Should I Check “White, Not Hispanic or Latino”?

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As I was updating my paperwork for the dentist recently, I had to decide whether or not I felt like technically lying.

It’s always something I hesitate on, more than I probably should.

My grandmother is full Mexican. I’m therefore only a quarter Mexican.

So I’m white; but 25% of my genes, and I suppose to some degree, my heritage and culture, is Mexican.

But if I could honestly describe myself to the Census Bureau, which apparently is the organization that most cares about my cultural and ethnic identity, it would simply be this:

Mostly white.

I’m not 100% white, so to proclaim, “white, not Hispanic or Latino” is inaccurate; because I’m absolutely part Hispanic.

The first time I remember having to answer that question was in 1st grade, for a standardized test. I remember how my mom, who is half Mexican and half Italian, told me that she always questioned that herself when she had to answer that question as well.

I think it muddies the waters even more than Italians typically are “more ethnic looking” than most Europeans. I have always thought the same thing about Jews (who are actually considered Middle Eastern) and Greeks (who, like Italians, are Mediterranean).

“White” is a funny term to me, when it references people.

I would love to take one of those ethnic DNA tests where they draw some of your blood and tell you exactly what percentage you are of each people group.

Mainly just because it would be fun to know… exactly. But really, none of that really matters.

What I learned in my HR training course is that ultimately, a person can claim whatever race they most identify with, even if it’s simply cultural.

If you are Chinese but adopted by white parents, you can identify as “white” if you choose to; or Chinese. It’s up to the individual.

As for me, I’m mostly white, based on the last names in my family tree: German (“Shell”), Italian (“Metallo”), Dutch (“Clowers”, derived from “Klaar”), Scottish (“Johnston” and “King”), and English (“Taylor” and “Wiseman”).

And of course I’m also Mexican (“Mendez”). That’s a little confusing as well because ethnically, Mexicans are a mixed race called Mestizos: ultimately, they are around half European (largely including Spanish) and around half Native (or indigenous) Mexican; just like how the United States originally was occupied by Native Americans before the Europeans came over.

The natives in modern Mexico and United States actually derived from Asia, like the Eskimos who settled in Russia and Alaska.

So technically, I’ve got distant traces of Asian blood.

If you really dumb it down, I’m just European and barely Asian.

But there’s not a category for that on the paperwork.

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What Do You Visualize When You Think of a Person’s Last Name?

Surely something comes to mind, no matter who the person is.

Throughout my whole life, I have always visualized a noun or idea whenever I hear anyone’s last name.  Maybe it’s just me that does that.  But I felt that the habit was worth expanding on.  So I asked my facebook friends what they thought of when they hear my last name, which is Shell- the German adjective for “loud and noisy”, originally spelled “Schel”.  Their responses can be found at the very end of this post.

Then to demonstrate my thought process, I returned the favor:

Johnson- Johnsonville Brats

Rogers- a 1950’s milkman

York- the state, not the city

Clements- the Clampetts from the Beverly Hillbillies

Majer- the sitcom Major Dad

Kregenow- a city I made up in Michigan, that is only said best with a Midwestern accent

Hegar- Sammy Hagar

Alexander- Alexander the Great

McElhaney- Scottish people and GI Joe’s

Hardin- German people who love friend pickles

Welch- Welch’s grape juice

Creel- the Tori character from the final season of the original Saved by the Bell, played by actress Leanna Creel

Jenkins- Fat Albert and the Junkyard Band

Chapman- Steven Curtis Chapman, the Christian singer

Britt- a member of a British glam-rock band from the Eighties

Wilder- Gene Wilder, the Jewish actor who played the original Willy Wonka

Gordon- the singer Gordon Lightfoot

Part of my writing style is that I almost always try to bring the topic to a close by ending with some sort of ironic twist.  So here it is:

How did we get last names in the first place?  There are basically three major ways.  First, the name could be referring to the town of where one of our ancestors lived: A common trait of Scottish last names is that they end in “ton”, which means town.  So “Pinkerton” means “from the town of Pinker”.  Second, the name could be recognizing an ancestral father or father figure: A common trait of English last names is that they end in “son”, which implies “son of”.  So “Davidson” means “David’s son”.  Similarly, Irish last names often begin “O’”, which also implies “son of”.  So “O’ Conner” means “son of Conner.”

