Going Back to the Source
Why you should discover your homeland.
Speaking of my ancestry, I would consider myself a mutt. I am part Romanian, part Irish and part Scottish with a hint of English and a dash of Swedish but U.S.-born. I have a uniquely Romanian name, while my brothers are blessed with Irish and Scottish names. As siblings, I consider us the epitome of our heritage and ancestry, representing our family history through our identities. However, just claiming my heritage isn’t enough, and it shouldn’t be for you either. Instead, we should experience and reconnect to our heritage, and this is why.
Our ancestry is lost on our generation.
Being individuals of Generation Y and Z, quite a few of us have heard our family history through photographs, family tales, grandparents’ memories and immigration records. We see our history and ancestry as something our grandparents embrace, even our parents, but not us. We claim to be “American,” whatever that means. I don’t mean to get too controversial here, but I think the only people who can really claim to be “American” are those who resided on this continent initially. The rest of us are American-born with rich, melded ancestries and histories that give us our unique melting-pot identity. Therefore, our generation needs to learn that we are not only American-born, but that we bring with us a more complex map of identities.
Experience traditional customs, practices and culture.
Growing up, my brothers and I learned useful Romanian phrases, like “Don’t put that in your mouth!” or “Bless you,” mostly directive phrases that helped in our child-rearing. We thought we spoke typical Romanian, until one day, my mom’s tennis coach heard her say something in Romanian and identified our dialect as coming from the mountainous area. Essentially, we spoke very informal and a sort of backwoods Romanian. Of course, this caused me to do some research into this. I whipped out my ultimate research tool, Google, and began. It led me to find the Hutsuls, an ethno-cultural group that resides in the Carpathian mountains in Ukraine and Romania. I decided that we might be Hutsul. My mom shot me down, and I don’t blame her. We have no clue.
The point of this little anecdote is that, although I’d like to think I know a decent amount about where I’m from, I don’t actually know a thing. I don’t know if the Romanian I know is a dialect, I don’t know if we’re from an ethno-cultural group or just Romanian straight-up, and I sure don’t know anything more. What I’m saying is that, if I were to travel to my supposed hometown of Arpasu de Jos in Romania, I might be able to find those things out or I might not. Regardless, it’s totally worth the risk.
Gain appreciation for the journey.
Unless you’re American Indian or have history with Aztlán, someone down the line was brought or came to the United States, which makes you an nth generation immigrant, ancestrally speaking. By traveling to your homeland, you’ll get somewhat of an idea of what it’s like to make the sacrifices your ancestors did to come to the states. That journey might lead you to crossing a highly politicized journey, or it might take five flights and a train ride, or even a boat ride and a donkey ride up the side of a mountain. No matter the mode of transportation, you’ll find that your hometown not only is unique in location and unique to you, but it was also the starting point (maybe even the causation) of one of your family’s most important historical moves.
Make new connections.
When we were young, my brothers and I visited Ireland, where my father’s ancestry resides. We visited a cousin’s house, where the only things I can distinctly remember are eating one of the best scones of my life, smelling a peat fire and running around in a field out back that had a small fence somewhere near a forest. For us, this is just a memory. But a cousin related to that family came to live with us in the states, Mary. She helped babysit us while she went to school and worked, and I have plenty of funny and interesting anecdotes from the time she was with us here.
Mary created a lasting connection. I know that within a day’s notice that should would be able to come back again, and my family would be thrilled to have her. By meeting extended family, she was able to create for herself not only an experience but a resource for travel, and I’m sure that, with a little bit of effort, I could also create for myself a new connection that would allow me to rekindle a relationship with my ancestry.
While traveling in general is a fantastic experience, traveling to your homeland has a significant meaning. You’re rediscovering your roots. You might travel there with your siblings, as I wish to do with my brothers, or you might travel there solo. Either way, you would gain experience as an independent traveler with a goal in mind, a goal that is much larger than simply having an itinerary. Rather, you’d be required to pack an open mind, take into consideration every possible factor and ultimately spend time realizing your existence. In any case, I don’t think you’d really need a beach read for this sort of trip.