Saturday, September 01, 2007

Keep it Alive!

A friend of mine once said, "You must know where you come from, in order to know where you are going." Must say, I agree. Heritage is something to be treasured. Clothing, Food, Music and Traditions are meant to be handed down from generation to generation. This helps form your identity. Any oppressive cultural force in the world first aims to destroy the cultural traditions of their target population. History provides MANY examples of this cruelty.

Early Christian settlers committed terrible injustices against Native Americans. Broken treaties, massacre of entire tribes and the slaughter of the great Buffalo were only the beginning. This cruelty was justified in the mind of the white-man because he viewed the Indian as a "heathen savage". Learned recently that up until 1978, Native American children could still be forcibly confiscated from their homes and placed in government boarding schools. Pow-wows, public drumming and Friendship Fires- any large gathering of Natives were also forbidden until that time. Am I just being negative? I love this country, but this is the reality of our history- you won't hear much of this injustice in most text-books.

Africans were stripped (literally) of everything that was dear to them and taken across the sea. They were chained, sold like cattle and treated with the greatest of indignities in order to break them and convince them they were worth nothing more than a lifetime of slave labor.

Hitler managed to convince a majority of Germans that Jews were less than human and had weaker genetics. Jewish symbols were banned from display- except for the Star of David they were forced to wear on their sleeves. Upon arrival to a concentration camp, it was not uncommon for Jews to be forced to strip in public- a form of humiliation. Sadly, Hitler studied American tactics with the Native Americans. He got the idea of placing Jews in concentration camps from our "brilliant" Indian Reservation idea. The Nazi understood that if you treat people badly for long enough, eventually, they feel worthy of your mistreatment and cease to resist.

For all their pompous, tea-time behavior, the English were among some of the most inhumane. Scotland & Ireland suffered tremendously under England's greed. Many in England wanted to unite the 3 cultures to form one strong country, but in order to do so, the English Lords would have to strip the Celtic nations of their pride. They charged unreasonable rents for hovels & land they had STOLEN from the Celts in the first place. They refused to give a fair market price for wool, potatoes, mutton, etc. So the Celts were forced into poverty, then punished when they couldn't pay-up. Farms were burned, children were hanged and a young bride was taken sexually (raped) by whatever Lord happened to rule over her lands the night before her wedding. (Try being a Celt in love and not be the first to have your beloved- harsh!) Kilts were banned, Bagpipes forbidden and Gaelic was not to be spoken, only English. Unlike many other cultures who submitted, the passionate Celts consistently resisted oppression until they finally organized and threw the English out on their arses.

In the harbour of New York there stands a statue that reads, "Send me your tired, your poor, your hungry...." Nice sentiment, but have we really been that charitable?

My Scot ancestors came here in the late 1700's as indentured servants (slaves) in order to escape the constant bloodbath that was Scotland. They worked hard and tolerated mistreatment for decades, earned their freedom, bought land and settled in the midwest. My Irish kin came in the early 1900's during a time when the Irish were hated in this country. In order to blend in, they dropped the O' from their name and refused to speak Gaelic. The family plaid was put away and stories of home were lost in the effort of 'becoming American'.

Those of Celtic, African, Muslim descent are likely to know very little of their family history, traditions or language. This saddens me.
The US has worked very hard to become more tolerant of other cultures. We now have Black History month. In recent years Bush named March, Celtic-American month. What about Native American month, Mexican-American, Italian American and Chinese American months? Chinese immigrants are largely responsible for our amazing railway system. There should be an Italian-American month, simply because they brought us such GREAT foods!! 'Bout time proper recognition is given to those who helped build this country while living under deplorable conditions.

My family is not exactly close-knit and hasn't taken much pride in the family tree. Most of the history I've learned about my Celtic roots, I've had to pursue on my own- it was not passed down much. Unlike my forebearers, I don't need to hide my heritage in order to be successful- I enjoy celebrating it. The family tartan is back on display. It has become an important part of my identity. My children know where we came from and much of the history of our ancestors, whose strength is in our very blood. A sense of pride has been reborn.

So, where do you come from??