Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Faces of America
Have you been watching Professor Henry Louis Gates' most recent PBS special, Faces of America? If you haven't, don't worry it's not too late to tune in. I've been hearing about this program for awhile, but only caught last night's episode by chance, after flipping through the channels while folding laundry. (I find watching TV while folding laundry makes the folding go faster.)
Boy am I glad I turned off American Idol. In Faces of America, Gates, uncovers the family history of 12 influential Americans in order to show just how varied a country we are, as well as to show how our personal histories make up American history. Here's a description of the program from the PBS website.
"What made America? What makes us? These two questions are at the heart of the new PBS series Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The Harvard scholar turns to the latest tools of genealogy and genetics to explore the family histories of 12 renowned Americans — professor and poet Elizabeth Alexander, chef Mario Batali, comedian Stephen Colbert, novelist Louise Erdrich, journalist Malcolm Gladwell, actress Eva Longoria, musician Yo-Yo Ma, director Mike Nichols, Her Majesty Queen Noor, television host/heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz, actress Meryl Streep, and figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi."
I was riveted throughout the entire one-hour episode last night and then thrilled to discover it comes on again tonight. In fact, it runs through March 3. Check your local listing for times in your area. You can also go to the website to see extended interviews with the profile subjects and research your own family history.
The thing that really struck me as I watched last night, was how common it was for the profile subjects to not know too much about their own family history. I thought it was only Black Americans who couldn't or didn't have access to the highest branches of their family tree. But after watching Meryl Streep, Kristi Yamaguchi and Mike Nichols admit that they'd never known and in some cases never even wondered about their ancestors, I felt a little bit better about my own situation and my general lack of knowledge about my past. Maybe it's an American thing that our histories begin with our immediate families. It is the American gift of reinvention, perhaps.
What about you? Do you know where you come from? Has it been important in shaping your identity?