A List of New England Things

“You know you’re a ____ if” lists and “20 things about _____” articles are popular right now. Being bullet point style, they’re easy for Millennials to skim, and they appeal to our sense of identity. Inspired by these attractive albeit shallow articles, I’ve constructed a list of New England identifiers.

Not all of these apply to me personally, having been socialized in Evangelical circles and a private Christian school in Connecticut, but I’ve seen or experienced nearly everything on this list. Keep in mind that these are generalizations and that most of them center on Connecticut.

I could read into many of these and write full blogs for almost every bullet point, but I’ll limit my analysis in this blog and let you get into that in the comments below.

  • New Englanders are known for being “cold” and unfriendly, but at least we’re direct with what we feel.
  • Atheism pervades everything. Even most Catholics are nominal only; my dad would call many people “practicing atheists.” God is never mentioned or welcomed. But people are more receptive than you might expect, if only you initiate. This applies from religious conversations to simple hellos.
  • We’re known for our gorgeous foliage, but we experience all four seasons to their fullest extents, roughly three months each and each one vibrant in its stage of life.
Eating DF ice cream with my mom in Cheshire, CT, the month before I left for college in the Midwest.

Eating dairy free ice cream with my mom in Cheshire, CT, the month before I left for college in the Midwest. Summer 2013.

  • Apple and pumpkin picking are regular autumn activities.
  • Effectiveness and productivity are how we work. We may be running around all the time, over-busy and workaholics, but we get the work done.
  • We have nasty beaches with no waves. Our water is brown.
  • Hiking is readily available, from nature trails within minutes to mountains within a few hours’ drive. And by hiking, I mean forests and hills and rock faces and curvy trails, not flat nature walks.
  • We say “I’m all set” instead of wordy expressions such as “I’m finished, thank you” or “I have what I need.” At least, that’s what I say, and I’ve never met anyone from another region of the States who says “I’m set”!
  • In Connecticut, we eat lots of pasta. Carbs and other simple, unhealthy foods are staples for many.
  • We have a lot of American Italian influence in CT as well.
  • If you’re not Italian (or in addition to being Italian), you’re a “European mutt,” meaning you have some English and probably two to four other European countries in your heritage. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were able to trace your lineage back to a figure from early America!
Spending the end of my time in CT with my dear friend Mia, who is 3/4 Italian and 1/4 Swedish. I'm English, Scottish (my dad's side of the family, so the New England side), Irish, French and a tad bit German (my mom's side of the family from Philly). August 2013.

Spending the end of my time in CT with my dear friend Mia, who is 3/4 Italian and 1/4 Scandinavian. I’m English, Scottish (my dad’s side of the family, so the Connecticut side), Irish, French and a tad bit German (my mom’s side of the family from Philly). August 2013.

  • We are taxed through the ROOF. Literally, look at how many houses are for sale or foreclosed. Everyone’s moving South.
  • We know snow. We can get it feet at a time, depending on the winter. And because of that, we don’t know so much of summer. Our schools probably get out the latest out of all the regions in the States, basically bestowing only two months of summer vacation. But we have record snow days in winter!
  • Many people are wealthy and go skiing in winter. But we’re not all financially rich! For example, I lived in a blue collar community.
  • We keep to ourselves and don’t usually know our neighbors. Town sports through local community centers connect youth and their parents well, however.
  • We were Abolitionists some 150 years ago, and we don’t experience much publicized racism, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
  • We’re mostly White people, and as for Connecticut, we’re fairly suburban. In my experience, the racial and class differences between the cities, suburbs, and rural areas are clear.
  • People will go to Cape Cod or Rhode Island for vacations, but they neglect all Connecticut has to offer.
  • Nonetheless, historical landmarks abound in New England–the Nathan Hale homestead, Noah Webster’s house, Plymouth Rock–the list goes on.
My friend and I parting ways after attending a yearly Christian summer camp in Massachusetts. August 2013.

My friend and I parting ways after attending a yearly Christian summer camp in Massachusetts. August 2013.

  • We also have a variety of museums from the Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Butterfly Museum, and the Yale University Art Gallery, to name a few. Keep heading east in Connecticut near Rhode Island for more options dealing with marine life.
  • Speaking of Yale, all eight Ivy League schools are located in the Northeast. In the six states that officially compose New England (ME, NH, VT, MA, CT, RI), we have four of the eight: Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard and Yale.
  • We’re also known for our seafood and clam chowder, especially in Maine.
  • People go boating on the weekends.
  • We do not have a lot of (contemporary) Christian radio stations (if any), and, at least in southern New England, we only have one country station per region. Pop music it is.
Saying goodbye after visiting some of my cousins in CT, who also enjoy Country 92.5 FM. May 2014.

