Even without tangible rituals that tie us to those of our ancestors, we crave connection to our past. Colorado State University GLBTQQA Resource Center Assistant Director Emily Ambrose and third-year student Meaghan Booth (who also works as the center’s Inclusive Community Assistant) explore what this looks like for them, as well as new traditions they’d like to see passed on to future generations. Listen to their conversation using the media player above, or read the full transcript below.
Emily Ambrose: I’ve felt not a lot has been passed down, and not a lot of tradition — some things around religious holidays. And it’s funny, because now they’re very secular to me. I don’t necessarily attribute some of the holidays to the religious orientations that they originally had, but there is a familial bond. My sister was gone for the first time this past Christmas and there was a real lacking. I mean, 31 years and the four of us had always been together.
The concept of storytelling I think is really interesting in terms of passing down stories.
My family’s never been much of storytellers. I think I remember one story that was passed down. My father had a near death accident while my mom was pregnant with me — the story of how she helped revive him (and this was in Ketchikan, Alaska, so southeast Alaska), and he had to be, like, airlifted out to Seattle. My mom flew after him and she told her belly, “You stay in there! You’re an Alaska baby. You can’t come out yet!” So then I stayed in an extra three-and-a-half weeks.
This story was kind passed down and my mom had always been like, “Why do you want me to retell it?” And my sister and I would always want her to retell it. But it was the only story that I can think of that I can remember until funerals of parents and older aunts and uncles happened where there would be some story sharing. There was very little knowledge of what happened before my parents, or even how my parents had lives before their kids came into them. I think they did a great job of being really present in our lives and therefore just focused so much and centralized around the life that we were cultivating as this foursome, if you will.
I would be interested to hear about how traditions have been passed down to your family.
Meaghan Booth: I have a pretty small family. There’s only four of us as well. I think, with us, stories were really, really important.
My parents would tell us my dad was in the military and he drove tanks. And mom would always tell me the story of how he got ran over by a tank while he was in his tank, to teach us about resilience, or something like that. But I was like, “Mom, that’s just a really scary story about how Dad almost died.”
And so my dad was in the military and so he was gone a lot, and so my mom would try to preserve a lot of the traditions from her side of the family, and so I never really got to see what went on with my dad’s side of the family or what that was like. It was preserved through, like, religious holidays as well. My sister and I both identify as atheist now, and so it’s a little ironic that we still end up celebrating those religious holidays.
We had like a little elf that we would place around our house and I remember my sister was like 9 and she found that elf inside our garage in the middle of August. That’s when she discovered that Santa Claus wasn’t real, and so she began crying in the middle of the kitchen. We got her to stop crying after three hours and she looked up at my mom and I and she was like, “The Easter Bunny isn’t real either, is he?” And just started crying all over again. And so we had little things like that to keep traditions, specifically related to being Catholic.
Music was really important in our family. My mom would sing to us all the time, different songs that her mom would sing to her when she was little, and so my mom would always make them related to myths and legends. I always thought they were really stupid when I was little, but they always had a moral punch, and so that’s probably where I developed a lot of my character from.
Emily: I’m thinking for me how race and ethnicity has to do with this. Do you think there’s an implication for you?
Meaghan: Yeah. I identify as white, and I think part of that is that a lot of culture is lost. I’m also Irish, so my mom will always make corned beef — all the time — just to remind my family that we do have have some culture. And she’ll make our traditional potatoes and everything.
I’m like, “Mom, we don’t know anything else about our culture, so this isn’t super significant.”
But she still really holds onto that because her family is super Irish, so it’s hard for her that she’s lost that. But I think for me, I really don’t have any connection to that at all so when I hear the word “culture” that’s sort of a hard thing for me to think about sometimes because where is it in my life? Not really present.
Emily: So I feel similarly, right? I think — I remember the time being really sad and really angry of the relinquishing of some of that passed down heritage, knowing that I come from an English and German and Italian background, but not having any connection to what that means, and really not liking what I do know about Germany, and — you know — some of those things that have some of a seeded past.
And this relinquishing that somewhere along the way our ancestors did to kind of trade it in for white privilege — and not the knowingness that that’s what happened. But that’s what happened.
I remember thinking about, “Okay, so who am I? What is my culture? What is that?” Because I know there is white culture. It’s just that we’re very immersed in it, right? So it’s harder to see.
I started equating things that I do with things that I am. I went back to Alaska after I had been moved away for 13 years to kind of tap back into where am I from? What makes sense to me? What is that?
And I think that’s a lot of why I raft guide in the summer. It’s not necessarily because I inherently need to feel the nature or whatever, but because it’s one of the only things that brings me feeling close to my family. For me whiteness and ethnicity is really wrapped up in that.
And I want us to have a story and traditions and to feel proud about that. I’ve been having some interesting conversations at home with my chosen family about how that’s the cost of racism, is that it’s stripped me of being able to say that I have white pride because there’s a whole slew of things that come up with that, right? And yet, how do we get to a place of healing for all of us to recognize that because of racism, I have lost too, not in the same ways, but to get us to a place of saying that it benefits all of us to work against the “-isms” and against the systems of oppression that exist.
Meaghan: I almost think if I end up having children, what kind of culture would I want to pass to them in terms of inclusive culture, and what will that look like? Because that’s not something I was raised with, and so, could that become my culture with my family? Of using gender inclusive language, introducing myself with my pronouns. If I have children, them doing the same. So what would that look like to have that established culture in my families?
Emily: I’m so hopeful for that future! I hope that that–
Meaghan: I don’t want children so…at this point. Maybe one day.
Emily: Will you be an aunt possibly?
Meaghan: My sister is banking on me having children. It’s not working out very well.
Emily: That’s my sister! She is even less likely to have kids than I am though so I think if there is children in the next generation from us it’s me, but it’s a point of big curiosity right now I think with me and age is coming up as a very salient identity for me recently at 31, but feeling like I’m 19 all the time. I’m like, “I have so much time. I’m like, way too young to be thinking about children.” And I’m like, “Oh wait — my window is closing.” And what kind of window is closing?
Emily: That’s such a societal perception of what we think about the woman experience.
Meaghan: My mom makes me feel like my window’s closing and I’m only 20-years-old. She’s like, “Meaghan, you need to get on that, finding a husband.” And I’m like, “Mom, we need to talk about whether I want a husband or not.”
Emily: I know! How does that feel for you?
Meaghan: It feels really weird to be so pressured into one category. What if I don’t want a husband? What if I wanted a wife or something like that? Or, what if I never want anyone, another significant other ever, in my life? My mom is very much stuck in the attitude of you have to have a partner and they have to be the dominant one in the relationship. You’ll be the stay-at-home-mom and wife. I think she’s going to be very disappointed if those are her expectations.
Produced and facilitated by Sara Hayden
Recorded in Fort Collins, Colo.
Date of recording March 31, 2016
Special thanks to Colorado State University’s Asian Pacific American Cultural Center and GLBTQQA Resource Center
Music: Folk Round Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
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