they got along well but they did get along. Although I heard “you little heathen” from my paternal grandmother often, I never heard her use anything similar about my grandmother. It appears they each respected the culture of the other, until it came to their grandson.

Love understands no culture

In each case in my life those involved not only embraced their own culture and heritage but the cultures of those they came in contact with also. Often a culture was not taken into consideration when choosing a spouse, although through the years there ended up being a blending. If not by the parents, then the children created by them. Each was allowed to hold true to their heritage. Those which benefited both parents were always taken into consideration.

I do believe though it was those who refused to be mainstreamed who opened the doors for the salad bowl mentality to become part of American society. The government also learned that it is our diversity which makes us a strong country. Each culture and heritage adds to the overall society.

Are you part of a multi cultual family?

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© 2012 Dennis Thorgesen


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