Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I am an American.

When I moved from Kansas to New Jersey, my first job was in sales, calling on clothing importers, mainly in mid-town Manhattan (AKA The Garment District).

This was a rough crowd. I found out later, the reason I got the job was because this was the client base no one wanted. Being the naive girl from Kansas, I thought it would be great fun. It was, but it was pretty tough. Definitely sink or swim.

I always remember one customer who, upon meeting me for the first time inquired "What are you?". I asked, "What do you mean?". He only repeated (more loudly and implying I was an idiot for not understanding the question), "What are you?

I replied "I am an American". To further clarify, I added "I am from Kansas".

This did not satisfy him, so he patiently asked, "Where were your parents born?". Reply, "Kansas". Where were your grandparents born? I replied, "Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana". "What about your great-grandparents?" I had to think hard "Illinois, Kentucky, maybe Pennsylvania". Finally the guy said "OK, you are an American".

I didn't really understand this interrogation until years later I was reading in the NY Times that over 50% of the population in the tri-state area (NY/NJ/Conn) were 1st or 2nd generation immigrants. I did not believe this figure until, all of my colleagues spoke up, and 80% fell into this category. I was shocked.

But, to me they were all Americans. And typical of our American experience. Each with a different story. Indian origin, but parents born in Cuba. Venezuelan born but talking with a NY accent. Second generation Italian. And then the one guy who was definitely Heinz 57. I think he rattled off about 8 different countries of origin.

Wonder what options people will have to choose from on the 2010 census form. Maybe we should all just submit DNA samples.

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