A few days ago, my roommate Lindsey ordered some food from a restaurant. I was about to head out to take the garbage out when someone rang the buzzer downstairs. Now, normally we know when we are expecting someone so I was rather confused. It turns out it was the delivery guy bringing Lindsey her dinner.
Lindsey buzzed him in and he appeared almost right away at our door since we only live on the second floor of our building (first floor by European standards which I don’t understand on this continent. Since when does the number 0 count for anything?) I was standing a little further back in the hallway and Nicole was trying to help me with the garbage and somehow ended up banging her foot… or she somehow hurt it.
Anyways when the delivery guy came to our door, this is the image that greeted him: an Asian girl was standing in the doorway trying to pay him, a white girl was standing further back in the hallway holding a garbage bag doubled over laughing, and a black girl was hopping around on one foot disappearing around the corner.
I forget why I was laughing. I was either laughing because I either thought the way Nicole hurt herself was funny or I just thought it was so ridiculous that I was holding a garbage bag which seemed to be confusing the delivery guy… Those of you who know me know I laugh at the stupidest things–it doesn’t take much to get me to fall into what the French have dubbed a “fou rire”–literally translated to crazy laughter, which refers to an uncontrollable, hysterical laughing fit (I dunno what the Spanish call this but I’m sure there is a term for it)
Anyways as Nicole disappeared one-legged around the corner to her room, I laughingly hola-ed the delivery guy who proceeded to ask Lindsey where we were from.
“Los Estados Unidos!” Lindsey replied.
And then, as is typical, the guy started speaking in English (I’m not even sure he was Spanish but I was too far to really tell) and seemed rather confused when he asked, “All of you?”
It wasn’t until after he left that Lindsey commented that the fact that we were all obviously three distinct ethnicities seemed to confuse the guy. I don’t often think about this but I guess the answer about where we are all from does sometimes surprise people.
Case in point: a couple of months ago, the water in our building was inexplicably shut off about 18 hours. In all the confusion, we asked our elderly neighbor if her water had turned back on. In exchanging pleasantries, she asked us where we were all from and seemed surprised when I told her we were all from the USA.
This leads me to wonder what people around the world think a typical American looks like. Spaniards rarely guess I’m from the US, but at the same time they don’t look surprised. However Nicole has pretty much received every nationality under the sun except for American–Cuban, British, Portuguese, French, German… And Lindsey has occasionally walked into a chino store only to be addressed in Chinese (which she doesn’t speak).
And while I’m happy to identify myself as an American, Spaniards seem very preoccupied trying to figure out where we all “originally” came from. My intercambio Laura asked Nicole once where her family originally came from. When Nicole’s response was “The USA,” Laura wanted to know which part of Africa her family was from. And well, the truth is Nicole has no idea.
Just like I have no idea when my ancestors in Ireland from my mother’s side grew tired of growing potatoes (is it bad that I am stereotyping my ancestors?) and decided to come to the US. I’m sure someone in our family has traced the genealogy back (maybe sometime around the late 1800s is my guess) but as far as I’m concerned, my mom was born in America and so were her parents and most of her grandparents. We’re all American. Irish-American, yes. But I don’t identify with the culture. I don’t speak with an Irish accent. I know nothing about its history except something vague about leprechauns, St. Patrick, and some potato famine. I went to Dublin once and I thought it was cool. But never for a second did I feel like I was back with “my people.”
I think it’s easy for the rest of the world to forget that the USA is a melting pot. Yes, the first settlers were white, Protestant, and British. But it didn’t take long for people from other countries to start coming in.
I mean, just visiting Ellis Island and looking at the wall of immigrants’ names that passed through there… there were all sorts of nationalities/ethnicities that checked in there. As far as I know, none of my ancestors passed through there–though I did take a picture of a section of the wall full of immigrants’ names with the same last name as my mom’s maiden name.
So yes, Americans come in all sorts of flavors and colors–it’s about time we embraced that.