Thirdly, and most interestingly, the last name is referring to an adjective or physical trait that an ancestor was known for.  Like the last names Short, Brown, Swift, Freeman, and Blessing.  Notice how many Jewish last names refer to monetary wealth: Goldberg, Silverman, Richman, Diamond, and Sachs (as in “sacks” of money- though the actual reference is to a city in Germany, it’s still an interesting coincidence).  With that being said, my habit of visualizing people’s last names is not a new thing at all.  People have been doing this since… well, since people have had last names.

Nick Shell New assignment for you, friends: “What do you visualize when you think of my last name?” (If you answer me, I will answer you regarding your last name, on your wall; as well as tag you in the post when I publish it.)

December 1 at 11:44pm ·  ·  

    • Brad Johnson I think of you and the gas station that my grandfather used to own.

      December 1 at 11:47pm · 
    • Debra Johnson A sea shell

      December 1 at 11:57pm via Facebook Mobile · 
    • Ashley Rogers Seashell…that always comes to my mind when someone has the last name Shell….and then I drift off thinking about how i”d love to be at the beach…. lol

      December 1 at 11:58pm · 
    • Crystal York Allen I think of the beach and the ocean. It is quiet calming.

      December 2 at 12:20am · 
    • Bobby Clements Sea shell (the smooth pretty kind) – then thoughts drift to the beach – then the waves – then the ocean – then to wonder why James Cameron is making a sequel to Avatar involving the ocean – then to why is James Cameron making a sequel at all.

      December 2 at 12:30am via Facebook Mobile ·  ·  1 person
    • Jessica Mager Toney i think of a sea shell…more specifically a conch shell.

      December 2 at 2:53am · 
    • Sarah Kregenow Issac Running out of gas and the color yellow.

      December 2 at 3:47am · 
    • Rebecca Hegar velveeta shells and cheese

      December 2 at 3:49am · 
    • Amanda Smith Alexander Not Shell gas station- they were too involved in the Holocaust. You’re a Jewish sea shell from the Sea of Galilee. Creative? 🙂

      December 2 at 5:47am via Facebook Mobile · 
    • Russell McElhaney The white sandy beach

      December 2 at 6:43am · 
    • Christy Perkins Hardin OK, so I’m different… I see that we are all start as just an empty shell, and the experiences of life fill us and mold us into the kind of person we become… ever-changing, as we add new experiences into our being. That shell may be filled with mostly good or mostly bad, and the choice is ours. Clearly, that shell is a God-shaped void…imagine what we would be if we actually filled that void with Him!

      December 2 at 6:44am · 
    • Jason Welch The “shell game” where there are three shells with a ball under one. You know, move them around and guess which has the ball.

      December 2 at 7:26am · 
    • Hjordis Maddock Creel Sea shells, any and all of them. I grew up in Florida and I love shells. I’ve got a collection of shells and I am always pondering what to do with them.

      December 2 at 7:54am · 
    • Will Jenkins a 70’s drawing of a little green turtle

      December 2 at 9:56am · 
    • Rita Gail Chapman I see seashells at the seashore…..three times, real fast!

      December 2 at 10:39am · 
    • Sherry Britt Shell I SEE A LONG WALK ON THE BEACH HUNTING SEASHELL

      December 2 at 3:27pm · 
    • Ben Wilder I think of you singing on stage. That’s the image of you I have in my head when your name comes up. And you laughing and shrugging your shoulders.

      Friday at 10:40am · 
The TMNT theme song. if you want the song, download it here: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=DYBVTBGD

December 2 at 1:20am ·  ·  · Share · See Friendship
    • Melinda Gordon in response to the question about your last name 🙂

      Friday at 4:30am · 


Climbing the Family Tree

At some point, it starts to become irrelevant.  Which part of your family tree actually matters?

Fort Payne, AL in 1976- my mom (bottom), her Italian dad and Mexican mother above her

Every family’s got one- the “family tree enthusiast”.  It’s ultimately the person with the most natural motivation to find out where the family came from- not the people who simply say, “I’d love to know more about our heritage…” but instead, the one who actually gets to work on it.  And after I found myself spending hours sometimes researching the origins of last names I had heard of in our family, I soon realized I was appointed by destiny to be the “family tree enthusiast.”

Since last May, my grandmother on my dad’s side has been helping me with the research.  Her last name is Clowers; which last year when I looked it up was an English name and meant “people from the hills”.  But this weekend after sitting down with my grandmother again, I discovered that “Clowers” was changed from “Klauer”, and that was changed from “Clore”, which was changed from “Klaar”, which was not English at all, but instead Dutch.

