People are always bitching about being stereotyped because of their heritage. But let me tell you: Just wait till you're not stereotyped. Then you'll be sorry. Then nobody grants you quaint genetic characteristics that allow you to get away with stuff. Nobody says, "Well, no wonder he acts that way. Hey, it's O.K. because he's a——." No. If you're not stereotyped, then you're just stupid all by yourself, laughed at strictly on your own hook.
How well I know this. Because, unlike most Americans, I've been deprived. Like Peter Pan without his shadow, I have no visible heritage, no direct connection to the land of my forefathers. Instead, I've had to slog through life simply as American. No hyphen before that. No qualifying I.D.
The World Cup made me think about this. You see, I am from a forgotten tribe. Not lost, you understand. That's romantic: lost. My tribe is simply forgotten. I am a Huguenot. A French Huguenot. Who remembers us? But hey, we remember the Incas, and who has even seen an Inca? As Tom Brokaw, a lapsed Huguenot, once declared when he attended another ethnic celebration, "There are very few songs that start When Huguenot Eyes Are Smiling?
At one time we Huguenots were among the noblest of all immigrants, among the first to come to the colonies in search of religious freedom. Paul Revere was a Huguenot. But as time went on, we were assimilated. My original family name was Dufour, which is so lovely and ethnic, but some damn ancestor anglicized it to bland old Deford. And there's no Huguenot homeland to vacation in. No Huguenot newspapers, no Huguenot food, no Huguenot expressions. Not even any Huguenot jokes. No "There was this atheist, this Jew and this Huguenot, and...." Hardly anybody can even spell Huguenot, and the British pronounce it HYU-ghe-no, as opposed to the way we say it (HYU-ghenaht). How can you stereo-type a people you can't even pronounce? Besides, what red-blooded American believes that Protestants could be discriminated against?
But, you see, we Huguenots were the minority in France, and it was the majority who gave us something of an option: Leave or get burned at the stake. But still: I am (was) French, and—Hallelujah!—here were my people (my bloods) in the World Cup final. At last I knew what it was to feel like an Irishman or an Italian or a Jew or a Puerto Rican! Ich bin ein minority!
Of course, there was a certain amount of angst, of conflict. After all, it was the forefathers of Les Bleus who wanted to burn my ancestors at the stake. Besides, nobody likes the French. All my life, because I cleverly, deceitfully pass as non-French, people have dissed the French right in front of me, unaware of my deep, wounded feelings. For everybody who's insecure, the French are fair game to kick around. And I have had to put up with this cruel slander. Of course, I don't much like the French either. But it's the principle of the thing. It's the only heritage I've got, even if they did want to burn me at the stake. Nobody's perfect.
Every now and then I have met another Huguenot—but it's not easy to tell. It doesn't say Huguenot on your driver's license. There are no Huguenot bars. But: Frank Perdue, the chicken man, revealed to me that he is a fellow Huguenot. So did Pete Rozelle, the late pro football commissioner. Then there's Brokaw—although he does not seem to have come out as a Huguenot.
Then...last week: France trois, Brazil zero. At last, my country of origin had won the World Cup. Everybody was trilling, "Vive la France!" The nouveau fans were climbing on the Gallic bandwagon. Now, for the first time in my life, I could be one with my glorious heritage. I could stand on the rooftops and belt out La Marseillaise. I could be Dufour again. "Bonjour, mes amis!" I cried down at the Sunoco station.
Moreover, much was made of the French being so heterogeneous, so tolerant. It was Frenchmen of Algerian descent, Frenchmen from Guadeloupe who had won the Cup. The tricolor was, suddenly, a veritable Jesse Jacksonian rainbow.
Of course, for all the patriotic speeches in Paris, all the self-congratulation—nowhere any apologies to the Huguenots. Nowhere even a mention of Huguenots. No room in the rainbow. All my hopes for financial reparations or for being allowed to build a casino on the French land that used to belong to my family—dashed. After a lifetime of waiting to be taken back into the embrace of the land of my fathers, the World Cup had shown me that, alas, Huguenot eyes can never smile. I'll never be stereotyped like all those Americans with another past, an alternative persona. I'll never be a Dufour. I'm stuck as old Deford. Anglicized name, Americanized body. Forever.