Monday, January 25, 2010

The Beauty of What We All Bring

I went to Heritage Day at my sons' school this weekend. It is a day that, maybe, is only possible in Brooklyn, with rooms dedicated to cultures spanning from Transylvania to Newfoundland and people in them proudly displaying their first- or second-generation knowledge of the foods, the fashion and the fun to be had in these faraway places.

Last year, I had arrived, not happily, and balked at what heritage to put on my name tag. My parents talked little about their parents' countries of origin, vaguely referring to basic wandering around Eastern Europe like so many Jews. But this gave me no identity. You cannot place "Jewish" on the map and placing myself in the supposed Jewish homeland of Israel would be more than a bit disingenuous as I'd never been there.

"I'm from Arizona...practically the first generation of people to actually be from there originally," I had said to my husband's cousin, an active member of the PTA.

She had brightened. "Put that!" she had said.

"Really?" I said, skeptical. She had been adamant and so I listened. But, as I wrote, another mother walked up and chastised me.

"You can't put that," she said, "that's not a heritage!"

My momentary waffling whooshed into the far-distant past. I just smiled a smile that said, "Oh, yeah, just watch me!" and I slapped on my badge: Stephanie - Arizona.

This year, states were added, even boroughs, like Brooklyn, from where so many of our children hail. I showed up wearing denim with cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, proffering tortilla chips and salsa to those who walked in as I worked the front desk, proud of my heritage.

After a bit, I wandered around, getting my name written out in Persian, dancing a traditional Palestinian dance.

"Palestine?" questioned a fellow Jewish parent, "don't they know that doesn't exist anymore?"

I didn't smile. I didn't find the joke even remotely funny. The world being, sadly, what it is, I get that wars make new borders, new names for places once called something else. But, whatever happens, people should not be robbed of their heritage, who they are. Doing so just makes new wars, new borders, an inability to cross over those stupidly-created lines and dance together, dine together.

I was thinking of this in Prospect Park yesterday as I stopped on my run to watch the beautiful swans swimming around the icy water gracefully. A woman travelled over a fair distance to me from where she and her friend were sitting to hand me The Brooklyn Paper.

"I didn't know if you'd seen this," she said, pointing to the cover story about the stunning development I was unwittingly witnessing before me. Turns out that two normally territorial, aggressive swan families previously at war are, for the first time, sharing the lake, getting along swimmingly as they try to keep warm.

Ah, the beauty of Brooklyn. Here, we can all be together and, ideally, appreciate the beauty of what we all bring. Even the animals feel the love.

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