Saying goodbye after visiting some of my cousins in CT, who share my appreciation for Country 92.5 FM. May 2014.

  • We have amusement and water parks for children (ex. Lake Quassy in CT) and for the whole family (ex. Lake Compounce in CT and Six Flags New England, located in Massachusetts literally a couple miles from the CT border. Bizarro, formerly known as the award-winning steel roller coaster Superman, is housed at here, with its 221 foot drop, 77mph speed and lengthy three and a half minute ride. It’s my favorite.)
  • We root for the Patriots each football season, but as for baseball, you’re either a die-hard Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees fan. In Massachusetts you practically have to be a Sox fan, and nearby NY takes the Yankees, but CT is a total mix. Be careful with whom you side!

Have any New England-isms to add? Comment below!

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From Ireland to Philadelphia: the unknown story of my ancestors

About six generations ago, my ancestors crossed the Atlantic from Ireland to Philadelphia. Well over a century later on Saint Patrick’s Day, I cannot stop wondering about my great-great-great grandparents.

Only in the past few months have I realized the privilege I have to know from where my ancestors came. Being African-Americans descended from slaves, many of my friends do not know their heritage. Due to the encouragement of one of my friends, I am now attempting to take advantage of the knowledge I have.

Because my family has been in the United States for so long and has married across cultures, among Irish, French and perhaps one or two Germans on my mom’s side and between English and Scottish on my dad’s, I have a difficult time resonating with my ancestors’ culture, however. I cannot resonate with it because I know nothing about it. It seems so distant and apart from me.

Before I started to know myself better, I simply felt “American.” This was largely influenced by my dad’s side of the family, the side I saw the most. They are incredibly patriotic, celebrating national holidays with the national anthem, Wiffle ball and pie. They are proud to be Americans, and while they are White, most of them do not embrace or even consider their European heritage, to my knowledge. My immediate family has never encouraged me to embrace my roots either, making it difficult for me to explore them.

Unfortunately, my grandparents are either growing forgetful or are already dead, so my chances of learning more about my ancestry are fading away.

My Grandpop on my mom’s side is the main person I can bring to mind who seems somewhat interested in his heritage, as demonstrated by his bookshelves full of Irish and a few French books and his past endeavors to look into our family ancestry. I learned from him that I am related to a famous Irish poet, though that man is not well known in America now.

I am primarily drawn to my Irish roots, and I often wonder about my family’s history. I try to go back in time and imagine the events that led up to my sister and me: Once upon a time, two Irish people got together and had a baby. What were their circumstances, and how large was the family? Their child or perhaps children grew up and moved across the ocean, where they lived in Philadelphia for six generations.

Why did my ancestors immigrate? That is my first and foremost question. I continue to wonder about what happened next. Were my ancestors poor? As Irish, how were they treated in the late 19th and early 20th century in the States? Were they prohibited from applying to certain jobs, as many Irish were? Did they have to do menial labor to survive?

Was it a big deal when they first intermarried with the French? At what point did they lose their Irish culture, and at what point did they become simply “White”? How did the power dynamics change over time? I am most curious about these questions.

As previously noted, my heritage has not affected me culturally, but does it impact my physically? I love my body, but I do not think I look Irish. I have my dad’s eye and body shape and hair texture, which were passed down from my English, Scottish and other unknown ancestors. Perhaps my green eyes are the most Irish physiological characteristic, but my family has been living and procreating in the United States for so long that I feel like a “European mutt” more than anything. My first name is Irish, but my parents chose it because it means “pure” rather than for its origin.

I am in the process of exploring who I am historically as I grow in who I am in my future — ideally an African, as much as any American emigrant or immigrant to East Africa can be. I wonder what cultures my children and grandchildren will inherit and how they will deal with the ambiguity of their European heritage as it grows more and more distant, since they will likely be mixed race from myself, a European-American, and from their father of who knows what other race or ethnicity.

My future husband and I will bring the cultures in which we were socialized into our home as well as other cultures in which we are interested. Since God has called me to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Congolese culture should play a large part in their lives as well. Thus, my children will likely be multicultural, third culture kids. Multiculturalism is beautiful, but it is complicated. I look forward to exploring it more as I look into my heritage, engage in the present and prepare for the future.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!