America is very unique in that we truly are a nation of immigrants. People have come from every nation on earth, and they have become Americans. This amazing blend, this bringing together different people to form a nation is truly American. This inviting and accepting of people is one of the factors that has made America great.
People come from all over. The first generation to arrive holds strongly to their roots. They are a generation in transition. They see themselves as coming from somewhere else. The next generation sees themselves differently. They are Americans but they have a strong heritage from another country; often a country that they will never know first-hand. It is only through their parents that they maintain the connection. By the third generation they are undeniable Americans. They still may take some pride in being a hyphenated American; but they are Americans through and through, just like every other hyphenated American.
I was born and raised in America and I am a blend of a few different ethnicities. I have never been able to think of myself as anything other than American. I’m not even hyphenated. As such, I look at other Americans as just simply Americans and have not given a lot of thought to where their families come from. That has changed for me now that I have done some international traveling during the last month.
Before I left for Italy a friend, Nadine, asked what town I was going to. I said “Tortona” and she excitedly said, “My family is from that area.” A strange thing happened. As I met coworkers in the Tortona office, I began to see familiar faces. There was a girl in the office that had some facial features, gestures and way of communicating that reminded me of Cheryl, Nadine’s daughter. A Guy in the office named Simone, looked like Nadine’s son, Dan. The way he would look at me reminded me of Dan. He even had Dan’s grin. In my mind I even used it to try and help me remember names. I would say to myself, ‘Oh, yah, Simone—he is the purchasing guy that looks like Dan Deal.’
There was another thin, energetic, young man named Pietro. He reminded me of a thin, energetic, third generation Italian-American guy I worked with in California, named Nick Carbone. This whole experience of seeing familiar faces in foreign places has been interesting and kind of fun. It has made me aware of the ethnicity of my friends at home, something I had never paid much attention to. Mostly I think it is a way of avoiding being homesick. These people are strangers to me, but in some way there is comfort in seeing the American counterpart in their eyes, and their gestures.
The strangest one happened this morning at breakfast. I am in Mumbai, India right now. I sat down for breakfast at the hotel restaurant. My nephew James came up to take my order. Okay it wasn’t James, it was some Indian waiter that looked like my Mexican-American nephew, James. I smiled as he asked me something that I really didn’t understand. Then he gestured to the side with his head. I went. ‘Oh my gosh! It’s James. I never noticed before but he does that same gesture with his head.
Again it was fun and a bit comforting. I guess I am home sick.