shorter post: who cares?
longer post: this morning, i read an article in the travel section of the Tribune called "Lost in Ireland." the subtitle was "where are my roots?" i read the article, written by a trib staff reporter about a trip he and his mother took to ireland to attempt to fill in holes in the family genealogy. if i had a nickel for every person i know who has gone, or would want to go, to ireland to "find their roots," well...insert your favorite "if i had a nickel" punchline here.
i am fascinated by our collective fascination with ancestry and genealogy. the author of the article and his mother were sincerely passionate about filling out the picture of their grandfathers, grandmothers, great-grandparents, etc. i have no doubt that they feel their lives will be somehow enriched by seeing a long-dead relative's name on a census in a musty library in some small irish town. but i'll be damned if i can actually figure out how it matters.
what is our obsession with "where we are from" really about? what do we gain from the knowledge that yes, great-grandfather patrick o'riley did reside in tullamore during 1836, or whatever particulars it is we're looking for? when you're four or five generations removed from "the old sod," you're not really from ireland, or italy, or russia, or whatever place it is to which you so romantically cling. sure, i have irish ancestors. my mom knows some things about them, there's a rough history somewhere - but how exactly does that impact my own life? it doesn't. i'm not irish, and i think it's kinda insulting to actual irish people for me to claim as such. people who adopt these pseudo-ethnic identities ("i'm italian! i love pasta!" "i'm irish! i love arguing!") based on a relative who immigrated over 100 years ago drive me crazy.
i knew a guy in college that was the worst kid of pseudo-ethnic identity offender. we christened him (behind his back, of course, as we were vicious and mean) "House of Pain," as he was the most stridently obnoxious brand of fake irish. he had the stereotypical irish "look," with red hair, pale skin, and freckles, and there was obviously some irish heritage to his name. however, he took this to mean that he was the embodiment of all things irish (nevermind that he could tell you nothing about cromwell, 1798, 1916, etc) and it was his sole duty to remind everyone that ireland is the greatest nation on the face of the earth (regardless of the fact that he had never set foot there). he had a tattoo of a tiger on a bed of shamrocks. he was prone to getting drunk and wrapping himself in the irish flag. need i go on?
i don't mean to equate House of Pain with anyone who has ever been interested in the lineage. that is unfair to the 279,999,999 americans who are not House of Pain. however, my point is this: i think a fixation on where one is from, on "roots," distracts you from the really important thing, which is where you are right now. who you are right now. i know that the past informs the present, but really, what happened when you were six is far more important than what ship your great-great-aunt was on when she arrived at Ellis Island. if you're looking that far back in order to get a sense of what your life is about, well, you're not going to find it.