Where I Come From

In all the family history I’ve learned about during my life, I find myself fascinated with the maternal histories than with the paternal histories. I couldn’t tell you anything about my Gramps’ or Grandpa’s families. But my Nana and my Grandma? I’m almost obsessed with their family histories, and intrigued by how similar Nana and Grandma really are.

PBS is running a documentary called The Jewish Americans. I’m quite enthralled with it, since my Grandma’s parents were Eastern European Jewish immigrants who, as far as I can tell, left Moscow months before the Bolshevik Revolution. My Grandma married a Gentile and ceased to practice her faith. I don’t know, maybe she ceased to practice her faith long before she met my Grandpa. According to the PBS doc, many immigrant Jews found it easy to not practice their faith. But the lack of stories and information I have about that part of my ancestry might explain my fascination with all things Jewish, and the link I feel when learning about Jews.

My Nana’s grandparents were Danish converts to the LDS church, who immigrated to the U.S. They sailed across an ocean, trekked across a country, and raised a family in Utah. Interestingly, my Nana also married outside the faith in which she was raised, something my dad repeatedly warned me against, citing my Gramps’ eventual conversion as the exception, not the rule.

One Russian Jewish Grandma, one Danish Mormon Nana…I’m a Heinz 57 American, especially taking into account the paternal side of the equation. I guess all this is on my mind, as I’m reading Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, which so far is all about how nationalism has been, over time, manufactured. I guess I can see his point, because as I watch the PBS documentary, I feel connected to my Grandma. But as I was watching 20/20 tonight, the segment on how Danes are one of the happiest people in the world, I felt connected to my Nana. Can I identify with more than one nationality? Perhaps that’s Anderson’s whole point–the community I feel via my Grandma and my Nana are imagined. Hmmm…I’m not so sure I agree with that.

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