Nothing gets me thinking about my heritage quite like Thanksgiving, a holiday commemorating that lovely historical period wherein a bunch of people who looked vaguely like me conquered a great ocean and brought disease, corsets and Christianity to the New World. (“Thanks, guys,” said the noble savages. “We needed that.”) Pumpkin pie, anyone?

Paul Wong
Neurotica<br><br>Aubrey Henretty

None of my forebears were here for that mess. They were still scattered about Europe and the Middle East, likely participating in holy wars and bad fashion trends of their own. They came from six different countries and had interesting accents and difficult-to-pronounce surnames. They came to the United States, checked the old ways at the dock and encouraged their children to adopt the amorphous ethnicity that is “American.”

The concept of ethnic pride baffles and fascinates me. To be able to point to a place on a map or a group of people who to the untrained Western eye look like they could be related and say, “I identify with that” is mysterious and romantic to someone like me, someone whose idea of a cultural bonding experience often takes place around a Monopoly board at 2 a.m. with a three-liter bottle of Faygo on one side and a movie nobody”s watching on the other. Yes! Baltic Avenue! Sixty bucks? I”ll take two.

What is heritage? Is it hanging out in my Lebanese grandmother”s kitchen all day, making stuffed grape leaves over gossip? Is it laughing with my friend Zeina at the poor, misguided trendies who would buy mass-produced watery gray hummus from Whole Foods? Can you imagine what they would say to me if I sauntered into a Lebanese Students” Association meeting to inquire about possible membership? Me, with my dishwater locks and blue eyes? I can. “Oh, you must be looking for the Ninth Reich of the Aryan Sisterhood. They”re meeting next door.”

I”d get over it. After all, I”m only a quarter Lebanese. Maybe I should try getting in touch with my German roots, instead no, the only German words I know are “Reich” and “sauerkraut,” and I”m not particularly fond of sauerkraut. Let”s see, what else have we got? Well, I have an Irish last name, but there haven”t been any authentic Irish people in my family since the 1800s. I”m also parts English and Welsh, but I hear they don”t like each other much. Wouldn”t want to get in the middle of anything. My grandfather”s mostly Lithuanian, but the Lithuanian Pride movement is still in its infant stages. We”ll have to see how that one pans out.

No matter how much I research German or Lebanese or Irish history, I still feel like an outsider. I feel silly and conspicuous at cultural events I am genuinely interested, but my presence seems somehow intrusive. I”m sort of like a self-aware tourist, wearing my ethnic ambiguity around my neck like a big camera with a Mickey Mouse sticker on it.

Logic would follow that if I can”t embrace any of these mother lands, I must just be American. But I”m not sold on that, either. I feel American in the sense of Memorial Day barbecues and fireworks on the Fourth of July, firm in the conviction that the Boston Tea Party was the most poignant and innovative act of war of all time. However, when it comes to this country”s leadership, corruption is as American as can-shaped cranberry sauce. And if laughing sardonically when the president speaks for ten minutes without actually saying anything makes me un-American, I will wear that label with pride.

Perhaps this sense of global vagrancy is just melodrama. Perhaps I should recognize my missing ethnic identity as the lost cause that it is, stick to my bad similes and my turkey and lie awake at night thinking about something more pressing. But I don”t think culture-envy is all bad. In lieu of ethnic bonds, real or imagined, you find there are other ways to connect with people. Like collapsing in a fit of hysterical laughter when you land on Boardwalk which you don”t own and which has two hotels on it when all you”ve got to your name is Baltic Avenue and a pink five-dollar bill. Standing up, taking a bow, declaring victory with a straight face. Cracking a smile. Conceding defeat.

There: I identify with that.

Aubrey Henretty can be reached via e-mail at ahenrett@umich.edu

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