The twinge of heritage: ghostly urges of a post-immigration life

16 comments

in American culture,ANASTASIA ASHMAN,culture,family,home,identity,multicultural,origin,self-image

Ashman family name derived from this town

By ANASTASIA ASHMAN

Since the Ottoman royal harems were filled with women from the Mediterranean and the Baltic — Italian families even casting their daughters on the Adriatic to be picked up by the sultan’s sailors — my Turkish husband jokes he finally brought me back to Istanbul where I belong.

I don’t know, anything’s possible. The Turks were also laying seige to Eastern Europe and my Lithuanian family name, echoing a town and river on today’s Belarus border, sounds a lot like the imperial Turkish bloodline of Osman.

For New World types like me the mysteries of our extended lineage often crop up as synchronicity. Wanderlust. Quirks of taste, like ghost urges from genes and culture long ago severed.

Why does this Northern California girl raised on turkey burgers crave the beet soup borscht? When I feel kinship with my Ukrainian, Estonian, Jewish, Italian and Greek friends, what do their wide brows or brown eyes, their stoicism or talkative personality, remind me of? Do they mirror the mix that is me?

You could call me a fourth generation immigrant. My parents and their parents and their parents before them each left their homes in search of safety and opportunity. Moving to Europe in 2003, I completed what we know of my family’s loop. When I slather Aegean olive oil on a spicy bed of wild arugula, I’m enjoying a harvest like a distant Italian ancestor must have — yet one my closer relatives did not, as my grandmother served Spam in Chicago and my mother laid tofu taco salad on the table in Berkeley.

What ethnic or regional mystery reverberates in you?
+++++
Anastasia Ashman is a California-born writer/producer of neoculture entertainment based in Istanbul. This series covers what’s crossing the mind and desk of expat+HAREM’s founder.
+++++

  • http://www.bazaarbayar.etsy.com Catherine Bayar

    Anything is possible Valerie! I was so intrigued by the thought of Turkish Vikings, that I Googled it, of course…and came up with this:

    http://www.superheroeslives.com/internationals/tarkan_viking_kani_%281971%29.htm

    Vintage Turkish cinema is so bad it’s good. Meanwhile, I’m researching rumors of the Celts and the Kurds being related, which would make my husband and me very distant cousins. How many times ‘removed’ would that be?

  • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

    Anything is possible Valerie! I was so intrigued by the thought of Turkish Vikings, that I Googled it, of course…and came up with this:

    http://www.superheroeslives.com/internationals/tarkan_viking_kani_%281971%29.htm

    Vintage Turkish cinema is so bad it’s good. Meanwhile, I’m researching rumors of the Celts and the Kurds being related, which would make my husband and me very distant cousins. How many times ‘removed’ would that be?

  • Valerie

    My ancestry is Norwegian, but since I was raised in Fresno, California, and grew up enjoying Armenian, similar to Turkish, food like su boregi, yalanci dolma, icli kofte, lamacun, etc., I’ve always felt fairly at home in Turkey, food-cravings-wise. In fact, my husband was born in Merzifon, the Anatolian town from which many of the original Armenian settlers in Fresno came, although they knew it as Marzovan. Once shortly after we moved to Istanbul in January 2003, a waiter at a cafe in Yenikoy came up to me and out of the blue asked if I was Norwegian. I explained that I am an American of Norwegian ancestry, and he explained to me that he was from a Turkish village originally settled by Vikings. I remain dubious, but one never knows; is it really much further fetched than a Norwegian-American girl from a town settled by Armenian Turks from Marzovan marrying a Turk born in Merzifon?

  • Valerie

    My ancestry is Norwegian, but since I was raised in Fresno, California, and grew up enjoying Armenian, similar to Turkish, food like su boregi, yalanci dolma, icli kofte, lamacun, etc., I’ve always felt fairly at home in Turkey, food-cravings-wise. In fact, my husband was born in Merzifon, the Anatolian town from which many of the original Armenian settlers in Fresno came, although they knew it as Marzovan. Once shortly after we moved to Istanbul in January 2003, a waiter at a cafe in Yenikoy came up to me and out of the blue asked if I was Norwegian. I explained that I am an American of Norwegian ancestry, and he explained to me that he was from a Turkish village originally settled by Vikings. I remain dubious, but one never knows; is it really much further fetched than a Norwegian-American girl from a town settled by Armenian Turks from Marzovan marrying a Turk born in Merzifon?

  • http://www.bazaarbayar.com Catherine Bayar

    Coming soon, Anastasia – thanks!

  • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

    Coming soon, Anastasia – thanks!

  • http://anastasiaashman.wordpress.com/about/ Anastasia

    I can’t say I feel more at home in Istanbul, Rose, but there is something liberating about being in a different melting-pot than the one I was raised in! Perhaps something like the freedom Catherine feels to be her own combination of things…and to embody what she is without needing to be in synch with everyone around her.

    Catherine, we are all looking forward to your own expat+HAREM series.

  • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

    I can’t say I feel more at home in Istanbul, Rose, but there is something liberating about being in a different melting-pot than the one I was raised in! Perhaps something like the freedom Catherine feels to be her own combination of things…and to embody what she is without needing to be in synch with everyone around her.

    Catherine, we are all looking forward to your own expat+HAREM series.

  • http://www.bazaarbayar.com Catherine Bayar

    I think Rose is right about ‘writing our own heritage’. Like Anastasia, I’m also from California, that formerly golden state where the world went to reinvent themselves and forget their origins. Coming from a pan-European roots – from Ireland to Hungary, and about 7 other countries in between – plus growing up in a household with parents that were midwestern Catholic and southern Protestant, I never thought much about my background…I was Californian first, American second.

