Presence of the Past; An American from Russia

For my oral history, I interviewed Natalie Beckerink, an Auburn student who grew up in various parts of the U.S. but was born in Russia. Beckerink was adopted by American parents at an early age, so I was really interested to see how she understood her place in her parents’ past.

For that reason we ended up spending more time on the questions about her relationship to her family’s history than the others. It was really interesting to hear her talk about finding a sense of community in a shared American history despite not being “genetically American” herself.

From this, I think we can make a few interesting observations about how a person’s perceived past often has a lot more to do with their worldview than it does their DNA. For instance, while Beckerink expressed an interest in finding out more about her biological parents, she was much more concerned about the history of her community and the U.S. than she was with that. Also, Russian history never even came to the conversation. If a lot of far-right-wing theories about genealogy and culture are correct, we would see people like Beckerink place a lot more emphasis on the cultures where they can trace their genealogical heritage. But we don’t see that. Instead, history as a shared understanding of the past seems to be more closely related to upbringing and cultural heritage.

One Comment

  1. Good points here about the assertions of genealogy as historical destiny. I agree about many of its limitations. I think it raises the dilemma of lots of people with no cultural exposure to a group (say, Muscogee Creek people) claiming identity with that group because of genetic linkage. How then should we integrate such testing into our perception of either individual or collective pasts?

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