The summer before my third grade year, my mom took a group of her students—she’s a teacher—across many miles of Atlantic blue water to Western Europe on a tour. She spent the rest of her summer meticulously documenting the trip within the intricately detailed pages of two scrapbooks. I pored over those scrapbooks for years, committing the lit outline of the Eiffel tower to memory, tracing my fingers along the path of icy grey Scottish waters along the shoreline. I’m in college now, preparing myself for next semester when I will study abroad in Argentina. I’ve wanted to go abroad ever since my mom came back from that Europe trip and now all my daydreams are coalescing into reality. I think participating in the Montana Race Project has been kicking my pre-departure nostalgia into overdrive, so I’ve spent many a phone call asking her about her favorite memories from that trip.
“Well, we got into Ireland and ended up staying at the little bed and breakfast that was attached to the Danny Mann Pub. There was like 30 of us altogether. The place was jam-packed with people; people from thirteen or fourteen years old all the way up to 90 years old. They had a band called Murphy’s Men playing in the pub that night, and they played a bunch of traditional Irish songs. The whole time, everybody was dancing and singing with the band—I was so shocked because everybody knew all the songs! I told the tour guide afterward, ‘You would never get this in the States; you would never have this sense of nationalism in America! You just don’t have it there like you do here…’”
I smiled as I listened to her tell me this story over the phone that morning. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always had a deep desire to know my family history and where we came from. I am a story-weaver by nature, and as curious as they come. It’s no wonder I chose journalism as my major. Even as a child, I remember trying to discern myself in the mirror, yelling upon defeat, “Mom, what are we?! Where did we come from again?!” One day, after exhausting my family with endless questions about our past, my dad looked at me with exasperation and said, “You know honey, basically you’re a Heinz 57.”
And once I learned what Heinz 57 meant, I realized my full dissatisfaction with that answer. Like one of the other six-word essays from the Montana Race Project, my young heart cried, “I’m not just a white girl!” Because being a Heinz 57 means that I don’t really have ties to any one particular culture. The easy answer is that I’m American, but the term American feels more like a lifestyle than a culture. The American Dream says “If you work hard and pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you can be successful.” But the American Dream doesn’t tell me about the important stuff of culture, like traditions that have been passed down, relationships between different generations of people, or the ethics of interacting with others and doing justice to their stories, which is a topic near and dear to my heart as a journalist. This is the meat-and-potatoes stuff that I really want to know.
I yearn for what my mom saw in Ireland that night at the Danny Mann Pub. I yearn for nationalism like that, for unity within my country that’s been coined a ‘melting pot.’ I want to take part in the traditions of those who came before me. For my six-word essay, I wrote, “Finding significance as a Heinz 57.” Who knows, maybe going to Argentina will help me do just that.
-Charli White, who participated in “The Montana Race Project: Everyone Has a Story” for DiverseU 2015. The project is led by faculty advisor, Kathy Weber-Bates who teaches Diversity in Media in the UM School of Journalism.