“You’re something…. But I can’t figure out what it is.”
There’s this look that people give me when they meet me. Their eyes squint, their eyebrows furrow, their mouths seems to twist into a question mark in the middle of their faces.
Yes, I am something. We are all something. We all came from somewhere, and it was most likely not from the United States. The typical “white” skin tone that is associated with “Amurica” is a lie; obviously, the people who are actually from this continent are Native Americans, who do not have white skin.
“You’re white… You have very pale skin, but your features…. I can’t place it.”
Very astute, I would say. Yes, my skin is white, but that is not a full representation of everything I am.
My white skin comes from my dad’s side. He is of Austrian ancestry, and, according to his genealogy test he recently received back, 99.6% Ashkenazi Jewish. Many of my ancestors probably died in the Holocaust, so we don’t have many records of that side of the family.
Judaism is unique in being known as not only a religion, but an entire nationality.
It is one of the most ancient cultures in history, despite all of the persecution and violence its people have suffered (ok, I really sound like a Jew now). The roots of Judaism are tied deep, deep down in the Earth, and from these roots have sprouted most of the other major religions in the world.
But we do know that my badass grandfather escaped Vienna during WWII, came to America, and then went back to Bavaria with the US army to hunt down Nazis. Then, he came back, started a family, and lived here as an eccentric artist and musician.
He and my grandmother, who I never had the privilege to meet, did their best to integrate themselves into American culture. They never spoke German in the house, and they ended up with quite a mastery of the English language. After everything they’d been through with the war, who could blame them for wanting to leave their traumatic pasts behind and start anew? Unfortunately, because of this element (and also the fact that most of their family members either perished in the holocaust or were never heard from again), I have very little family on that side, and therefore less of the cultural influence.
Now, to my other side.
My ambiguous features come from my mom, who is Greek. Lexi, my cofounder here at Words Between Coasts, is one of my many cousins on that side. I would say that some of my strongest cultural influences come from this side, as Greeks are very proud of their culture. Unlike my grandparents on my father’s side, my mother’s parents never truly left Greece. Their hearts always remained there, in the Mediterranean, and they never fully transitioned into the American way of life.
A lot of the culture that was passed on to my mom, she passed on to me. People think I’m nuts when they see me eat olives out of the jar or spread honey on toast. They make fun of me for the way I pronounce “feta”, you know, with a Greek accent, but I was not rewarded with feta when I was a kid until I pronounced it correctly. And, I LOVE feta, so you bet they trained me well. I inherited many of our old family recipes all the way from Greece, although most Greek recipes are just guidelines, because you cook from the heart. I even speak a little Greek, and am learning more.
Although I have been mostly exposed to my Greek side, I am in touch with my Jewish side. I went to high school in a mainly Jewish area, and I’ve experienced the culture in many different ways. I’ve gotta tell ya – they are two very similar cultures.
I’ve never understood the animosity that people of different cultures, religions, nationalities, what have you, have created.
We are all very similar. The parallels between the Greeks and the Jews are enormous; big families, the importance of food, religions with similar ideals, the umbrella of pride that hovers over it all…. And I know that these are not the only two cultures that behave this way.
We are all so similar, yet people do not realize it.
All they do is look at skin color and make assumptions. Since I have pale skin, I have been labeled as “caucasian” my entire life. Do you know where the word “caucasian” comes from? I’ll tell you – it’s from the Caucasus, a region in the Mediterranean where their skin is not white – it’s dark. Olive, tan, brown, however you’d like to describe it. I don’t know who the genius is that decided that all white people are caucasian, but this person was obviously not well informed.
I’m often passed off as another white girl. People think that I eat mayonnaise and Wonderbread sandwiches for lunch every day, and have dinner at 5pm on the button every night, like the stereotypical midwestern American. But that’s not who I am. Our skin does not define us, and we must open our minds past stereotypes.
I am very proud of both sides of my heritage. I think it is so important to see all of the colors of the skin – all of the colors of the world. Every nationality, every language, every cuisine, every art form, every bit of culture, and celebrate them all. Recognize the suffering they’ve all been through (trust me – both Jews and Greeks will be happy to regale you with stories of their sufferings). We need to see the hard truths. We need to recognize each other from where we came from. Ask questions; not out of malice, but out of curiosity.
We are one people, colors and all. Let’s celebrate it.