Jaywalking: Radical roots

John Walker
Opinion Editor

This week I attended the second Roots concert ever hosted on campus. Without a doubt it is one of the highlights of this semester.

Being able to hear everything from fiddle, tin flute and stand up base is enough for any fan of acoustic music. And while sitting there and listening to Celtic, blues and bluegrass I thought on the idea of “roots.” It’s an interesting concept and, for many Americans, a point of much pride. In a land where only a few are native the importance of tradition and community is amplified.

My family is Scotch-Irish, or so I have been led to believe. Of course there are many branches to every family, but my paternal line traces its roots back to the hill country of northern Ireland. At some point, around 300 years ago, that angry bunch of Presbyterians I call my ancestors made their way to North America and didn’t stop till they saw the Ohio Valley. At least that’s the way I like to tell it. The details are there if you want them. This story is only important to me and a few million other people with a similar one. But it is our story. That is what makes it special.

Every family has a story. The more legendary or mythical that story, the better. That is not to say truth is not important. But when we use our oral traditions and pass them on there will always be an embellished or censored version. My story, whether it is the historical account or the campfire version, is so very different than a lot of the people I will meet in my lifetime. As fellow countrymen we should relish in each other’s tales and myths, taking everything we can from them.

Our diversity is what sets us apart from other countries. And the mixed cultures we create are just as important as the ones we are trying to hold on to. This conflict between the old and the new is what defines the American identity. If we ever lose this conflict by becoming complacent or mediocre in our culture it would be as if someone cut out the heart of the American experiment.

To me this is the ultimate sign of respect. It leads to an understanding of why other people act and behave the way they do. Once this happens, everything about that person can be put into context. I certainly have nothing in common with someone from New Orleans. Where I am an Appalachian, they are Creole and Cajun. I come from old time and bluegrass, where they come from jazz, blues and Zydeco. But how I love jazz. It’s so unique and so enticing to me I would listen to anyone from New Orleans talk about their experiences in “The Big Easy” any time of day. They may not be my roots, but they are just as important to what makes us all who we are. Without them we become lost in an ocean of misunderstanding.

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