Erica is a writer, editor, wife, and mom. She has always found employment with an English degree and she excels at nurturing children and animals but struggles to keep houseplants alive. Erica currently writes at SidewaysQ.com

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RECENT PINS

Check Box for Self Identity

I’m filling out the hospital paperwork between contractions, and am again faced with the mystery of my ethnicity.  As usual, there is no check box for “German-Puerto Rican.”  My lingering absence of self-identity is, at this moment, only slightly less annoying than the intense pain gripping my abdomen.

To be fair, I’m not only German and Puerto Rican.  One quarter of me is as old and white as America.  My great-aunt traced the Edwards’, my mom’s family, back to former presidents, the Mayflower and beyond to our English and even Germanic roots.  It is a good family foundation with many documented letters and pictures to prove a proud heritage.

Unfortunately, my dad’s family is not as well known.  My granddad was from a German, Cincinnati-based family.  I don’t have much knowledge of this lineage beyond our name “Schmidt,” and the many men whose middle name is “Bernard” and whose emotions are often hidden behind a cold and stoic armor.

But I knew Granddad.  I had twenty-two years with him.  I didn’t know my grandmother, Lydia, whose Hispanic last name I can’t even recount with certain accuracy.

The circumstances of not knowing of my grandmother–not knowing of her, which is even more sad than not knowing her–are difficult and complicated for others beside myself.  The bottom line is that, though we still have family in Puerto Rico and in the Bronx, New York, this link was broken long ago.

And so I stare at this form.  Caucasian, Hispanic, African-American, Native American, Other.  I stop for a contraction.  I need to finish this paperwork, and so while my hand lingers over Other, I choose Caucasian.

What else is there for me?  I am 25% Hispanic but all I know is White.  Here comes another contraction and yes, that’s the choice I make.

****

Hours later my second baby boy was born.  By my calculations he is 1/8 Puerto Rican, 1/8 German, 1/4 English, 1/8 Lithuanian and 1/8 Scottish and 1/4 a mix of other small parts.

That’s right–my husband has holes in his heritage, too.

Is this normal for our generation in America?  I am sad to think, yes.  The proverbial melting pot has become less a pot of equality than one of melting memories.  I have a hazy understanding of where I came from, and unless I research this more, my kids will have no clue of what flows in their veins.

Ancestry.com and many similar sites have gained popularity in recent years.  Those are good resources, but I still hope to make my search truly personal and speak with my remaining family members to learn about our history.  Websites can provide names but not stories.

I’m staring at a picture of my family.  My mom is blonde and blue-eyed; my dad dark with black hair and mustache; my brother blonde and brown-eyed; me with brown hair and brown eyes.  I look more Mediterranean than anything, I think.  Sometimes people ask if I’m Jewish.

Well, I’m probably all of that, somewhere back in time.  What I am now is not about who I look like or how the government categorizes me.  Mom, wife, daughter, lady, writer, runner, lover, believer.

There is no box.

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Comments (7)

  1. Pingback: Talking to Kids about Martin Luther King Jr. TodaysMama

  2. Tara 03/23/2010 at 6:11 pm

    Erica- How timely your comments are. Just last week I was asking my husband what I should mark on the U.S. Census – as he let me fill it out thinking that it would be an easy survey for me. Hah! I have the same question on what to mark for lineage, as I am 1/2 Italian, 1/4 Polish and 1/4 Puerto Rican. Take that combination and throw in the fact that I was born in New York and adopted and then the real questions come in. When did my birth ancestors come to this country? What ethnicity do they consider themselves? Do they cling to their heritage and celebrate it? etc. After a call to the Census information line with questions about my Puerto Rican lineage, I still did not have an answer and I marked Caucasian on the form. I felt like I was misrepresenting myself and denying my heritage, one that I am proud of. I suppose that my three children will continue to love pasta, as I do, and one day have the same unanswered questions. Thank you for your thoughts.

  3. Tara 03/23/2010 at 12:11 pm

    Erica- How timely your comments are. Just last week I was asking my husband what I should mark on the U.S. Census – as he let me fill it out thinking that it would be an easy survey for me. Hah! I have the same question on what to mark for lineage, as I am 1/2 Italian, 1/4 Polish and 1/4 Puerto Rican. Take that combination and throw in the fact that I was born in New York and adopted and then the real questions come in. When did my birth ancestors come to this country? What ethnicity do they consider themselves? Do they cling to their heritage and celebrate it? etc. After a call to the Census information line with questions about my Puerto Rican lineage, I still did not have an answer and I marked Caucasian on the form. I felt like I was misrepresenting myself and denying my heritage, one that I am proud of. I suppose that my three children will continue to love pasta, as I do, and one day have the same unanswered questions. Thank you for your thoughts.

  4. Mom :) 03/18/2010 at 3:44 am

    Excellent!!! Your writing is so accurate of our society today. So many memories lost and so many more to become lost. How many of us truly know from whence we came?

    May I say, “I am so very proud of you and the young woman that you have become.”

  5. Mom :) 03/17/2010 at 9:44 pm

    Excellent!!! Your writing is so accurate of our society today. So many memories lost and so many more to become lost. How many of us truly know from whence we came?

    May I say, “I am so very proud of you and the young woman that you have become.”

  6. erinoltmanns 03/17/2010 at 7:52 pm

    This makes me realize how much I don't know about my heritage too. I always grabbed onto the Italian part of my background because of my super ethnic maiden name. And that photo…what a treasure!

  7. rachael 03/17/2010 at 2:27 pm

    LOVE that picture of your grandparents!