Sunday, March 3, 2024

Lost Heritage - What if Society Forces Us to Hide Who We Are?

How do we retain our heritage, the very makeup of our family DNA? Do we speak the languages of our ancestors? Do we celebrate holidays and festivals in the same manner as those before us? Do we listen to or create the music of their hearts and hands? Do we enjoy the same foods? Which of these components do we practice in public, and which happen in private?

It is natural when marriages occur and new families form that these activities combine. The new collective retains which traditions are most important to them as time progresses. Gains and losses. Yet what if there is no choice? What if what was occurring in society forced them to hide who they were?
Across American history many people groups adapted to their surroundings. The Cherokee in the southern United States learned to farm, dress, and attend school like the white population around them to assimilate and survive. In the end it did not help, and they were still forced off their land. The Georgia Guard rounded up the Cherokee and placed them into holding forts. The Trail of Tears ensued.
Immigrants to the US from China, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Japan adopted new customs as the food supplies and other habits were different than the places of their origins. In the beginning they also retained what they could from their past without concern for others’ thoughts. This landscape changed during World War I and II. People living in the US from many nations were ostracized and forced to keep their cultures behind closed doors with fear as the strong motivator. Some stopped speaking their respective languages. Others did not teach their native tongues to the next generations. Outward appearances and practices blurred into stereotypical “American” style. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, these efforts did not protect some with German, Italian, or Japanese ancestry. The Enemy Alien Control Program sought to detain individuals thought to be a threat due to their nationality. Internment camps within the US held these men, women, and children. Incarceration included American citizens of Japanese descent. Over 100,000 Japanese lived in “relocation camps” between 1942-1945.

When I was a child attending school in a southeastern state of America, we watched movies depicting the US as a melting pot. Cartoon characters sang of the joyful union of many nationalities. We did not learn about what happened to these populations. It was not until I was an adult that I read and learned about what transpired with these people groups.

This raises the question, what should, or could we do within our families to protect some measure of our heritage? What could we do every day so that no one would see outside the home, but could aid us in cherishing where we came from? The simplest method I can think of – food. 

Our family is a conglomeration of individuals from many other countries. While some of my ancestors are French, I learned to speak the language in school and living in France – not from relatives. One branch is Dutch from near the German border. Another branch is German. A few of those family members are in the photo at top, my great uncles and great aunt: Charles (right), Ross (left), and Ruth (middle). My mom never knew Ruth as she passed before my mom was born. When my mom spent summers with Charles and Ross, only Charles spoke German. She thinks it is because he spent more time with his mother than Ross did and picked up the language while cooking with her. Charles did not have children, didn't teach it to my mom, and the spoken German ended there.

The only cultural remnants of other countries from our ancestors are the recipes and a scant few at that. I wish I had asked my grandmother for her prune kuchen process. I remember the ingredients, but not the quantities or the method. I inquired with other family members, and they do not recall. Yet another example of a piece lost. I do have one of her (and my) favorite recipes. It is simple and delicious. The directions are short and require a bit of conjecture. Perhaps you might like to try it:

A similar loss of heritage happens in the book titled: The Divine Proverb of Streusel. While cleaning out a family home, Nikki discovers a collection of German recipes handwritten alongside entries from the book of Proverbs. She learns that her great-grandmother stopped speaking German due to what was transpiring at that time in America. The only German that remained for the next generations were in her dishes. Nikki decides to cook her way through the notebook. At the onset, she hopes to connect to her lineage. In turn she gains wisdom about endurance from the women in her family who employed cooking to salvage who they were for those to come.

If you would like to read a story of faith and forgiveness (and find some recipes too), I suggest procuring a copy of this latest story from Sara Brunsvold, photo at right. You might be familiar with her debut novel, The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip. Phenomenal. I read it twice. You can visit Sara on her website to learn more. 

Do you celebrate family traditions? Do you speak the language of your ancestors? How about recipes? Do you still make dishes that you learned in your parents’ or grandparents’ kitchens, that they learned in the same manner?

As a child, Rebecca loved to write. She nurtured this skill as an educator and later as an editor for an online magazine. Rebecca then joined the Cru Ministry - NBS2GO/Neighbor Bible Studies 2GO, at its inception. She serves as the YouVersion Content Creator, with over 110 Plans on the app.

Rebecca lives near the mountains with her husband and a rescued dog named Ranger. If it were up to her, she would be traveling - right now. As a member of ACFW and FHLCW, Rebecca learns the craft of fiction while networking with a host of generous writers. She is working on her first fiction novel. This story unfolds from the 1830s in Northern Georgia.

This photo above is of Rebecca with her Gram, not long before she passed. Rebecca has fond memories of her Gram and Gramp as they cooked and baked together in their kitchen. If only she had a chance to get to know her mom's mother, pictured at right. She does have a few of her recipes, salt cellar, and teapot - connections to cherish.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, Sarah, for your kind words and commenting.

  2. Family heritage is so important. Hanging on to it is becoming more acceptable. My husband and I have many photos and keepsakes from our ancestors. But neither of us speak any of their native languages. But, yes, food. we have wonderful recipes that keep them close.

    1. This is true. Thankfully. I love that you have photos, keepsakes, and recipes from your ancestors.

  3. Thank you for posting today, and I'm glad you chose this topic. I think it's a wonderful thing to have a heritage that you can hang on to through traditions like cooking, crafting, activities and stories and artifacts passed down from our elder relatives. I have wonderful memories with my maternal grandmother who passed recipes, taught me to crochet, and such. I am a white-bread- and-butter American as far as I know, although I have a cousin who can keep all that kind of history in her head. In general, I'd like to say that we should learn from history and traditions and keep the good stuff. And we don't need to be ashamed of our heritage.

    1. I agree. No shame. I like your turn of phrase, "...learn from history and traditions and keep the good stuff." Good stuff indeed!