Monday, October 13, 2014

Ukrainian Enough?

Sure fire way to piss me off is to start talking about whether or not my kids are Ukrainian enough. I hate that. I hate the whole idea of measuring someone’s ethnicity in general, but this particular term really irks me. For one thing, it is usually applied in an inconsistent way. Usually the person who is telling me – the non-Ukrainian parent – what is or is not Ukrainian enough is wrong herself and is basing her ideas about Ukrainian-ness on her experience growing up in the diaspora. Example: “REAL Ukrainians don’t put ketchup on holubtsi.” This is a pretty undisputed fact within the diaspora, however in modern Ukraine ketchup is common and is put on a lot of foods including sometimes holubtsi. I've witnessed it first hand and don't understand why it is a big deal to say it happens. The problem for me with the “Ukrainian enough” statement is two pronged. First, I don’t want anyone narrowly defining my kids. Second, their criteria are outdated and inaccurate to begin with.

Learning through experience, walking around
Chernivtsi, Ukraine with her dad's cousin and friend.
What do we do instead of throwing varenyky at people who say stuff like that to us? We hug our daughters and make a big fuss about how wonderful MY side of the family is. We on my side aren’t Ukrainian at all, but we’re still pretty dang fantastic. Then my husband teaches them how to speak and read Ukrainian. Disney princesses speak Ukrainian, too (we get our movies from Ukraine). We decorate our home with a mix of the different cultures – Ukrainian, Polish, Irish, and anything else we like. And most importantly we take the girls physically to Ukraine. The REAL Ukraine. The best way for them to know what real Ukrainians do and do not do is for them to go there and spend time just hanging out with Ukrainians. I’m not going to tell my girls that Ukrainians don’t eat ketchup because I know they do. Ukrainians are modern people who like foods that taste yummy. They also watch tv and drive cars and wear tennis shoes. They aren’t all named Tanya and Taras. They give their kids names they like which are sometimes traditional Slavic names and sometimes they aren’t. They listen to rap music and pop music and sometimes traditional folk music. They don’t all drink horilka or wear head scarves. They are a variety of religions with a variety of political view points. Some like the west and some like the east and some don’t have an opinion (just like Americans!). Not everyone owns an embroidered shirt, and there are people in Adidas who love their country even more than the most embroidered, blue-and-yellow-ed, flower wreathed person you can find. Learning the old traditions is great, but it doesn't define being Ukrainian any more than apple pie and baseball define being American.

That is what we want our girls to know and understand. Being proud of Ukraine and being proud of America don’t mean fitting in one tiny cubby. Both are great countries with many wonderful traditions, and both are dynamic countries which are growing and changing with the times. The people are adapting and eating ketchup in both places, and that’s fine. As long as they don’t get it on their hot dogs. That’s just not Chicagoan enough. ;)

a mix - Irish shepherd's pie with Ukrainian insignia and curry seasoning

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