I’m generally very
happy with the school my kids attend, but once in a while they tick me
off.  This is one of those times.

Recently, a
missive came home informing parents of an impending “Heritage
Celebration.”  It says

is important that each child has a sense of his/her heritage background and
feels proud of his/her roots and customs.

A rather elaborate
process is outlined for “helping our children better understand and internalize
their roots.”

Isn’t it MY
prerogative to decide how big a stinking deal needs to be made about our
family’s heritage?  The fact is, my
family has been in the good ol’
USA for multiple generations, and so has my
husband’s family.  I feel no connection
whatsoever to the “old country” from whence my ancestors came.  There are aspects of my upbringing that I do
or will share with the kids, but I don’t see why the school needs to get

If America is the proverbial melting pot, my family
is pretty well incorporated.  This may be
a country of immigrants, but after 100 years you lose claim to that title.  Do we have to pretend to be holding onto
Eastern European or Norwegian customs to satisfy some multi-cultural agenda?  Will my child be shamed because we have no
exotic rituals to share?

Can I call “white
bread American” a heritage? 




26 thoughts on “

  1. I think if you send her in with an apple pie to share with the class and baseball cards to pass around…they may get the point. Oh yeah, have her wear the American flag. (I suggest a leotard underneath)

  2. I know what you mean.  My knowledge of my family’s roots goes back about as far as Kansas–maybe Missouri–but beyond that?  Don’t know, don’t care.  Don’t pretend to know or care.
    My second-grader recently had the assignment to make a paper doll in the native dress of her “heritage country.”  She had some trouble with it, since she considers her true motherland to be Fairytopia.  (Same reason she won’t say the pledge of allegiance.  Gosh, I could go on and on about this.)  So that assignment irritated me also.  I probably should have had her make a paper doll family with one paper man and a dozen paper women, but that’s an aspect of her heritage I’d rather not explain at this age.

  3. I used to be all puffed out with pride about my Irish and Welsh ancestry….until I started actually tracing said ancestry and learned that most of my lines have been on US soil since the 17th century.  I won’t turn down a pint of Guiness and a plate of colcannon, though.

  4. You could devise some elaborate background with tons of exotic religeous days.  My little brother used to wrtie notes for my sister to get out of class, and I quote “Please excuse ‘X’ from school yesterday, we can hold our devil worship services only on certain dates and times.  Signed Mrs ‘X’ Grand Arcadian Master!”

  5. My grandson had this assignment a few days ago, but only had to go back as far as his great grandparents, and only had to get the names.  Kirstie had it in that same grade, up in Rockford too.  It did, however, stir an interest in her ancestors, with her.  She and I still talk about taking a trip to the areas in Missouri and Indiana where the ancestors from our side lived.  Of couse, if we do, we’ll also do the modern things in that area for enjoyment.  We were just talking about it yesterday after church.

  6. This is equivalent to my high school trying to teach and instill morals to their students. I told the principle that if they haven’t learned them at HOME and by then there wasn’t any hope. The point of it not being their business was also brought up by me. Schools should stop trying to substitute themselves as parents. Grr.

  7. Send her to school with the soundtrack to Star Wars and a John Cheever short story.  When they ask her what her “heritage land” is, tell her to say “Suburbia.”  It has it’s own cultural events and rituals–like the Super Bowl Party, for instance–it’s own mythology, and it’s own special foods.  Have her make Chex party mix and martinis.

  8. It is kind of ridiculous.  A family tree is one thing, but even that seems like a very personal thing as far as how each family wants to discuss/celebrate/record (or not) family history.   I’m a historian and people often assume that means that I’ve set out to write my family’s history… they are often disappointed when I tell them how little I know… or have bothered to find out.  

  9. My own personal experience with a school assignment like this was acutely uncomfortable. As children, we were asked to identify the country our parents or ancestors came from. Not countries, country. It was assumed that our parents or forebears only came from one place. My parents were both emigrants, from two neighbouring countries, who met and married in Canada. So we were all given a single pin to mark our spot on the map, and I agonized for days over which parent I was going to choose…I worried way too much as a child. And, for the same assignment, we were asked to give an overview of our family’s history. I asked my dad where his family originated, and he told me two things – that we were descended from Kings and noblemen, and we could trace our ancestry back to Eric the Red (because of the red hair that runs in the family). I dutifully recorded this information, and received an A for my efforts. Not a word of it was true. Nobody told me it wasn’t true until I was thirty.I would rather that my children learn how we are connected rather than how humans differ.

