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  • Writer's pictureDavid Beers

Who am I? Part 2

Who am I? Part 2

Or What is a Celtic-Nordic-Germanic American anyway?

So, I promised to give you the real story that I intended to tell you the last time. I got caught up in my own self-discovery story and issues. My account is from my perspective, and while others got to watch it from the outside and have their interpretations, I am the one who lived it and tell it the way I experienced it. No shade intended on anyone else, just a point I need to make.

In these days of non-appropriation, DNA searches, and ethnic indigenous identities, I want to share a little of who I think I am. Again, no one has to agree with me, but I am self-identifying and claiming and proclaiming who I am and from where I come. I always have a problem of wanting to over-explain, but you'll eventually get the point, and maybe I will too!

I have been exploring my family history for as long as I can remember. My parents told stories of their families, and I wanted to know more. In my twenties, I began the search. Although it's quite interesting to me, it truly isn't exciting. 97% of my ancestry is from Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland) or the areas that make up the German-speaking parts of Europe (present-day Germany and Switzerland).

I divide my ancestors into three groups. The first group is the English settlers (or colonizers more correctly called) arriving in the 1600s or 17th century. My father's paternal line were Puritans, settling in New England (Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies). There are even connections to passengers on the Mayflower. He also has ancestors on his maternal side who settled in Virginia, early enough for one hanged after Bacon's Rebellion. Obscure, historical event for sure for all you history buffs. On my mother's side were the indentured servants and Cavaliers that settled the Virginia colony. I have ancestors who owned property in Williamsburg and were buried in the churchyard there.

The second group is the 18th century, pre-Revolutionary War immigrants from Scotland through Ireland, Swiss, German and true Scots, who settled in Maryland and Delaware. Several were Quakers and other non-conformists. One branch, the Zacharias family from Westphalia, is probably the source of my 1% Ashkenazi Jewish DNA. The name certainly is Jewish and knowing Europe under Christendom, likely forced to convert, hence being Catholic when they arrived.

The last group arrived in the 19th century, most in the 1830s and the latest in the 1870s. They were from Wales, Lancashire, Switzerland, the Rhineland-Palatinate, and Prussia. The Prussians were the last to arrive. My great-great-grandmother was three years old when her family came in 1874 and lived long enough for my mother to grow up knowing her. They were all pre-Ellis Island. Many settled in New York. Some of the German speakers settled in the Mid-west in established German communities.

Like most descendants of these immigrants, my ancestors moved around, and my family line settled in of all places, Florida. The land of "where are you really from." So yes, I am the ubiquitous "Florida man" Insert laugh track here. They arrived mostly after the Civil War. All my male ancestors of age during the 1860s served in the United States Army against the secessionists. One could have served in the Confederate Army but probably didn't because there are no records of him in the service. A person with the same name, but younger, died in Virginia during the war, so it's not him. Probably a cousin or great-nephew. It's hard to keep track.

I lived in Miami for a long time and taught high school math there. During Hispanic Heritage Month, the students would ask me, "Where are you from?" I would say Florida, and they say no, your parents, and I would say again, Florida. They would get frustrated and tell me they meant where my family came from before living in the United States. Their world view presumed that most people were like them and lived as 1st or 2nd generation residents of the United States. It goes too far back to have any real connection with the places where my ancestors originally came. I realized that I have no ethnic identity.

My Swiss great-great-grandfather had to change his surname's spelling during World War One to avoid prejudice against German speakers. His sons changed it back. No connection remains for me to my ancestors' native lands, so others have identified me as "White." Much like the bread, no flavor, no connection with the real thing, and not an identity. If you are not up on recent academic study on racial identity and ethnicity, here's the scoop. During the 16th century, when Portugal and Spain were invading Africa, Asia, and the Americas, they needed an excuse to enslave the indigenous people of those areas. In collaboration with the Catholic Church, the royalty of Europe created an identity of "White" as a means to separate Europeans from other people of color. In this way, they created an artificial divide between different ethnic groups based on their skin color or non-European culture and languages. These groups then identified as lesser humans, could be morally enslaved and oppressed with God’s and the Church's blessing.

