out of many, 1

Last night, Brooke and I stopped into a Russian market about a half a mile from home. I’ve passed the place a thousand times, yet never had any particular interest in going in. But we needed some produce for dinner, traffic was terrible, and, well, there it was, so I figured we’d give it a shot.

When we got home, I texted my dad:

It was AMAZING. It’s so funny because on the one hand it feels entirely foreign, especially given that the Russian on all the packaging doesn’t even share our alphabet, but on the other hand, it’s so familiar!

We walked by rows of cheese and fruit blintzes, all different kinds of pierogis, a huge assortment of smoked fishes and chopped salads of whitefish and herring … and then the baked goods! – pumpernickel breads and flour top rolls and trays upon trays of pastries: elephant ears and babka and apricot bread!

It’s funny how much our heritage, as distant as it might have felt, really did thread itself through my childhood. Thank you for that 😉

He wrote back to ask of they had Russian coffee cake or ‘shave,’ the cold cabbage soup that he remembered eating in the hot weather as a child. He didn’t like it, he said, but he wanted to know. I had to laugh. I hated the borscht that was always in our fridge growing up, but seeing it had nonetheless tugged me back to my childhood with a smile. I promised him I’d look next time we went.

After dinner (which was followed by an elephant ear for dessert), I saw a post from Kristin Chalmers, the brilliant photographer behind the awesome (and rapidly growing!) project, Out of Many, 1, in which my girls recently had the honor of participating.

In the post, Kristin explained that she was inspired to showcase the diversity of our American family because, “(I)n America, there is NO WAY you can figure out what someone’s genetic heritage is just by looking at them because there is no one way to look American.”

With the glaring and important exception of the Native American people, the overwhelming majority of us in this country came from somewhere else. Our immigrant heritage, our wildly varied tapestry of race, ethnicity and cultural backgrounds, has long been one of our greatest sources of strength.

We are the Mother of Exiles described by Emma Lazarus in the New Colossus, the poem – the reminder! – etched into the Statue of Liberty. We light a beacon offering our world-wide welcome to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. That’s not just what we stand for, it’s quite literally who we are. This proud republic is a collective of the wretched, the tempest-tost, the tired, the poor, the homeless who once and still yearned to breathe free. And now here upon the shore, we flip our wrists from upturned hand to one outstretched to welcome those who come after. That is what we do because that is who we are.

Together, we make a glorious American quilt, sewn together panel by colorful panel, story by triumphant story, and all the more beautiful because threaded throughout, in brilliantly stitched patterns of food and music and language and family, are our individual histories.

We are America. And in Kristin’s work, it’s all right there on our faces.


{image is a photo montage of children’s faces from Out of Many, 1. Katie and Brooke are in the middle row, 5th and 7th from the left. Click on the photo to learn more about how you can support and / or participate in the project.}


6 thoughts on “out of many, 1

  1. Funny, this has brought so many memories back to me, as well. I remember going to the Lower East Side when you were a kid, and we were still a family of 3. All of those memories of the food and the smells and watching the enjoyment on your face. Remember that Grandma Lillian, my mom, and her mom and 3 siblings came to America from Russia when Grandma was only eight. By the way, I hated shave and borscht then but, oddly enough, I love borscht now. “Go know”, as they say.

    I also love the out of many, 1 project and my sweet granddaughters’ faces!

    Love you,

    • Reading these memories have really touched my heart. I love reading Diary and about Jess & her family. I’ve learned so much from her and am so thankful to have found her blog. Thank you for sharing your memories with us! These things make up part of who you all are and it’s a treasure to read!

  2. I love this and shared, but want to bring up one thing that has been brought to my attention more than once in the past. Canada and Mexico are also America, so if they aren’t included in what we are writing about the US is more precise

    • My understanding is that North America is the continent (in this case; of course The Americas would include Central and South America) while America is the country.

    • Referring at Canadians or Mexicans as Americans is the same as referring at Brazilians as Americans. America, US, USA, United States, United States of America, typically reference the country in between Canada and Mexico. (Only the first is ambiguous, but all those titles are used in regard of the country). The ambiguity has led to more than one “United Statesian” asking me where the state of Canada is located, when I say I am in Canada.

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