  10. I don’t know any “rituals” of my “heritage”.  I had never really thought about it much, until the school did an ethnic festival.  It was fun to attend.  You had a “passport” that you got stamped when you went to each “country” (classroom).  They had a cover charge that you paid to get in… it wasn’t much, but they used it for the library.  The kids loved it..

  11. If you’re uncomfortable with it, talk to the teachers and let them know how you feel.My heritage is fire water mixed in with what came over from Ireland and Germany. I reckon it ended up tastin pretty good. RYC: Thanks, I’ll pass them on to my brother.

  12. Personally, my heritage has always been a little shaky; it wasn’t until a few years ago when my father’s adoption agency unsealed part of his records that I discovered that I’m one-quarter iraqi royalty (no joke).  Before that, I’d always thought I was mostly mediterranean from my father’s side, and I knew that I was Scandinavian, Norwegian, and a little bit of Polack from my mother’s side.  Growing up with this information always made for an interesting “heritage day,” where I’d bring in the family tree from my mother’s side, explain to the class that my father was adopted, and have some lefsa that a few other kids might bring in.  It was a good time.
    A lot of these “heritage days” are not necessarily there to emphasize a personal history, but rather to show students the origins of their classmates.  It’s a great lesson, especially for younger kids; it can explain why some kids have darker skin, why they wear the clothes they wear, or any other habits or idiosyncrasies that students may have.  Not only that, but having that basis of a heritage to build off is pretty empowering; especially at an age when children are asking all sorts of questions.  Plus, it tends to open that door to realizing where our habits, traditions, and customs come from.  Think of it as a beginning of history lessons, in a way.  What better way to start than with something you can relate to?

  13. Gunga’s comment made me laugh!
    Why don’t you call some of the parents and find out if anyone else thinks this is a lousy idea?  If most of them really don’t like it, tell the teacher and put a stop to it.

  14. Ha!  I know what you mean.  I guess it’s a cool idea in theory, but for someone like me it’s always pretty lame.  Both sides of my family have been in the U.S. for generations, and I’m no more than 1/4 of any specific nationality.  My heritage is simply American, for better or worse.  I mean, I appreciate it when other people have interesting things to share about theirs, it’s just not me, and frankly that’s cool with me.

  15. People are ‘shocked’  when  they find out we have no relatives in Mexico.  HELLO, great-grandparents have long ago died and the granparents died in this country.  What’s to visit?
    I think it would be hysterical for your 8 year old daughter to go to school dressed in red, white and blue, with an apple pie, handing out baseball cards and carrying her laptop….I so see that!
    Funny theme!

  16. I’m waiting for my son to bring this home. We are what one would call Heinz 57, you know a little of everything. Who isn’t once they’ve arrived in the good ole USA and married others. Come on. I agree though, course if mine did any background he’d go with his father that has more claim on being from sicily(sp) granted he wasn’t born there.

  17. Actually, can you just send them as American?  I mean, that IS their heritage one way or another.  Living in Europe, I think most people would burst out laughing if I referred to myself as having British or Czech heritage even though I am only third generation. Who would laugh the loudest — the relatives still living in these here parts.  You know who has some funny essays about this…David Sedaris :).  You need to get up to Me Talk Pretty One Day though (oh, and I went and commented on that post too since I am behind). 

  18. Hmmm. No, of course we shouldn’t feel ashamed because we’re not ‘exotic.’ But even referring to ourselves that way (not exotic) and implying that non-whites ARE exotic (read: non-normal) could be seen as ethnocentric. Basically, however, those sorts of multicultural things are a good thing and an attempt to let everyone learn about everyone else, that we’re all the same only different, and all that…. because, traditionally, kids DON’T get that message at home. They often get the message that white/European ancestors are normal and everyone else, is, well, exotic (or worse, inferior). These things are an attempt to send the message that ALL roots are equally important no matter the soil they sprouted in.So, by all means, if you want to promote your American roots, I’d say go ahead and make a wonderful thing out of it. Let it be special (even if you don’t consider it exotic – although to those elsewhere in the world, WE ARE the exotic ones).

  19. Our schools did something similar but it was “pick one country” that is in your background. My girls still agonized over whether I’d be hurt if they picked Italian (their dad’s side, fairly recent) instead of the Heinz 57 but we say Scottish just because it’s easier and the most recent on my side. LIke many others, if you’ve got family that’s been here a few hundred years, how the heck do you count that?  That said they came home with neat stories about different kids in their classes. I think the teacher also had push pins and they stuck them in every country (so each child got multiple push pins) and that made a big impression–all those pins all over the map!

  20. Tell her to say she is celebrating her American herritage by NOT participating in their stupid activity, she is exorcising her right to decline. Or Didn’t you make Chestnut soup recently? You could tell her to bring that, and then make something up.

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