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March 24th, 2009
The Devil's Clackdish: Grandma and culture

Grandma Moses. Remember her?

The Devil’s Clackdish: A column
By HAP MANSFIELD

What you call your grandmother is telling the world something about your roots. Indeed, how you pronounce or truncate the word “grandmother” is just as revealing. “Gramma” is a pretty common phrasing but some, especially on the coasts, say “grandma”. Others, with Slavic or Jewish heritage may call their grandmothers “Baubi” (or “Bubbe” or “Bobbe”), some Hispanics may say “abuela” or  “mamma grande,” or “mee maw.” Then again, some folks, perhaps with Italian roots say “Nonna,” and those with German or African roots might say “Oma.”

The simple concept of grandma, the woman who raised your mother, is fraught with subtext and meaning. Your grandmother holds some of your genetic heritage and maybe taught you many customs. She showed your mom how to be a mother and she probably made a mean strudel, or cochinito or chocolate chip cookie. When you were a child, the customs, words and foods you grew up with started to form your identity before you could even speak.

So while it is possible to break free from much of your heritage with a great deal of concentrated effort and self-absorption, if you choose to do so, how you talk of your grandmother could be a picture window into your background. Your grandmother probably told you stories about your relatives and your heritage, and these things were told to her and similarly to her mother etc. and this has gone on in a constant cascade since the beginning of time.

However, the storytelling, baking, craft making and histories of some grandmas have had an easier time than others.

Wednesday, the LBJ Student Center at Texas State is hosting the third annual Native American Cultural Awareness Conference, and much what is taking place there is very similar to what your grandmother or your grandmother’s grandmother would tell you if you were born into a Native American culture. This event, sponsored by the Native American Student Association, is funded through a gift from the Four Winds Intertribal Society in Killeen.

Intriguing lectures on Native American language, dance and the roles of women are slated, as well as displays of drum-making, indigenous arts, jewelry and Powwow paraphernalia.

The talks on Native American etiquette or the storytelling of Grandmother Emma or the strains of music from native flutes and drums are compelling in their own right. But it’s also good to remember that Native American cultures were the grammas, bubbes, omas, nonnas, and abuelos for all of North and South America for thousands of years. In a very real sense, these cultures are your heritage whether you are Apache or Swedish. They were the stewards of the earth you are standing on right now.

I suppose this all may seem a little sexist, talking about culture and heritage as if it were a woman, and an older woman, at that. How does a person come to draw a conclusion, and a metaphor, like that?

I think it’s something I picked up from my grandma.

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