What is American Heritage?

From my editorial column in the 11/10/10 edition of the RP News: 

When reading the MACCRAY School Board report today the last few paragraphs struck me with concern and wonder. If you haven’t gotten to the story yet (it’s on the next page), a district resident questioned the board on why they would “allow” a Hispanic Heritage Day to be celebrated at the MACCRAY Schools. “Why not an American Heritage Day?” the resident asked.

My first reaction was, of course, a huge concern over the underlying prejudice and the racial tones of the question posed to the board. Honestly, I have no idea if prejudice and racial issues were the cause of the citizen’s “concern” over Hispanic Heritage Day.

Nonetheless, it angered me. After finally simmering down a bit, I began thinking about the statement and to really wonder, what is American Heritage? Do you know?

My ethnic background is Swedish and German. Ron “the print guy” is also of Swedish and German descent. My news-mate Char is a bit different. She is of a Norwegian and German background. My husband is German, Polish, a smidge Native American, and I believe a couple of other things tossed in. Our kids are then an even bigger mix. Where does it end? When do we quit identifying our heritage with the countries our ancestors came from? When do we start being Americans? Nothing else, just American?

Imagine for second that our little corner of the world quit identifying with their Dutch background? What if Madison ceased to be the “Lutefisk Capital” because it no longer celebrated the town’s Norwegian heritage? No more lutefisk and lefse? Or take the city of New Ulm and its longstanding German heritage? How many communities in Minnesota would change tremendously if they stopped identifying with their “heritage?” I can’t imagine how different our state would be. Can you?

Personally, even though it’s my “ethnicity,” I really can’t identify with being Swedish or German. I learned a couple of Swedish phrases from my grandpa, who had immigrated from Sweden, and growing up I was forced to eat lutefisk (I thought lutefisk was Norwegian?) with my mom and my grandpa when they would cook up a batch (love you mom!).

Growing up I loved to listen to my grandpa talk with his thick Swedish accent and he loved to laugh at a good “yoke.” If my grandpa hadn’t been an immigrant, I highly doubt I would know much about Sweden at all. As for my German heritage, no one that I knew in my close family had ever lived there.

The United States is called the “melting pot” of the world for a very good reason. We are! We are a nation of every single race and ethnicity mixed together in one big place.

What would we celebrate if we were to have an “American Heritage Day?” Would we dress up as cowboys? Would we eat burgers, fries, and apple pie all day? Are burgers, fries and apple pies even “American?” Would we play baseball and eat hot dogs?

American Heritage is all of the above. We are lutefisk, lefse, apple pie, burgers and fries. We are a little bit of every corner of the world. We are truly a melting pot. How can we celebrate one ethnicity and not all?

It is only when the day comes, if ever, that we stop celebrating and acknowledging all of our ethic backgrounds, that we can stop celebrating “Hispanic Heritage Week.” In this great melting pot of a nation, I don’t foresee that happening for generations to come.

That is our American Heritage.

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