A couple weeks ago (at the outset of the World Cup adventure) a friend posted a status update on Facebook mentioning that, though WWII is long over, he still finds it unnerving to see large numbers of Germans gathered, cheering and chanting.
He was joking of course, but something in his comment rang true and hit home.
Though my background is half-German (and half-Mexican--a mix my Mom lovingly refers to as "Beanerschnitzel"), most of my life I felt distant from my German heritage. Not only were the relatives on my Dad's side of the family physically far from us, they felt--at the time--unrelatable. When I saw them (once every 1-3 years) things felt strained, quiet, reserved. I contrasted this with the warm, laughter-filled homes on my Mom's side, homes of people we saw regularly, and the result left me feeling, well, Mexican (Chicana anyway, which is the term for a woman of Mexican heritage who was born and raised in the United States).
I was proud of my Mexican heritage and felt drawn to study Spanish, to listen to music in Spanish, and, eventually, to go to Mexico for a summer. But it was more than just my attraction to my Latino culture that caused the divide; there was something that felt kind of...icky...to declare myself a "proud German."
This is what war does to people. These are the lasting, reverberating effects of unchecked psychopathology. Two generations before my birth, one insane failed artist captivated a nation and ordered the genocide of 5-6 million people. Years later my Dad and his siblings--the children of German-born immigrants--were teased and shamed and called "Nazis" at school. And forty years after that I have still felt loathe to fully claim and embrace my German roots.
Let me not come across as trying to diminish the seriousness of the war itself and the appropriateness of people's long memories. The war touched and ruined many, many lives for many years to follow. It is natural that its effects would continue to echo.
But there are few people living who had much of anything to do with committing those atrocities, and my family members are certainly not among them. My family members are also not racist or anti-Semitic. There is no reason why I should not have the same desire to express pride in my culture that is held among so many people all over the earth.
We of German decent have a dark black mark on our history; it is true. But we can overcome it. We can recognize that the horrors of the Holocaust were real and represent one of the biggest mistakes mankind has ever committed. In recognizing that we can vow to never let such horrors occur again. We can also recognize that the people who were born to this legacy reflect the country's bright future, not its dark past.
Germans have done amazing things. Their engineering feats are incredible (who doesn't appreciate a beautifully designed and constructed German automobile?). Germany has produced some of the greatest philosophers of the modern era. It gave birth to pioneers in the field of psychology. And Germans are so fucking efficient! So dang punctual. Nobody gets things done on-schedule like a German.
We can also be terribly uptight and rigid. We can be cold and serious. We take up a lot of space and are hairy. We aren't so funny. Everyone (even collectively, as a culture) has faults.
I want to begin embracing all of it. I no longer wish to feel culturally torn between pride and not-so-much. The people of both my backgrounds aren't even so much characterized by the accomplishments of their countries or the (oft-true) generalizations that can be made about them as a culture. They are characterized by the love they feel for their families and friends and their desire to find happiness in this life.
So. Screw it. My loved ones and happiness seekers are German (-American). And I'm proud to count myself among them.
And I will joyfully and without shame cheer for them this Sunday as they compete in the World Cup FINAL. Woohoo!