Discovering my heritage through writing

It didn’t occur to me until I was an adult and had children of my own how much tradition matters. Not that tradition matters for its own sake, but traditions connect us to who we are in a world that pushes us to all be the same.

 

When my husband and I settled in Cleveland I couldn’t believe all the different festivals held celebrating the different ethnicities represented in the city. Asian Festival, Greek Festivals, Hungarian, Polish, German, and so many more. Then as our children entered school there were cultural lunches hosted by families that shared the food traditions of their countries and culture.

The kids kept asking me, “What is our culture?”

I know the information I can find in genealogical databases. But I don’t have the stories that give meaning to those facts.

And all I could say was American?

The truth is we don’t really have strong traditions in my family. My dad’s family is a mixture of a lot of European countries and my Mom’s is Welsh on her mother’s side and Syrian/Lebanese on her father’s.

I have always been intrigued by my Syrian/Lebanese roots. I never knew my grandfather. He died before I was born and his parents died when he was a young adult. He fought in World War II and like many Syrian Americans assimilated seamlessly into American culture.

I look in the mirror and I don’t see much evidence of that DNA. My hair is a dark brown and that is about it.

It doesn’t seem like a big thing, after all, it didn’t just happen to my family, but most families who immigrated at the turn of the 20th century.

It doesn’t stop me from wondering what my family’s story was.

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I know the information I can find in genealogical databases. When my grandparents arrived in the US. Through the censuses I can track their movement across the eastern states until they settled in Ohio. I can find 2nd, 3rd, and 4th cousins. But I don’t have the stories that give meaning to those facts. As a writer, this frustrates me because the story isn’t in the facts, it is the why behind them that makes a story.

The book I am working on follows a character who learns more about her own family’s Syrian roots. As a writer I get to make up her family’s story and I get to conveniently connect it to her personal struggles. And while I can’t ever know my family’s true story and what it meant, I can follow the stories of people who travelled their same path and settled in America, letting go of the language and the culture and the dress and the food that made them so different.

My hope is to share some of the research I find. One to help bring light on a misunderstood and rarely discussed immigrant group. With the current Civil War in Syria and a lack of compassion by our government for the refugees of this seemingly unending war, I think it helps all of us to connect to the people behind the news stories. To discover their why and in that finding ways to help.

Two, I want to rediscover traditions that might have been passed down through generations if my great grandparents had lived. So when my children and grandchildren ask who we are, I will be able to show them. This is who we are, who we were and who we will be.

Three, I want to share stories of the lives of immigrants that aren’t known. Their contributions to our country. Slices of life that remind us that as Americans, our diversity doesn’t divide us. It makes us stronger.

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I am going to rely on blogs, some academic books and the Arab American Museum in Dearborn Michigan to bring you this information. I hope you will join me in this rediscovery of my heritage as well as the stories of Americans long forgotten.

And maybe, if you like me, yearn to know the people who came before you, will find the courage to discover those traditions yourself.

Do you have traditions, customs or recipes that have been handed down through generations?

 

 

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