I’ve been working on an essay that is close to my heart. It tells the beginning of my personal story, how the legacy of my mother manifested in me. She is the embodiment of powerful woman, and part of a long line of powerful women who were strong, independent, and skilled. It was born from subsistence farming and a firm faith that required plain clothes and covered hair.
Yes. My great-grandmother covered her hair, and every woman before her. This is the Brethren way.
Now, hair covering has a mixed understanding. Then, most people wore hats so it wasn’t so strange. The style would have marked her as ‘other,’ but not so far outside the realm of normal as to be a problem.
The dialect of her locale was so specific, so strongly derived from mixing the mountains and Alsatian culture of the place, there is no other dialect like it. Vowels mix and swirl together, every word using every one. Down the road and over the mountain is an inn where a group of men plotted against the government’s encroaching hand on their whiskey. It was ill-fated, but still, a testament to the fierce independence of those claiming the mountains.
This side of my family was part of the earliest groups to make the journey across the Atlantic to freedom. It may have been debt-related, but more likely it was religious.
My family is really religious – to the point where it is impossible to ignore as a trend and clearly inherited. Independence and religion are interwoven in my DNA.
It’s strange to be someone like this – someone in the US, whose family has such a streak of religious independence, history marked by covered hair, in a time of growing secularism where there are those claiming “religious liberty” to intentionally harm some, while crying “National Security” to close the ports.
I don’t often talk about these things here, but as I dive more deeply into my purpose of writing, it becomes more important than ever for me to speak from this place of early immigrants escaping religious persecution.
My ancestors lived in a time when it was dangerous to wear a specific set of clothing and live a simple life. They probably looked just like their neighbors in every other respect, but that difference was enough to mark them. That difference may have scared their neighbors – may have threatened their governments or the Catholic Church. It may have made people uncomfortable because it called into question existing structures and ways of being.
It may have been a lot like what’s happening now.
These days there aren’t places for people to get away. The world is small. Every difference can be found nearly everywhere – though some countries may be more homogenized than others. Still, in North and South America, we are melting pots of every kind of diversity. The intermixing of enslaved, native, and immigrating peoples created the unusually diverse population of the Western Hemisphere.
Everything is represented here. To varying degrees, many of these people experience(d) deep persecution, torture, and discrimination for their belief, culture, and bodies. This is something held in the stories of ancestors, cultures, and individuals. This is something held in family stories we tell at reunions, celebrations, and funerals. It’s something we explore when drinking wine or coffee with friends.
It’s been almost 400 years since my family came to the Americas. People are still persecuted for difference. People continue to flee, seeking safety in unknown countries. The identities in question may have changed, but the process is much the same.
You’d have thought we would have changed more in four centuries.
What’s your family history? Does it relate to things going on these days?
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