Our Heritage, or My Heritage?
Oregon Trail II
This time of year the church tends to really get into the pioneer spirit, at least where I live. This is peculiar, since I live in Oregon and am not the descendant of a Mormon Pioneer. If we were going to celebrate pioneers, surely it would make a lot more sense to honor those who went 1000 miles farther than Brigham Young and settled the valley we call home. Instead we rehash the same stories about people we never knew settling a place in which I personally have no desire to live.
I struggle with the pioneer fixation for two reasons. The first is boredom. I audibly groan when I hear the words “Willie-Martin” because I am just plain tired of hearing the same story over and over and I no longer find anything remotely inspirational in it. The other reason I get annoyed is something my family calls “familyolatry.” It isn’t enough to tell a story of a pioneer. Ideally you want to casually bring up that you are personally descended from some famous pioneer, and that really, really helps your faith. It feels to me as if there is some secret upper crust of Mormons who are descended from the Utah pioneers that makes their faith just a little more special. As I am the daughter of a convert and an atheist, I do not get to engage in this fun name-dropping activity.
I propose that we keep July as a month to honor heritage, biological or otherwise, but that we actively seek out other stories to honor than just the pioneers. If you are a descendant of the pioneers, keep enjoying that. But let’s go further. I am an Oregonian, born and bred. My goal for the month is to see a Western Meadowlark, our state bird. One of my ancestral lines is French. This Sunday we are celebrating Bastille Day as a family and trying our hands at making some French food. I have benefited greatly from the feminists who have gone before me and made my road smoother. I have been reading old issues of Dialogue as a way to try to understand the intellectuals who came before me and made my foundation without me even realizing it. I have also been reading old family diaries and learning more about my biological ancestors through that.
I think it is great to spend one month of the year thinking about heritage and the gifts we have been given by our ancestors, and focusing on our family identity. I think it is absurd, however, that we all have to pretend to have the same heritage and the same ancestors, or to imagine that someone else’s family history will some how resonate equally for everyone.
What are you going to do in July to celebrate your heritage? Is the 24th of July a meaningful day for you, or something you experience as painful?