About a hundred years ago both sides of my family crossed the Atlantic Ocean in search of new beginnings. My father's side exclusively hails from Sicily while my mother's, although shrouded in some mystery, comes from Odessa (a trip to Wikipedia has taught me that this part of the world was actually called the Odessa Soviet Republic, later the Soviet Union and ultimately Ukraine). After two recent DNA tests on both sides I've learned that my father's family has a history of Ashkenazi Jew while my mother's has a strong history of Russian Jews probably persecuted and relocated over the years. I didn't know much about this until recently and I have some personal research of my own to do before I look further into this new information.
I've strongly associated with my father's side of the family, mostly because of the obscurity of my mother's, and Italian-American (specifically Sicilian American) culture has been a strong part of my upbringing. My grandparents had 'Americanized' their surnames by means of pronunciation. The surname Ardagna is pronounced much differently in Sicily and after a month long trip to the beautiful Italian island I have chosen to pronounce my name the original way (ArdanYa - as GN names a Y sound in Italian). My grandparents however chose to pronounce our name differently and I assume they did this to become more accommodated into American culture. Giovanna (Jenny) is the name of my grandmother and still the most beautiful name I've ever heard.
In 1982 I was born an only child into the family of Louis and Rhoda Ardagna. 35 years have passed and I have since circumnavigated the globe several times in search of answers that have only yielded more questions about the nature of human beings in general. At one point I had almost given up on my search but rather chose to take these questions introspectively. The question of where I fit in the world became a question of where I fit in the universe. This came from the days of a seemingly life threatening illness which overcame me in Madagascar a few years ago. Again these questions have proven to be too much for me and I have since changed my pursuit of answers into a pursuit of honest observation.
Now I live in Latin America, Guatemala specifically, and at this point of my life I couldn't imagine a world without an understanding of our neighbors nearby. What does America mean to you? If you were to tell people in Guatemala that you were from America you would be greeted with a mild amount of shaming as 'America' truly is an ambiguous term. In some senses of the word it means the western hemisphere while in other perspectives it refers to people who are strictly referring to the United States of America. This is a struggle I felt constantly in Turkey as nobody seemed to care what the word means outside of a generalization encapsulating everything that is exported from the USA including music, movies, politics and culture.
So what is America?
I find that people of other countries have their own ideas of what it means to be American and the opinions range from the best to the worst. I've never felt myself confined to a specific stereotype (maybe because I'm not tall and don't eat cheeseburgers) but regardless of what you consider yourself to be there will always be preconceived notions about my people. 'My people'... sounds strange to say as I've spent about a third of my life abroad and have called about a half dozen countries my home. I used to hide from the label 'American' but there is no point to bearing shame of where you are from. Again.. after writing the word 'shame' I wonder why such a word surfaced from my vocabulary. Am I ashamed to be an American? No, absolutely not. Am I ashamed of the direction this country is taking us? No.. strangely I'm not. I think the direction this country is taking us is inevitable and surely change is the only constant recognized by the universe. I just wish people were nicer however and more respectful to others. We could all stand to be better listeners, this author could for certain.
When I was growing up there was a term being passed around which we called the American dream. The dream, from what I've been told, has to do with surpassing the previous generation in terms of wealth and success. Ouch.. again a word stings as I write it. Wealth.. Is a wealthy man one who has gained financial prosperity? Is a rich man not one who has planted his own seeds of happiness internally and watched them grow into the fruits of personal satisfaction or peace from within? Yet I wonder why these values were never taught to me and why I had to learn them for myself. I watch the generations who have come before me focus much of their energy on the preservation of their success while I could hardly count (if any) financial successes I've experienced in my life on one hand. Yet even this 35 year old tattooed Pisces who struggles with depression and undiagnosed anxiety feels content knowing that he has seen the true beauties of the world.. at least I'm trying to keep my receptors open for such light.
It's beautiful here in America, this continent/subcontinent/nation/ideology. I still stand with this country and have chosen to call it my home yet it must be mentioned that I call and have called many places my home. Shit.. I'm so lost sometimes that I don't even know what home means but I do know that to some people this is the greatest country in the world. I would argue that claim on many terms but not in this blog post. As I get older I am more often invited to sit at the same table as those who forever have seemingly disagreed with me 100% across the board. I sit with far right conservatives and gun-toting republicans while attending religious conversation as an atheist. One might think that these certain notions which have become personal beliefs have ostracized me from the American community yet I maintain that these are my freedoms of being an American and I am entitled to my own beliefs. Perhaps that is the patriotic ideology that allows us to celebrate this country as being great.
My life has been a strange and fairly unique journey. It's hard to ever predict the future whereas I don't have any means of instruction to follow. I just continue traveling and learning and trying to be the best version of myself I know humanly possible. I hope you enjoyed reading this and forgive me for my grammar. I love this country and I want to see us prosper.