White Culture and the Farm

In modern white middle-class America, it’s easy to forget we have roots. When I was growing up in Texas, I often envied my friends whose relatives were more recent immigrants. I love my family and my life, but in some ways I missed the cameraderie of being part of a cultural group.

I am equal parts English, German, Slovak, and Swedish, with a dash of Scottish and a pinch of “unknown” mixed in. I love being all American, but my mix of Caucasian backgrounds makes identifying with one culture difficult. My dad recalled with fondness some of the traditional Slovak foods he ate growing up, and we did eat sausage and saurkraut throughout my childhood, but I never felt a warm identification with a motherland besides the U.S. I attended a great family reunion but it was marked more by pleasant strangers, group pictures and hot dishes than any Swedish connection. I was never swept up in huge idiosyncratic gatherings like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I remember an Indian classmate talking about the phenomenon of Indian weddings and how transcendently awesome they were and feeling a teensy bit… jealous.

So growing up in the majority culture, in a culture that does not celebrate itself as a distinct culture, I naturally decided to study anthropology – the study of cultures –  in college. I enjoyed learning about different cultures and alternative ways of viewing the universe and approaching life. I enjoyed learning about the different cultures within my community.

When my husband and I decided to move to Minnesota, part of the attraction for me was being closer to family and to my Swedish immigrant roots. And while I have enjoyed being able to go to the farm at least twice a year, I haven’t really explored those roots except for meatballs at Ikea.

But last weekend, my family came out and we headed up to the farm for a real, honest-to-goodness cultural experience. Now my uncles would describe themselves as “rednecks” (and an exploration of “redneck” Minnesota deserves its own blog entry, if not article).  But what we found there wasn’t backwards or ridiculous, as some people choose to stereotype “redneck.”

It’s a 21st-century interpretation of our culture. The farming culture of Europe transplanted to the Americas and revised, rewritten and adapted to modern mores.

And it was fun and natural and cool. We headed back to the land. Exploring the woods. Walking through the mud. Surveying the fields ready to be planted, the trees that my uncle taps for syrup in good years. Riding around on ATV’s and snowmobiles. Shooting potato guns with deadly precision as a decapitated buck looks on from an old red tractor.

No, it wasn’t exactly a Swedish celebration with meatballs and lingonberries. Instead we were treasuring a mixture of heritages; we ate chicken enchiladas, guacamole and brownies, and drank beer and wine. We celebrated the end of winter, the first inklings of spring. Most of all, we enjoyed being with family. We renewed those intangible bonds that draw us closer together. Our culture.

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