Cooking can be a particularly good way to connect with your heritage.
We were told to take off our gloves and place our hands onto the cold concrete walls. One of the rabbis told us that every prisoner who walked into this chamber recited the “Shema” — a Jewish prayer — before they died.
I could feel the prayers from thousands of my ancestors’ lips through the walls.
Over time, I’ve come to realize the importance of knowing my cultural identity. That’s why I feel that one of the most important resolutions many of us can make for the upcoming year is to find out more about our roots and reconnect with them.
Heritage is a bit of a funny concept in the U.S.
We’ve been called the “melting pot” because, as a country of immigrants, our cultures tend to mix until they are indistinguishable parts of a multicultural whole. Some argue that many of our ancestors were forced to assimilate and forsake their roots in the process.
New immigrants are integrating faster than ever before — this means that they are becoming more similar to native-born Americans at a rapid pace.
While this can be beneficial — these new immigrants, for instance, are expected to have an easier time gaining employment — it also suggests that we are each at risk of losing a precious part of our histories.
Some scholars think the term “melting pot” is a misnomer. They claim we should be called the “salad bowl” because many people are successful at weaving their roots into their American lives.
Regardless of which description is correct, many seem to agree that we lose a part of our cultural identities when we try to assimilate to the American lifestyle.
But why is it important that we maintain our roots, and make it a goal to reconnect?
We each have our own reasons. In an article for the New York Times, Rachel Swarns focused on food-related stories. She wrote about Ana Sofia Peláez, a Cuban-American who yearns for the smell of simmering bell peppers from traditional dishes that would waft from her grandma’s kitchen.
A Serbian-American woman named Nena Vukanic has neither been to Serbia, nor does she speak Serbian. Cooking traditional dishes is the one way in which she is able to hold onto her roots.
Retaining our heritages can be as simple as keeping a grandparent’s memory alive, or as complex as feeling an emptiness or yearning for something we never personally knew.
Heritage doesn’t seem like a vital topic. And it certainly isn’t on our radars when we make our normal New Years’ resolutions.
The US government took a poll of the most popular resolutions. Of the top 13 — which include cutting down on liquor, eating healthier and getting a better education — reconnecting with our roots appears nowhere on the list.
Reconnecting can be a very empowering experience.
One study found that displaced Estonians in Australia who visited Estonia had an easier time re-conceptualizing and aligning both their Estonian and Australian identities.
I’m grateful that I have an opportunity to see where my great grandparents lived, worked — and narrowly escaped death. This has been a pivotal step in finding my own identity, and I plan on finding out as much as I can about my roots.
For anyone else who feels the need to make reconnecting with their past a resolution, you don’t necessarily have to take a trip. You could take classes about your culture, your native language or a just try a few recipes.
And in the spirit of the holiday season, reconnecting could be as simple as having a conversation with your parents or grandparents about who you are and where you came from.
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