Saturday, April 20, 2013

Homelands

Coming up on a move makes me think about what a "homeland" means. I'd define it as a place you live in for cultural and not economic reasons. That makes things complicated for Americans because many of us (although fewer than you might think) are cobbled together from more than one culture, and also we are very quick to move for economic advantage and have been for centuries. Even 150 years ago, people would brag about how many farms they'd worn out. I don't buy into the idea that there is an American culture composed of allegiance to certain political ideals. For most people politics is weak tea compared to inherited traditions. Italians and Irish Catholics have always been close politically and even religiously, but they lived in separate cultural/language enclaves until very recently. If there is, or was, an American culture, it was nothing more than transplanted British traditional culture.

My ancestry includes a lot of different cultures, but I more or less accept the British-Irish Protestant cultural tradition, partly because it does cover about half of my ancestry and partly because it was considered the American norm when I was growing up.  So I guess my homeland is that generic small-town America - the one that was left behind when American big cities became cosmopolitan about 100 years ago. If I could tolerate the food and the religion, I would fit in very well culturally with a small town or suburb in New Hampshire, Indiana, Utah or wherever. That seems not to be saying very much, but a lot of Americans, especially in the "elites", could never stand living in place like that, whereas I could and have.   

My father's homeland was Southern Appalachia, but he never quite lived in it. He was culturally all Appalachian, but he lived in the coal mining region of West Virginia, which is not very traditionally Appalachian. That area was almost uninhabited, even by Indians, until coal mining started, because it was too rugged to farm or hunt. Then when people did come in, they were from several cultures: Appalachians, blacks, and immigrants from Italy, Hungary and elsewhere who came to work. It is said that the mine operators intentionally mixed their workforce to prevent the workers from banding together. I am not sure they were quite that savvy, but the result was a transient society that has been self-destructing ever since large-scale mining went away. Dad's true homeland would be some place like eastern Kentucky, where his father's family lived since before mining.  It's true that the original settlers went to Appalachia for economic reasons, but they were culturally Scots-Irish and have lived that way, in the same areas, since about 1720. So Appalachia qualifies a homeland to many people, using my definition.

It gets more complicated on my mom's side. She is half Sicilian, but her Sicilian father didn't get along with his immigrant parents and married outside the culture, to a girl with roots in High German farmers from rural Minnesota. Mom's family was Catholic and carried some of the Sicilian traditions, especially food traditions, but overall I can't say they were really a Sicilian family. Grandpa's sister who did marry a Sicilian guy continued a family line that stayed very strongly Sicilian for one more generation. With all that mixing, it's interesting that Mom is much more of a "local" than Dad ever was. She's only ever lived in three different places in 68 years and those three have been within 30 miles of each other. For her, friends are more important than culture in the large. 





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