Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Column on Pride in one's Heritage (sans typo)

What Should we be Proud of?

Tibor R. Machan

In our local paper itÂ?s big news and I donÂ?t like it. I am talking about
how Santa Ana mayor Miguel Pulido, who moved to Orange County from Mexico
City, is proud of his heritage. He tells it up front: Â?I am very proud of
my heritage and my backgroundÂ?Â? although he adds that Â?sometimes it is

In fact, although Pulido isnÂ?t gung ho about his hailing from Mexico, it
is noted about him that when someone in school called him Â?Mike,Â? he
insisted on being called Â?Miguel.Â? OK, you are the boss about your nameÂ?I
myself have fully manufactured the pronunciation of my last name but for
opposite reasons. I wanted to become an American as much as I could,
without wishing at all to hide where I came from. (So Â?Machan,Â? while
sounding nothing like it in Hungarian, now sounds Â?McCannÂ? in English,
whereas Â?TiborÂ? is out and out Hungarian.)

But why the fuss? Well, I am always hoping people will take language
seriously and Â?being proud of somethingÂ? very much suggests that you had
something to do with bringing it about. Like the firm you built or
painting you created or novel you wrote, provided, indeed, that they have
merit, are worthy achievements.

But what then with such expressions, Â?I am very proud of my daughterÂ?s
achievementsÂ?? Well, yes, what about them?

Here the trick is that many parents firmly believe they mold their
children into who they are, especially when they turn out to be pretty
good people. But is this really a good idea? Are our children fashioned by
us? Are they our creations, like one of our paintings or poems? Are they
sculpted by us?

I am very hesitant to sanction this kind of understanding of parenting,
including my own. Sure, parents do have an influence on their kids, good
and bad. But that goes only so far. It is a distinctive attribute of human
beings that they are substantially self-made. They have free will and
within certain limits they take over their own development pretty early in
their lives. Parents know this only too well, as they often observe their
own offspring turning out to be very different from what they had hoped
and worked for them to become. No doubt, there are all sorts of subtle
influences they do exert, probably mainly by setting an example for how to
be a human being, for good or for ill. But in time even that is largely up
to the child, whether to pay attention to the parentsÂ? way of doing things
or to, say, some rock or movie starÂ?s. Or they will become captivatedÂ?an
interesting term(!)Â?by a scientist, an accountant or drug dealer. It is
all really not very predictable and that is, indeed, what makes human
beings so interesting and scaryÂ?you never quite know what they will choose
to do and be.

So, the expression Â?I am very proud of youÂ? is a bit fishy. Perhaps it
should be rephrased to Â?I am very glad about how you turned our or who you
have chosen to become.Â? A mouthful but more to the point, I think.

So what about being proud of Â?my heritage and my backgroundÂ?? I, for
instance, was born and raised in Hungary and my background includes two
fanatical athletic parents, one of whom happened to be an avid supporter
of the Nazis and a virulent anti-Semite.

Now, I suppose if the mayor should be proud of his heritage, I ought to
be ashamed of at least part of mine. But thatÂ?s nonsenseÂ?I feel absolutely
no shame for my fatherÂ?s vices, nor for the virtues of my mother or
grandparents, whatever they were. Fact is, we can, strictly speaking, only
be proud of what we have done, of who we are not what we are. I am a male,
Caucasian, hailing from Hungary, 6Â? 2Â?, etc., and so forth. None of this
is anything I am or should be proud of. I like some of it, yesÂ?some of
what I picked up from Hungary, like their cooking, the gypsy music they
played a lot, and many more subtle things I am pleased about. But then I
Â?picked upÂ? a lot of stuff since then, the blues, jazz, the English novel,
American court room drama and you name itÂ?but none of it is anything I
achieved, so none of it makes or should make me proud. What makes me proud
has to do with whatever worthy stuff I have created, achieved, thatÂ?s all.
Same with what I feel shame for, my own failings.

I do think if we stuck to this for what we are proud and ashamed of, we
could come closer to avoiding all that ethnic and racial pride and hatred
that has wrought such hell on earth upon the human race.

No comments: