Growing up, my grandfather, who fought against the Nazis in World War II and my grandmother have always told me stories about who I am, relatives I have never met, each of their children who were conceived in three different countries as they experienced the life of war refugees. It made me realize the importance heritage has had on my family’s traditions and values.
Passing down traditions and values from one generation to the next is a strong component of the two ethnic backgrounds I share — Serbian and Norwegian. As I grow older, I realize I’ve taken for granted what many of my peers do not have — cultural traditions that reflect my heritage.
America is a great country, a melting pot of diverse backgrounds. Every individual should take the opportunity to find where their family is from and learn about their heritage. By doing so, they would realize that embracing your heritage is important. If we extend simple traditions and reflect them to our inner selves, to members within a society, further to the whole community, then we might discover why people behave the way they do.
For instance, in the movie "Fiddler on the Roof," Tevye, the father and main character, sang a powerful song about the importance of tradition. He sang this not once, not twice, but numerous times. He did so to remind his three teenage daughters that although the war they were encountering might alter the culture around them, their heritage and its traditions will always be a part of who they are.
We live in a wonderful country, considered a melting pot of ethnic backgrounds, but I’ve found that many of my peers are in the dark when it comes to their ethnic backgrounds. For me, my ethnic background and culture really does define me. It means performing at ethnic folklore dance festivals on weekends, two Christmas celebrations based on two different religions and cultures, and lots of skiing, just to name a few.
My parents always stress the importance of embracing the unique characteristics of the two cultures (Serbian and Norwegian) within my lifestyle. But why? I guess I’ve always thought of myself as a progressive thinker and finding myself being more tolerant than others my age when it comes to different cultures.
It is said that when individuals are connected to their individual heritage and its culture, they become more tolerant of others. Understanding my own heritage and culture has also provided me with a newfound respect toward other religions, ethnicities and traditions preserved and passed down by each for centuries to come.
No matter where I end up, I will always have my ethnic culture, my traditions and my memories to pass down to later generations.
My heritage has given me a sense of belonging, somewhere to turn when questioning others. Frankly, it helps define who I am.