05 April 2008

Where I come from....

One day in eighth grade, as part of a lesson on immigration, my history teacher went around the room asking each of us where our parents were from. This was the northern suburbs of New York, and for the most part, my classmates were the children and grandchildren of Irish, Italian or other European immigrants who came to New York in the early to mid-20th century, and left the city for the peaceful environs of Rockland County. As he worked his way around the room, we were regaled with tales of “The Old Country” and Ellis Island, and childhood in Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx. Then he got to me.

“What about you Planck, Where are you’re parents from?”

“Jersey…” I said with a flat, disinterested tone.

The teacher smiled a bit reluctantly and asked “No, no, I mean where are they FROM?”

I looked him in the eye and, slightly frustrated, said again “JERSEY…”

“You’re parents are not from New Jersey.” He said, getting a little annoyed and staring back at me.

“What?” I said “Both my mom and my dad were born in New Jersey, the grew up in New Jersey, they are FROM NEW JERSEY…”

The teacher sighed “OK fine…so where are your grandparents from?”

“Well, I only really know about my father's parents…” I said

“That’s fine” he said. “So where are they from?”

“Chicago” He rolled his eyes.

“WHERE ARE THEY FROM?!” He was starting to lose patience with me.

“What?” I said. “They were born in Chicago, grew up in Chicago…They are FROM CHICAGO….can I help it if my grandparents are from Chicago?”

I was starting to get pissed. I fidgeted in my chair while my classmates stared and whispered things to each other. I was already a social misfit, and this little episode was not helping.

“OK, FINE…” he said, raising his voice even louder. His face was red, and he was now genuinely angry. “What about your great-grandparents, where are THEY from?”

He was staring right at me now, challenging me. I glared back at him, unflinching. This had become a battle of wills, and I was not going to break. I had no choice but to put up with the constant teasing and antagonizing I received from the popular kids, even the not so popular kids. But I was not going to be bullied or intimidated by a teacher.

I knew he wouldn’t like my answer, that it would probably put him over the edge, but I didn’t care. I looked him dead in the eye and said...


His face got even redder, his hand started to tremble. I knew he was debating whether or not to send me to the office. He was probably racking his brain, trying to figure out what he would put on the referral slip. I'm guessing that "His great-grandparents come from Michigan" would not be seen as grounds for suspension. He started to say something, but I cut him off.

“Look!” I said. Now I was pissed, and I had given up trying to hide it.

“My family has been in this county since, like, the 1600’s or something. They came over with William Penn. The town of Verplanck, you know, right across the river, is named for them. They fought in the Revolution. They are originally from Holland. They’re Dutch, OK, Dutch. Is that what you want to know?”

The teacher stepped back, the blood drained from his face. “Oh” he said quietly. Then he looked at me with crooked smile and said, “Why didn’t you just say all that in the first place."

I rolled my eyes..

"Next up, Robinson, what about you…let me guess, Ireland right?”

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