The Value of Family

Posted by Kate W. Michigan

Does the amount of value you place on your family alter with the knowledge of ancestral background? For me, the two are unrelated, but I interviewed my family as well and realized it's not where you came from, it's where you're going; experiences are more meaningful than history.

Ancestry is an integral piece of America's history that enables us to measure our family's growth and success throughout time. However, the significance of our pasts vary, depending on the traditions and elements of one’s culture chosen to uphold and celebrate. It really comes down to what elements your family has chosen to continue and pass on, and if they share complex tales of their ancestries they supposedly value their families more than the ones who don't, although this is not always the case and my family is an example of this exception. We don't make a habit of passing down generational stories, but we still appreciate our ancestors for the opportunities they have granted us.

I sought to discover my American Creed through interviews of my family, which slowly evolved into unraveling stories of the past that affected how I was raised and how my family changed over time, until the following question was raised: How important is knowing your ancestry when it comes to valuing family?

I interviewed my brother and dad, and although both agreed that although there are certain traditions our family chooses to participate in, such as the Wigilia where we all meet on the night of Christmas Eve and celebrate together, they don't believe there is a strong correlation between the importance of family and the sharing of ancestral stories. Interviewing my grandma I discovered a multitude of facts about her that I hadn't previously known, such as the fact that she had a twin brother, that she didn't finish high school, and that her parents were born in Greece, which led me to the realization that I'm more Greek than I thought I was. However, although these stories introduced me to an uncharted realm of my ancestry, I didn't shift perspectives on how much I value my family.

Family has always been an italicized value of mine. Despite the lack of generational storytelling compared to other families, we have created our own legacies through experiences, which, in my opinion, is as important, if not more important, than the continuation of tradition. I don’t think of my ancestors arriving on the shores of America when I think of who I am, instead I think of the time I was in Greece with my family, and on a particularly long drive across the steep mountaintops of Kefalonia, we became lost in a small community surrounded by millions of beautiful flowers. We had assigned my grandma to ask where the caves we were seeking were, since she had the largest chance of successfully communicating with the villagers, yet when she approached a sweet woman watching us from behind a fence, my grandma opened her mouth and screamed, “Where are the caves?!” in English. Obviously, the poor Greek woman was terrified and she promptly picked up her chair and went inside, but all the stress from being lost was alleviated as we couldn’t help but laugh. This experience is one of many I think of when I consider how much I value my family; never have I ever thought of my ancestors as an influence over this value. Like my brother said, "...I wouldn't say that, consciously, my heritage, the virtue of being Greek or Polish, has anything to do with how I act, but traditions have led to experiences coming in the formative years thereby influencing me... It's really difficult to say that heritage hasn't had an influence on me at all, because it has led to events, which have led to experiences, which have certainly in some way shaped who I am today." This chain of events reinforces my point that experiences, rather than a blind following of traditions for the sake of staying true to the traditions, are much more meaningful and thus able to be cherished more, ultimately influencing how one connects to and perceives their own family.

Even my dad recalled more experiences than traditions and stories from ancestors, noting family picnics and gatherings that occurred throughout his childhood, reinforcing the idea that living in the moment rather than continually catching up at family events that have lost their meaning, such as the Wigilia, is much more sincere and memorable. My brother continued this thought saying, “...Traditions can often be more harmful, more damaging, than you want…” When I asked him to expand on this, but in relation to ancestral stories and how they affect the value one places on family, he stated, “I don’t see a whole lot of good that can come from it [being too proud of the past]. Cautionary tales don’t really work; they’re either wrong or someone’s gonna do what they want anyway. I don’t see the good that a whole heritage can do for someone.” This led me to inquire if family goes deeper than bloodline. Can people be apart of your family, even if they don’t share the genetic makeup? My dad elaborated on this, providing details of his “uncles,” “Some of my uncles aren’t really uncles. They were just street urchins,” referring to the flocks of people who wandered around throughout the Great Depression, searching for a place to stay. “They would just take [them] in.” If my grandparents hadn’t taken these people in, my life would be chaotically different, despite the fact that they we aren’t biologically related, because these people underwent events with me that helped shape me into who I am today.

Thus, when I look back on time spent with my family I don’t remember any stories from where my people came from. I don’t have pieces of wisdom engraved in stories, but rather I have moments; moments where my family and I shared a laugh, a meal, a conversation, and bonded. We grew as a family not from our shared background, but rather from shared experiences, which explains why so many of my “uncles” are included in my family, despite not being apart of my bloodline. Ergo, my American Creed is the proposition that experience drives love. Ancestry can and has proven to be somewhat of an important factor in the determination of what regard one holds their family, but ultimately, personal experience is what leads to the biggest pull on that scale, affecting whether or not you see your family as a positive or negative thing. 

Published on Jun 9, 2018
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