    Yet when I moved to Turkey 10 years ago, I was struck that the first question Turks asked when meeting a new person was “What’s your home region?” as a method of ‘knowing who they are dealing with’. For me, ‘home’ is an environment I carry with me, not where I was born. Unlike my husband, who can trace his firmly planted roots directly back to one small region in the Turkish southeast, I’m truly a global nomad.

    My heritage is what I’ve picked up in my travels, what has resonated with me in my life experiences. I do feel more at home in Western Turkey now than I do in California, which might appear to be a dichotomy to some, since ‘East’ and ‘West’ are presumably opposed. But I feel more free in the East to create my own heritage than I do in the West, so this blend works.

  • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

    I think Rose is right about ‘writing our own heritage’. Like Anastasia, I’m also from California, that formerly golden state where the world went to reinvent themselves and forget their origins. Coming from a pan-European roots – from Ireland to Hungary, and about 7 other countries in between – plus growing up in a household with parents that were midwestern Catholic and southern Protestant, I never thought much about my background…I was Californian first, American second.

    Yet when I moved to Turkey 10 years ago, I was struck that the first question Turks asked when meeting a new person was “What’s your home region?” as a method of ‘knowing who they are dealing with’. For me, ‘home’ is an environment I carry with me, not where I was born. Unlike my husband, who can trace his firmly planted roots directly back to one small region in the Turkish southeast, I’m truly a global nomad.

    My heritage is what I’ve picked up in my travels, what has resonated with me in my life experiences. I do feel more at home in Western Turkey now than I do in California, which might appear to be a dichotomy to some, since ‘East’ and ‘West’ are presumably opposed. But I feel more free in the East to create my own heritage than I do in the West, so this blend works.

  • http://www.rosedeniz.blogspot.com Rose

    Anastasia, I can really relate to this having Belarus-Russo-Jewish background on one side and German-Catholic + Czech + more? on the other. Embedded in the discussion of heritage must be a link to religion, too, as rituals and ceremonies (even vague ones), claim some kind of presence and conflict, even. I think we must carry in the body these memories in some capacity. In this case, are we writing our own heritage? Do you feel more at home in Istanbul even though it wasn’t your place of birth?

  • Anonymous

    Anastasia, I can really relate to this having Belarus-Russo-Jewish background on one side and German-Catholic + Czech + more? on the other. Embedded in the discussion of heritage must be a link to religion, too, as rituals and ceremonies (even vague ones), claim some kind of presence and conflict, even. I think we must carry in the body these memories in some capacity. In this case, are we writing our own heritage? Do you feel more at home in Istanbul even though it wasn’t your place of birth?

  • http://anastasiaashman.wordpress.com/ Anastasia

    Thanks for writing Sezin…your flamenco dream is eerie! And your mom’s Mongolian eyes might be their own proof, right?

    I remember meeting a blueblood American at a Thanksgiving dinner in Bedford Hills NY and within a minute he had already inquired where my people were from and we’d established that I had only a general idea. As a Californian, a person from a state of reinvention, I remember thinking it was an odd thing to get hung up about. For him, it was a way to know who he was dealing with.

    I was just talking with a friend on Twitter about these ethnic stirrings…for many of us it seems nationalism (especially for melting pot nations like America) has been a way to calm those feelings by lumping us together with others who happen to share passports or places of birth — but ultimately it’s superficial to who we are.

  • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

    Thanks for writing Sezin…your flamenco dream is eerie! And your mom’s Mongolian eyes might be their own proof, right?

    I remember meeting a blueblood American at a Thanksgiving dinner in Bedford Hills NY and within a minute he had already inquired where my people were from and we’d established that I had only a general idea. As a Californian, a person from a state of reinvention, I remember thinking it was an odd thing to get hung up about. For him, it was a way to know who he was dealing with.

    I was just talking with a friend on Twitter about these ethnic stirrings…for many of us it seems nationalism (especially for melting pot nations like America) has been a way to calm those feelings by lumping us together with others who happen to share passports or places of birth — but ultimately it’s superficial to who we are.

  • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

    What an interesting background you have! Mine is similar, but also totally different. On my mother’s side, they were Polish/Lithuanian and immigrated to the USA three generations ago. Although my mother has what she calls “Mongolian” eyes, which may come from even farther back in the lineage or could be my mom’s attempt at some exoticism in her history.

    On my father’s side is where things get a little nutty. My great-grandfather was a Portuguese sailor who sailed down to Sri Lanka on what I like to think of as a pirate ship. He married a local “Doña”, or noblewoman, and they lived happily ever after. Or so I hear.

    Personally I think I’ve got some Roma somewhere in there too. For years I dreamed about a woman who kept telling me she was my ancestor from way back, and she was a gypsy from India who danced the flamenco in yellow. I guess that’s one of the stories I tell myself about where I come from.

    Thanks for this great post!

  • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

    What an interesting background you have! Mine is similar, but also totally different. On my mother’s side, they were Polish/Lithuanian and immigrated to the USA three generations ago. Although my mother has what she calls “Mongolian” eyes, which may come from even farther back in the lineage or could be my mom’s attempt at some exoticism in her history.

    On my father’s side is where things get a little nutty. My great-grandfather was a Portuguese sailor who sailed down to Sri Lanka on what I like to think of as a pirate ship. He married a local “Doña”, or noblewoman, and they lived happily ever after. Or so I hear.

    Personally I think I’ve got some Roma somewhere in there too. For years I dreamed about a woman who kept telling me she was my ancestor from way back, and she was a gypsy from India who danced the flamenco in yellow. I guess that’s one of the stories I tell myself about where I come from.

    Thanks for this great post!

Previous post:

Next post: