Welcome to the Kind Empowerment newsletter. The only newsletter that will let you use their Netflix account, no questions asked.
This week, we want to talk about connecting with the past, commodified heritage, and our obsession with cultural identity.
Let’s jump right in.
I have a question for you. Do you know who your ancestors were? Are you certain about where they come from and why they came this way?
If the answer is a resounding “Yes,” then congratulations! You are part of a minority of people who either have conserved their heritage or have done one of those commodified DNA heritage studies that became popular in the last five years.
However, if the answer is “No,” then I will ask you the following question. Do you care?
According to a survey run by the folks at Ancestry.com (Yes, one of the leading heritage research businesses), 84 percent of Americans expressed interest in their heritage or history; Eighty-four percent, that is eight in ten people who are putting a lot of value in their past. When I read this study, I was pretty surprised. I expected some people whose parents or grandparents are immigrants to represent the majority of this group, given that they might have some disconnect from their past after a generation or two. Yet, it seems that even those living in the same town for generations are curious about their ancestors’ journey.
A Journey for Cultural Identity
I bring you this topic because I have been reading Sam Thiara’s memoir Lost and Found: Seeking the Past and Finding Myself, and in the process, I have been pondering my connection with my heritage. If you don’t know who Sam Thiara is, he is a speaker, storyteller, author, coach, mentor, entrepreneur, and educator born in the UK and raised in Canada by Fijian parents with Indian descendants —yep, wrap your head about that.
In his book, Sam takes us on a journey through India as he ventures to a country and culture he never felt part of but was calling for him. Armed with only a small, blurry photo from 90 years ago and a village name, he takes on a journey to the unknown in a quest to find his grandfather’s hometown, a connection with spirituality, and himself. We highly recommend it.
If I had to point out why so many people have been trying to discover and, more importantly, have concrete proof of their heritage, I would say it is an innate desire to have a cohesive cultural identity. For most folks who have been surrounded by people who look like them and do as they do for generations, their cultural identity is pretty solid. They don’t question their past because, well, it didn’t look that different. This circumstance is especially true for white Americans, who have adopted the American mythos fabricated by the settlers who came centuries ago.
Incidentally, Rick and Morty just had a fascinating episode about that specific topic called Rick & Morty’s Thanksploitation Spectacular. Check it out. It’s pretty hilarious.
Personally, I am more of a forward-looking kind of person. I care about what lies ahead of me instead of what was left behind. I do sympathize with the sentiment of attachment and respect for heritage and the sacrifice my ancestors had to make. Yet, I don’t feel any attachment to any particular blood, soil, or history. I prefer focusing on what I am experiencing now and what I can build in the future, as that has the most significant impact on my life.
If you are curious about Sam or the book, don’t fret. We had a wonderful conversation with him about community, heritage, and service coming out in the coming weeks. First, however, you can go to our podcast and check the wonderful conversation Wendy and I had about difficult conversations with loved ones. You were particularly interested in our thoughts on this topic, and we feel that we did a great job deconstructing the issue. We have some ideas on navigating this problematic landmine without compromising your mental health and minimizing the impact on your relationships.
If you’re wondering why we didn’t publish a video last week, well, we felt we needed to go back to our roots and have a Wendy and Juan episode. We have seen your comments and want to make sure we bring you the content you love every week. So, for now on, we will be publishing one interview every other week and having a Wendy and Juan episode in between.
We have been deeply enjoying the conversations we have been having with so many wonderful guests, and we can’t wait to share them with you. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy our fun conversations with two goofballs trying to understand each other and the world.