Chattanooga, TN in 1946- my great-grandparents on my dad's side: Francis Clowers & Madelee Wiseman

The highest I could climb up my family tree was to a Dutch Lutheran named Hans Michael Klaar (born in 1630) who married a Greek woman named Ursula Sybella (born in 1635).  When I Googled the last name “Klaar”, I found more Jewish ties to it than anything else.  It’s possible that further up the family tree the Klaar’s were Dutch Jews, but that would be near impossible to confirm.

Climbing back down the family tree, the next woman being married into the family was another Greek woman, Anna Barbara Maria.  Then Dorothy Kaifer (German), then two more presumed German women (no last names given but I’m assuming they were German since the family had by that point moved to Germany), then surprisingly a Jewish woman named Nancy Ullman (it translates as “rich man”), then Mary Harris (English), then Emmaline Lunsford (English), then Polly Katherine Green (English, Jewish, or Irish), then finally, my great-grandmother Madelee Wiseman (typically a Jewish-German last name which translates “white man”).

same great-grandparents 37 years later

Then my grandmother (maiden name, Clowers) married my grandfather, John David Shell.  All I know so far about his family tree are of Scottish (Scrimsher and Johnston), Cherokee Indian (name unknown), and German (Miller) origin.  But the last name Shell has a potentially interesting origin:  The Jews living in Germany were often given their last names by the Germans, who would insult them with last names translating to things like “stinky” and “ugly”.  Shell used to be “Schell” and literally translates “loud, noisy, and clamorous”- which I would say is an insult.  Plus, by Googling “Schell”, it’s Jewish people that pop up.

So what am I on my dad’s side of the family?  Dutch-Greek-German-Jewish-Cherokee-Scottish-English.  But I’m starting to come to the conclusion; what does really it matter anyway?  At the top of both sides of my dad’s family tree are Dutch, Greek, and German.  In the middle are Jewish and Cherokee.  At the bottom of the trees are English and Scottish.

The Clowers-Wiseman family in 1953- my great-grandparents in the middle, my grandmother on the far right in the black dress

Which is more relevant?  Am I more English and Scottish because those are the most recent?  Am I less Dutch and Greek because those are at the top?  Am I equally all of those things?

And that’s not to mention my mom’s side- she’s half Mexican and half Italian.  But because of the rumors that my great-grandmother Mary Vite was Jewish (there are Jews with the last name Vite), I may not be ¼ Italian after all, but instead 1/8.  Or what if she wasn’t half Jewish, but instead half Greek?

I will always be fascinated by ethnic backgrounds of people, but in a way, I am satisfied with what I know now about my own mysterious ancestors.  Because what is most relevant in a family tree is not found by looking up, but instead by looking down and all around; it’s the people that still influence you, that love you, that care for you, and vice versa.  That’s the part of your family tree that matters.  And to be honest with you, I’m pretty dizzy after spending all that time so high up the family tree.  It’s good to be back on the ground, with family members who are just as alive as I am.

Under the family tree: my Italian (and possibly Greek or Jewish?) grandfather Metallo; my mom's dad

Readers’ Expectations 6: Smoking Muppets, Legal Personalities, and Scottish Seinfeld

Typically, I publish a new post from the Readers’ Expectations series about once a month, after I’ve collected a handful of absurd searches people typed into Google to find Scenic Route Snapshots.  But within the past week, I’ve already met my quota.  So after only a week since the fifth installment, here’s #6:

“smoking Muppets mccarthy”- The only way I could see this happening is in a public service announcement with the McCarthy dummy smoking a cigar next to Kermit the Frog who has a worried look on his face, caption reads: “If you smoke, I’ll croak!”

“why saunas are awkward”- You know, I can’t really see how a public sauna could be awkward, other than the fact that only a loosely wrapped towel around your waist is the only thing keeping complete strangers from seeing your Netherlands, and keeping you from seeing theirs.

“why it’s so hard to meet single women”- A few clues: Stars Wars t-shirt tucked into black sweatpants, neon slap bracelet, Aviator glasses, horrible mustache, Doritos-stained fingertips.

“legal personalities”- It’s so hard today to live in a society where so many personalities are currently outlawed.   Like “outgoing”, “positive”, “friendly”, and “optimistic”.  Things have never been the since ever since the Soviets took over.  I mean…what I meant to say was… Communism is the only way!

“my public dreams”- The only way to outdo a reality show these days is to publicly display a person’s dreams on national television.  Participants are hooked up to a special device that broadcasts their dreams for everyone to see on a giant monitor, including the The Naked in Public Dream.  From James Cameron, director of Avatar, coming this Fall on Fox: “Your Worst Nightmare”.