Couple my non-identity as a citizen of the United States and descendant of European colonizers with the fact my British ancestors have no real ethnic identity as British. The ethnicity of the majority of non-immigrant British is either Celtic, Germanic, Nordic, or Norman (which is Viking, who settled in northern France and then attacked England). The British Isles is the farthest west one could go in Europe; everyone who came into Europe from Asia pushed the previous inhabitants to the West until there was no place to go. Ireland, Wales, and Scotland are the last homelands of the Celts, who once ranged across Europe. The Germanic tribes invaded the British Isles once the Romans left, and their empire fell. The Vikings invaded after that and ruled most of middle England and Ireland. Finally, their Norman cousins came in, combining their version of French with Old English, creating one of the world's most challenging and non-sensical languages on the planet.

All these invaders' descendants, except for the Romans who didn't send Italians that far north or West, were cobbled together, a non-integrated people with a stratified social structure based on the power group of the last conquerors. There is no ethnic identity, and since everyone had invaded them, they decided to conquer the world. Only a few present-day countries in the world were not invaded and colonized by the British once they took care of Spain, Portugal, and France. I once heard a speaker remark about that and went on to say that the United States was the child of Britain and therefore had to outdo its parent in empire building.

I said earlier that my father's paternal line immigrated during the Great Migration of the Puritans in the mid-1600s. They emigrated from Kent in England. Most of the people who came with the Puritans were from that same southeastern part of the island. They didn't want anybody else to live in their colony. The interesting fact is that most males from that area carry a marker that suggests a Germanic heritage. My marker does not show that. It shows as "proto-Celtic." My first match outside of my known relatives was a Belgian man who lived in France. My Celtic DNA does not match most Scot, Irish or Welsh male lines. I began to push further back. 

Talking with some people in a British chat room in Kent, they said that Beers isn't even an English name. It's Dutch like the Diamond people DeBeers. This ethnicity makes sense. They suggested that if they weren't early pre-Roman Gauls who settled in the southern part of Great Britain or Ireland, they were probably Walloon Huguenots escaping persecution from the French anti-Protestant crusades of the 16th century. Huguenots like the Puritans were Calvinists. So these first Beers might have found common cause with this group and, after 100 years or so, were assimilated enough that they identified as English.

What is means is that my male line descends from the Celtic tribes of Gaul, possibly the Belgae. If you know anything about Roman history and Julius Caesar, he made all his fortune and fame by destroying Gaul's Celts. The Romans wiped out their culture, their religion, their language, their ethnic identity. The same Roman Empire had a 400-year war of destruction against the Germanic tribes. Those tribes kept the Romans at bay long enough to learn to do what the Romans did and turned around and conquered them. We only know about the Celts from what the Romans wrote, read Julius Caesar, about them. The propaganda against the Germanic peoples was equally as pejorative and biased.

To get to any real indigenous people groups, I have to go back 2000 years, past centuries of brutality, invasion, cultural negation, and even genocide by emperors, kings, and the church. My Scot ancestors were Normans who moved with Edward III into Scotland. The Norse also invaded much of northern Germany. Ancestry DNA always wants to give me too much Scandinavian ethnicity because it can't separate the different people groups of northwestern Europe very well. That's because the people who live there now are not the same people from whom I descend. I also show a small percentage of North African/Middle Eastern and Sub-Saharan African. I credit the latter to the possibility that one of my Florida ancestors was an escaped enslaved African or part of the Seminole tribe. I don't have any proof, but that is the only thing that makes sense. And it is the only line that it could be.

The next time I have to fill out a form that asks for my race, I can't put human because that's not what they are asking. What the question asks is my ethnic identity. So I will have to check the other box and write in Celtic-Nordic-Germanic to celebrate my ancestors' heritage and honor their lives and culture. I have to push past the invader's language, culture, and even religion to know who I truly am. In turn, I have to decolonize myself. and disidentify with the mythological and fabricated non-identity of "White." I have to disassociate with the imperial oppressors that would claim me as their own and use me as a tool in their oppression of others. I must also reexamine my attachment to the Christian church. The Christian God has been used to excuse genocide, misogyny, racism, homophobia, and the poor and marginalized's oppression. This not the God or Jesus I was taught about and agreed to follow. This question, however, requires much reflection as I move forward with being who I am.

I am only authentically myself by living in a multicultural, multiethnic, and polyglot world community as a positive actor. At the end, who I am is who I say that I am and who I want to be in relationship with and how I relate to others in a way that builds an authentic community.

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