Monday, July 6, 2009

Are You American?

Being Alaskan has been an interesting mix of patriotism and marginalization. We in Alaska, when outside, typically refer to ourselves as Alaskans as opposed to Americans, even though Alaska is a state in the union. Its not that we don't love the USA, we do. Not everyone does, we are the only state with an officially recognized secessionist party that got a governor elected.

But the vast majority of us love the USA. The truth is though, if you proudly tell people abroad you are an American they are likley to roll their eyes and find a way to politely or not so politely walk away. Or if your having a particularly bad day they may take you hostage. On the other hand, if you say you are Alaskan they will want to talk and chat it up about life in the arctic. So it has little to do patriotism and more to do with these two things: Identity and Desire to Get Along.

Even in our own country we are for the most part sidelined. Until the recent national attention toward Sarah Palin a significant number of Americans were not even sure Alaska was part of the USA, or they thought we were a territory like Puerto Rico and Samoa. It still stuns me when American tourists ask local shops if we take US Money, or what is the exchange rate. When I travel to cities in the lower 48 I find it to be not too much like where I live.

Alaskans are like the child born of an affair. Mommy loves us, but Dad kind of ignores us other than to throw a few dollars our way as an act of appeasement. With all of the attention we now have on the national political scene perhaps this will change to some degree. Or, depending on how Palin carries herself, and how the media decides to honor or vilify her, we may or may not get a better image in the world scene.

We are not particularly flag wavers up here. Even though 75% of Alaskans are military veterans, expressions of patriotism are moderate. Maybe its just our understated temperment. Maybe its the fact that it costs so much to ship stuff up that we just don't have all the red, white & blue stuff available like they do in the lower 48.

Or maybe its the fact that most of us are of mixed ancestry within the past few generations and don't really know where to call home. A friend of mine from Vancouver BC, Canada, lived here for two years for his job. He mentioned that Vancouver was one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. In Vancouver there are more different nationalities represented than any other city on the planet, or something like that. But those ethnic groups tend to stay in their own little communities. You know, Chinatown, Koreatown, Indiatown, Pakistanitown, Kenyatown, etc. I don't know that they suffix the word -town to every nationality but you get my point.

What astonished him in Anchorage Alaska though, was that there were almost no ethnic enclaves here. Yes there is a section unofficially called Koreatown, but it is only about a dozen small buildings, and there are several non-Korean buildings in between them. What really blew his mind was the first time he went shopping at a mall here and saw the ethnic diversity within the same families. Black, Alaskan Native, Caucasian, Asian, Latino, Islander, European, African, you name it. Everyone walking in multi-colored families, holding hands and carrying babies that could not be identified as any particular ethnicity.

That is what Alaska is like. We are a mixed up bunch of people at the end of the world in a state of the USA, but most of our cousins don't even think people live here. And we're just fine with that.

So from an Alaskan of Irish, English, Polish, Swedish, Danish, Sioux and Cherokee descent married to a Korean woman who most people assume to be Mongolian or Eskimo....God Bless America, land that I love.
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