“Seinfeld Scottish”- Growing up in a hometown that officially had no Jewish households, I clearly understood that Jerry Seinfeld is Jewish, not Scottish.  I’m trying to imagine Jerry Seinfeld in a kilt, playing the bagpipes, saying, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, brothah…”

Hall and Oates are Officially Cool Again, Says Me

They make my dreams come true.

Yesterday my wife and I were hanging out at our new favorite brunch spot in Nashville, The Perch.  As we were waiting on our crepes, we both had our laptops up and running (she was working on stuff for her Master’s program, and I was catching up on burning about a dozen CD’s that I’ve bought since last December).  An energetic couple sat down at the table across from us; as she walked past, the wife snuck a peak at the pile of CD’s I had laying on the table.

“Just checking out your musical style”, she said with a curious smile.

I lifted up Landon Pigg (a local Nashville artist recently featured on an ATT commercial) and Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson to give her a good idea of exactly was is music to me.  She approved.

But then, I pulled out the one she couldn’t see because it was currently being burned.  And that definitely got her attention as well as her husband’s: The Essential Hall and Oates.

She eagerly told me about Daryl Hall’s current website, in which he invites special guest musicians to play concerts in his house.  Within a minute, she had emailed me the link.  http://www.livefromdarylshouse.com/index.php?page=ep30

As if it wasn’t obvious, being that I’ve referenced Hall and Oates in the last couple things I’ve written, I’m a little bit obsessed with this feel-good duo.  Maybe it started when they performed on the recent American Idol finale and I realized they not only are still performing but also haven’t changed who they are one bit.  Because there was John Oates bouncing and bopping around on his electric guitar and Daryl Hall running the show in all confidence.

Some musical acts could have only been popular during the time they were popular.  Hall and Oates is the epitome of them.  The late 70’s and early 80’s were the only time that a male duo singing group looking the way they did and performing the way they did could not only get away with it, but have six Number Ones and have 34 singles to chart.

The duo of course is comprised of  Daryl Hall (of Scottish heritage) and John Oates (half Italian, a quarter Spanish, and a quarter British English).

Hall and Oates is also the kind of musical act that sings so many more songs than I ever realized.  I’d been hearing their songs all along, assuming it was a random one hit wonder.

If I was asked two weeks ago (before I bought their 3 disc greatest hits set) which songs Hall and Oates sang, I would say “You Make My Dreams”, “Maneater”, and “Out of Touch”.  Just the tip of the Oatesberg:

Here’s a brief looks at their credentials:  Their six Number Ones were “Rich Girl”, “Kiss on My List”, “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)”, “Maneater”, and “Out of Touch”.  A few of their 34 singles that charted include “You Make My Dreams”, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feelin’”, “One on One”, “Say It Isn’t So”, “Adult Education”, “Method of Modern Love”, and “Sara Smile”.

But after listening nonstop to the 40 plus songs on the 3 disc set I bought exactly a week ago, my favorite song of theirs, to my surprise, is not “You Make My Dreams” (which hilariously leads into the guitar solo with the lyrics “well listen to this”).  It’s instead one that I truly never heard prior to seven days ago.  A song that peaked at #6 in June of 1983.  The song is “Family Man”.

Complete with a grungy guitar riff reminiscent of Weezer’s 2001 hit “Hash Pipe”, perfect back-up vocal spurts, and the off-beat subject matter (for a pop song) of a faithful husband and father basically saying “skat!” to a temptress.  And best of all, it was a hit in 1983.

As I recently explained to a friend who was much less familiar with Hall and Oates as I made him listen to them in my car, “They’re the kind of music you should listen to if you’re considering suicide.  You’ll change your mind by the end of the first song.”

Now Simon and Garfunkel, well, that’s a different story.

The Ethnic Backgrounds of the Cast of Friends and Seinfeld (Yes, Most of Them are Jewish; Even Matthew Perry)

 

After the recent overwhelming success and popularity of The Ethnic Backgrounds of the Cast of LOST, I decided I am among the thousands who are also intrigued by the vast different backgrounds of the actors of all-American TV shows.  Starting with curiosity of my own ethnic background, I soon stumbled into a new hobby/obsession: studying and memorizing the ethnic backgrounds of celebrities.  I am officially claiming to be an ethnic background specialist.  And I’m half serious, half joking when I say that.

