Monday, August 15, 2011

Making Sense of Being an American

I am the product of displaced immigrants who never again returned to their homelands. America has attracted the tired, poor masses from all over the world for a fresh start...and my grandparents were some of them. The Eastern Europeans I've met live steeped in hundreds of years of family history. Their worlds are relatively mono-cultural. They know who they are and from whence they came. Many of them have admitted they enjoy the safety and security of life's predictability.

The American experience is very very different. My country, has grappled endlessly with assimilation and we have one language or many languages? How do we embrace our distinctions and yet be one people? Can we trust people who are different in appearance, language and culture?

Eventually I became an anthropologist who studies the "other," embracing the uniqueness of Hispanic, African, Asian and Melanesian cultures. My own ethnicity was up for grabs...I didn't even have a toe hold in my Eastern European homeland. I was Jewish, but the pedantic ritual meant little to me. It's only on this trip, that I've felt this wave of bittersweet sadness that I adopted Mexico as my pseudo-homeland, learning Spanish and returning often to my adopted village of Mani, Yucatan.

Being a rootless American I was also drawn to India--to it's sharp energy and it's deep soul. I resonated with yoga and tantra...and then with meditation and breathwork and massage. Something had to calm my wandering soul! As I think about it, the American experience of rootlessness makes us all so vulnerable to the new...whether it be mindless, short-sighted or downright amazing. While I look quite like the Romanians here in Iasi, I'm not one of them...due to the twists of fate I'm at best a Romanian-American.

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