Remember where you came from

Farm Forum

There is a well-known quote that, “No matter where life takes you, don’t forget where you came from.”

Every family can trace its own heritage and unique culture. That culture is made up of certain values, beliefs, traditions, food, language, dress and many other elements. While we cannot choose our ancestors or birthplace, our family history and genealogy are always worth passing on to the next generation.

The ethnic make-up of the United States has been defined by Robert Thompson as a “cultural bouillabaisse” — a mixture of cultures that blur together over time. Sometimes we even adopt rituals and traditions that have little to do with our own historical culture. But each of our own family histories is most definitely a source of intense pride and a foundation by which we pass on family values.

Unless we are American Indian, most of our ancestors immigrated to the United States to escape religious, cultural or financial persecution in search of a better life. Rugged individualism and a strong work ethic have always been hallmarks of American culture.

However, it is worth noting that the so-called “Protestant work ethic” originated with the Puritans of early America who, according to Ishmael Reed, “hated the theater . . . banned Christmas . . . punished people in a cruel and inhuman manner . . . killed children who disobeyed their parents . . . (and) exterminated the Indians.” So while we can and should be proud of our past, we also need to keep perspective, never forgetting that valuable lessons may be learned from our shameful history as well.

My mother is the daughter of second-generation immigrants, an Irish father and German mother. Her paternal grandparents stowed away aboard a ship traveling from Ireland to enter the United States. She was one of 15 children and grew up on a farm in north-central Iowa during the Depression era and World War II. The family lived a Spartan life by today’s standards, but maintained their cultures and closeness over the years.

To this day, twice a year, on Christmas and once during the summer, the whole Galvin clan reunites for fellowship, traditional food and a chance for the family historian to document news and events. Each family member gets an updated written record of family births, deaths, weddings, etc. Though I have more than 50 first cousins, it goes without saying that our family has remained close by preserving our history and tradition.

Alan L. Neville is an associate professor of education at Northern State University. The views are his and do not represent NSU.