It’s a long road to the second grade talent show. For Ella it began in the spring of last year, watching the show from the auditorium seats of her first grade class. It’s been on her mind ever since.
“Do you think the second grade will have a talent show this year?” she asked, walking home from school in early September.
“I haven’t heard anything about it,” I said, “but I bet they will. Why? Do you want to be in it?”
“Yes, I thought I’d do Irish step dancing.”
When Ella was three, our friend Kathy Leistner, invited us to see her pipe and drum band compete at an Irish festival at Molloy College. Ella loved the bagpipes and the drums, the springing hops and kicks of the soft shoe dancers, and the cloppity clop thunder of the hard shoes. When Ella began kindergarten, we found that the Buckley School of Irish Dance held classes in a local church hall. That’s where you’ll find us on Friday evenings.
Trudging through winter, the talent show question came up again, but it changed somehow. “I don’t know if there’s going to be a talent show this year. Even if there is, I don’t know what I’d do.”
“I thought you wanted to perform an Irish step dance,” I said.
“Well, I don’t want people to laugh at me,” she said.
“Why would they laugh at you?”
“Don’t you think it will look funny—a little Indian girl Irish step dancing?”
“I don’t know what you mean honey, but you’re not trying to trick anybody. You’re not pretending to be something you’re not. A hundred and fifty years ago—long before you and I were born, our family came over from Ireland, so we’re Irish.”
“You’re Irish,” she said. “But I’m half-Irish.”
“Let me get a look at you,” I said, kneading her like dough, grabbing at her shoulders and legs and tickling her sides. “Which half is which? Is there a line at your belly button? Are you split top from bottom or is it left from right? Top and bottom would work great, as long as your legs are the Irish part. You don’t move the top of your body in Irish dance. The whole Indian part of you can just take a nap.”
“It doesn’t work that way,” she said.
“No,” I said. “You know, we say ‘half-Irish and half-Indian,’ but it’s not like a bucket of Legos. We can’t pick out pieces and sort through them.
“I know you think about this a little bit, and it’s good to think about it and it’s good to talk about it. In the end, it’s something we all have to decide for ourselves. We have to find a meaning that we are comfortable with.
“I think about it like chocolate milk. It’s chocolate and milk, but you can’t separate it, and it’s not ‘half’ anything—every bit of it is chocolate, and every bit of it is milk.
“You say you’re half Irish, but you’ve studied Irish dance for three years. No one else in the family has done that—not your grandparents, not your aunts and uncles, and none of your cousins. None of us know anything about Irish music, dance or culture. You are the most Irish person I know.”