Marie’s comment on my last blog post:
“I think a problem that a lot of multi-generation white Americans face is that they've lost their own culture/heritage/community. Whenever I try to claim, say, Italian (five generations back to the boat), my lovely British fiancé basically tells me to shut up because I'm American and that's the end of it. After all those years of assimilation, we whities have lost something valuable in exchange for fitting in. Those little white kids probably got excited at the opportunity to recognize where their own ancestors came from - however uneducated they may be on what their great-great-grandparents' culture actually is. I'm guessing they have no community to identify with other than the WASP community, which, let's face it, is pretty boring. Then again, they're also like six.”
I have many thoughts on this but b/c i'm trying to finish my thesis, here are some preliminary and rushed thoughts:
"my lovely British fiancé basically tells me to shut up because I'm American and that's the end of it. "
I think there is a globally powerful notion of “American”.
Even when children of immigrants or immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for 20+ years go visit their home country, this happens (at least I know, especially in Asian countries). I know Korean Americans who grew up in predominantly Korean American communities, speak flawless Korean, go to Korea and try to act “Korean” (whatever that means) and still get outed as an American. It can be pretty devastating to have two countries tell you, “Go back to where you came from.”
“Those little white kids probably got excited at the opportunity to recognize where their own ancestors came from - however uneducated they may be on what their great-great-grandparents' culture actually is”
I’m not so sure that knowing a lot about your ancestral culture has a whole lot to do w/ being a ______ American. I try very, very hard not to dismiss people as “white-washed” b/c they don’t know a lot about their ancestral history or the history of their people in the U.S. As someone who only found 6 lines about Korea in her ENTIRE K-12 education and ZERO lines about Korean American history or Asian American history, I am pretty sympathetic. That said, that doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t meet folks and think, “You need to go ask your parents or read a book.” Some of what I do think matters in identity politics is the following (piggy back off of Peggy McIntosh):
Do you primarily identify yourself as Korean/ Arab/ Italian/ German/ etc American or an American?
When there is an international situation or national situation involving the country of your ancestors in what ways are you as a Korean/ Arab,/ Italian/ French/ whatever American affected? Examples range from WWII & Japanese Internment; 9/11& illegal detainment of Arab-Americans,/ racial profiling, illegal campaign contributions from China and donor investigations into Chinese Americans, and just generally stupid questions like, “So tell me about the nuclear weapons in North Korea, do you think they really exist?”
In general, is your loyalty to the U.S. ever questioned b/c of the way you physical racial/ ethnic attributes?
When you write/ direct/ create any form of art, are you pretty sure your ancestral heritage will be mentioned in any reviews? Are people from your ethnic community going to evaluate you on whether or not you are accurately representing them?
Do people want to know when you last visited the country of your ancestors or ask if/ expect you to speak that language?
I think those questions can clarify what it really means to claim a hyphenated identity (even though I don’t hyphenate Asian American), especially in terms of social and political repercussions. Basically, it is frustrating to hear people claim ethnic American identities when it is something they can CHOOSE to reveal and even then it doesn’t change much about their position in society.
“I'm guessing they have no community to identify with other than the WASP community, which, let's face it, is pretty boring.”
Renato Rosaldo writes about the importance of visibilizing and naming white American culture. I have often heard my white students and my white colleagues talk about feeling left out of “multicultural days”. Well, my obvious response was, Now you know how we feel year-round! J/k… kinda…* Basically, he problemitizes the idea of white Americans feeling cultureless. Rosaldo critiques the anthropologic value in studying the Other (particularly in search of “pure” culture). He highlights the importance of understanding the existence, behaviors, and practices of white American culture. I’ve only read excerpts of Rosaldo but have really enjoyed his arguments. I have also seen many books on similar topics at Cody’s which I hope to read this summer.
“Then again, they're also like six.” Yup. Even with high school students or adults topics like this can be difficult to articulate and difficult to understand. sigh
* anyway, these days are problematic also for the students it is supposed to uplift. it usually is only cool to bring cultural food that would be the least visually unusual and has a neutral and mild taste or smell, basically letting me know that you can be a little bit ethnic, but not TOO ethnic.