My parents divorced when I was young, so young that I barely remember anything about them being married. When I was 5, my mother remarried to my wonderful dad, Alex, and my father began dating my wonderful mom, Michelle.
I lived with my mom during the school year, wherever in the world that turned out to be. My dad is in the military and we move pretty frequently, so my living locations would change often. Two years after they remarried I got a little brother, Matthew, seven years my junior, and later Allison, nine years my junior.
During the summer I stayed with my dad in Idaho. The first time I spent the summer with Michelle was a bit overwhelming. Michelle had been married before and had four kids of her own, Joe, two years younger than I, Tyler, my age, Lynne, four years older than I, and Josh, seven years older than I. I hadn’t really ever been around that many kids my own age before outside of school, so I didn’t know how to react other than whine and sit in the corner and read. Gradually though, I became more outgoing and consider each of them my brothers-and-sister-from-anotha-motha. (bringing my sibling count to a wonderful I-will-never-be-out-of-family-reach six).
Now here’s how it relates to this blog- my stepfamily is a mixture of culture all their own. Mexican, Yugoslavian, Native American, and other things I’m sure I’ll learn eventually. Most impacting on their identity is Native American. Specifically, their Lakota heritage (though I believe they have a history of other tribes in their ancestry). The first time I stepped into my step-grandparents house I was fascinated with the finely feathered dream catchers, hand woven quilts, and beautifully painted horse statues. The first time I went to a pow-wow I was enchanted with the beat of the drums and the colorful twirling and shining of the handmade dresses. The beadwork coin pouch I got from one of the stalls there is so worn from my 7-year-old fingers rubbing over the leather that the woven image of a girl droops in the middle.
Before I met them, my only introduction into Native Americans had been Disney’s Pocahontas singing “Colors of the Wind” as her luxuriously long black hair swirled and her cute not-rabid-at-all raccoon stuffed crackers into its mouth. My stepfamily showed me (at a very early age) that while your cultural identity was a part of your background, more than just a little checkbox on a survey, and something to be proud of, it did not dictate how you must act or who you have to associate with. My siblings are just like me, except my older sister and I can’t share base makeup and my brothers don’t have to slather on sunscreen when we go fishing.
On the same note, your ancestry can be fascinating and learning about others ancestry is equally as enthralling. I was blessed in a Mormon church after I was born (I’m not Mormon, but my ancestors are) and I was given an exceptionally pretty Lakota blanket to celebrate my accomplishments when I graduated high school. My family in Texas prides itself on BBQ and pecan pie and my sister mixed her modern day wedding with her grandfathers Lakota prayers and blessings.
Ignorance is one way stereotypes are created. Just because my siblings are Native American doesn’t mean they wear moccasins and weave feathers in their hair. Similarly, just because I’ve got some Irish roots doesn’t mean I look for leprechauns and get hogwash drunk at the local pub.
So, keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to ask someone about their cultural heritage. Some of the stories might be fascinating and each one will open your eyes to cultures outside of your own. Never be afraid of a little learning.
“Give me knowledge so I that may have kindness for all.”- unknown Plains Indian