hat are you?
This is a question people ask quite often. Sometimes it’s blunt and outright. Other times they ask, “So . . . what is your ethnic background?” Still other times it is more subtle, such as, “What kind of name is that?” The curiosity to know “what you are” seems to be ingrained in our North American society.
North America is a “melting pot”; we’ve all heard the phrase. People from all over the world come to North America, and we live together. Different cultures comingle, and second-generation kids are born. We are Canadian—as in my case—or American. We sing the national anthem or pledge allegiance. Most of us are proud to live in the country that we do. But the question still arises: “What are you?” We are given labels, such as African-American, Chinese-American, Korean-American, and so on. The labels seem to matter. But why?
If I were to answer the question, What am I? I would answer: I am Canadian. I was born in Canada. My heritage is a mixture of Russian Mennonite and French-Canadian. I’m pretty pale in color. I never tan—always burn. I married an African-Canadian man who came to this country about 10 years ago from central Africa, and we have the cutest little baby boy you’ve ever seen! (And I’m not biased at all!) But most often, people want to know “what” my son is. What is his label?
What Are You—Ethnically?
My husband and I were watching a national news program online recently, and there were some interviews with multiracial families. The biggest complaint seemed to be an inability to know “what” the children were. If a Korean man married a Spanish woman, a Chinese man married a Trinidadian woman, an Iranian man married a Brazilian woman . . . then what would the children “be”?
The answer seems easy enough to me. They are American! Or Canadian. Or whatever—depending on which country they were born in. But to many it doesn’t seem so cut and dried. People are concerned about children’s sense of identity. They want them to belong somewhere. They are afraid they won’t be accepted by racial communities.
Even in North America, the bastion of free speech and democracy, people look at the color of skin and the “original heritage.” I love having a heritage to be proud of. I’m interested in knowing the makeup of my family and where my ancestors came from. The journey of a family is a powerful thing. But my ancestors’ migration from one country to another does not really change who I am.
What Are You—Spiritually?
For Adventists, the issue is not so much the ethnic background as it is the faith. We want our children to marry other Adventist Christians so they can face life united in spiritual beliefs. A shared faith in God and a belief system matters more to us than anything else!
So again the question arises, Who are we? How do we identify ourselves?
On one level there is the cultural identification. My son someday will say, “My dad is originally from Africa, and my mom is Canadian.” That makes him part of a new generation of multiracial kids who are the epitome of what Canada is. He is the melting pot! That’s what Canada is—a mix of different cultures and nationalities all coming together. And regardless of cultural background, we all endure cold winters. We are all aware of what is happening with the hockey play-offs, even if only because of the cheers and whoops heard outside when a favorite team wins. We have a general curiosity about the Royals, an appreciation for a hot drink on a chilly day, and we begin gearing up for Christmas early in November. We are Canadian.
I’m sure the same can be said for our American counterparts. Regardless of color or mix of color, most Americans pledge allegiance; know what’s happening in either baseball, football, or basketball; spend time with family during Thanksgiving; support the troops; and work toward the “American dream” of a comfortable home, a decent car, and a good education.
But we are also Adventists. That is a culture all its own. Adventists know the sunset time on any given week, have learned 100 different ways to cook soy, have a deep appreciation for a good vegeburger, look forward to camp meeting, can recognize a Pathfinder at 100 paces, and know exactly where we’ll be on Saturday mornings.
Adventists can be found worldwide. We can often recognize fellow Adventists in the supermarket by the way they dress and by the food they choose to buy. I’ve recognized Adventists because of the Adult Bible Study Guide poking out behind some papers. And when you are driving on a Sabbath morning and see a car full of people dressed up nicely, looking at a map and driving irritatingly slow, you can usually guess correctly that your church is about to have some visitors! We can pick one another out of lineups and start up conversations with each other, even if complete strangers. Why? Because we belong! We are all part of the same group. We are all Adventist Christians. And chances are, even if we don’t know each other directly, most of us have mutual acquaintances.
But even more important than being Adventists, we are Christians. Period. While non-Adventists can’t point out an Adventist with the speed I usually can, they can certainly recognize a Christian! A Christian gives back the extra change they were mistakenly given. A Christian declares their full income, even if they could easily hide it. A Christian opens doors for others and lets the elderly go first. A Christian bows their head to give prayerful thanks to God before eating and waits patiently while the tired, irritated cashier scans their groceries. A Christian is markedly different because they know Jesus.
We don’t live in a perfect world, or even in a perfect country. We live in a world that sees “us” and “them” and feels most comfortable “sticking to its own.” But we haven’t forgotten that this imperfect world has a King! And He is King of all of us. Everyone is precious in His sight.
So “what” is my infant son? He’s a Canadian. I consider him an Adventist. I trust he’ll be a Christian. I expect he’ll be a Pathfinder, a student. He’s already a son, a grandson, a nephew, a cousin. With the Lord’s help, he’ll be well raised, polite, considerate, honest, and kind. I pray he’ll be hardworking and talented—and he’s already the pride and joy of his parents.
But most important, he’s a gift from God, a precious bundle of wriggles and coos. He is the intentional, beautiful creation of a God who has a plan for his little life.
Now think about it. What are you?
Patty Froese Ntihemuka, who loves to write during every spare minute she gets, lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.