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no soup for you

Of course for me, the most fascinating part is always discovering the Jewish actor(s) and writer(s).  Being that there are more than twice as many Asians than there are Jews in America, in theory, for every Jewish actor in a show there would be two Asian actors.  Or, being that Jews make up 1.7% of the American population, for every 100 actors in a show or movie, only two would be Jewish.  But that’s almost never the case.

So with that in mind, I felt the best way to officially start “The Ethnic Backgrounds of the Cast” series is by examining two highly popular Jewish sitcoms.  Whereas most sitcoms have at least one Jewish actor as part of the cast who plays a plain ole’ American mutt, both Friends and Seinfeld featured Jewish actors who occasionally incorporated their “Jewishness” into their  characters and the culture of the show itself.

To keep from being confusing, unless specifically stated, “English” simply means the actor is American but of English descent.  Same thing with “Scottish”, “Irish”, etc.  However, if the actor was actually born in England and is not an American, I will specifically state they were born in England, or whatever country they were raised in.

If the actor is Jewish, and I know what country their family moved to America from, I will say “descended from” or “of (ex: German) descent”.  In other words, each actor is American born, unless otherwise stated with the phrase “born in”.

Friends:

David Schwimmer (Jewish, descended from Germany) as “Ross Geller” (Jewish)

Courtney Cox-Arquette (English, though she is married to David Arquette, who is Jewish, she did not convert) as “Monica Geller (Jewish)

Jennifer Aniston (half Greek, quarter Italian, quarter Scottish) as “Rachel Green” (American)

Lisa Kudrow (Jewish, descended from Russia) as “Phoebe Buffay” (French)

Matthew Perry (half Canadian-English, half Jewish) as Chandler Bing (Scottish)

Matt LeBlanc (French, Italian, Dutch, Irish) as “Joey Tribbiani” (15/16 Italian, 1/16 Portuguese)

Elliot Gould (Jewish) as “Jack Geller” (Jewish)

Christina Pickles (English, born in England) as “Judy Geller” (Jewish)

James Michael Tyler (English) as “Gunther” (Dutch)

Hank Azaria (Jewish, descended from Greece) as “David the Scientist”, Phoebe’s on-again-off-again boyfriend (American)

Paul Rudd (Jewish, descended from England) as “Mike Hannigan” (Irish)

Created by David Crane (English) and Marta Kauffman (Jewish, descended from Germany)

Seinfeld:

Jerry Seinfeld (Jewish, of Polish, Ukrainian, and Syrian descent) as “Jerry Seinfeld” (Jewish)

Jason Alexander (Jewish, of German descent) as “George Costanza” (half Italian, half Jewish)

Michael Richards (half Italian, half English) as “Cosmo Kramer” (Jewish)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Jewish, of French descent) as “Elaine Benes” (Czech)

Created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David (Jewish)

And if you’re interested in taking a DNA test like I did to find out if you might have Jewish DNA, here’s the link to MyHeritage.

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pretzels

 

LOST Recap: Season 6, Episode 11- “Happily Ever After”

Everybody loves Desmond.  And Desmond loves Penny.  Even when he’s in a flash-sideways and has never met Penny before, the Scottish fellow still has memories of her and is in love with her.  If that ain’t love then I don’t what love is.

This big reveal of this episode is that the flash-sideways really are connected to what actually happened.  Daniel, Eloise, and Desmond all end up becoming aware that their flash-sideways life is not the way it was supposed to happen.  The island should not have blown up.  Therefore, the plane was meant to crash on the island.  Which of course comes down to the philosophical challenge between Jacob and Esau (“The Man in Black”).

It was fun for us to see Charlie and Desmond relive that fateful Season 2 episode as a drowning Charlie placed his hand up against the window.  Even when he’s a heroine obsessed jerk, it’s hard not to like ole Charlie.

Hard-core Losties took special notice of the balance scale in Widmore’s office along with a model ship which caught Desmond’s eye.

Widmore told Desmond that Penny and his son will be gone forever if Desmond doesn’t help Widmore and his minions.  I’m seeing Widmore the way I used to see Ben Linus: A man determined to do whatever it takes for his higher purpose, even if it means innocent people die in the process.  But not necessarily an evil man.

Desmond is special, of course.  So he escaped Widmore’s torture chamber unharmed and actually motivated to help Widmore even further.

Ironically, the half-Scottish, half-Peruvian actor who plays Desmond, Henry Ian Cusick, played the part of Jesus in a 2002 movie called The Gospel of John.  So this isn’t the first time he has played a compassionate man who becomes a savior for the greater good of mankind.