Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Real Americans

I've been meaning to chime in about the topic of patriotism and the rhetoric coming out of the Republican party about who "qualifies as a "real" American, about which sections of the country are pro-America, and about who gets considered "anti-American" versus who is a "true" American.

And it reminded me about the following quote from a novel I'm currently teaching, My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki:

“Where are you from, anyway?” he asked, squinting his bitter blue eyes at me.
“New York,” I answered.
He shook his head and glared and wiggled a crooked finger inches from my face.
“No, I mean where were you born?”
“Quam, Minnesota,” I said.
“No, no . . . What are you?” He whined with frustration.
And in a voice that was low, but shivering with demented pride, I told him,
“I . . . am . . . a . . . fucking . . . AMERICAN!” [italics in-text] (Ozeki 11)

The sentiments expressed by the protagonist of this novel, Jane Takagi-Little, are ones I COMPLETELY identify with--and which I recently blogged about.

And this is a theme that recurs for many Asian Americans (and other immigrant groups as well, particularly non-white immigrant groups). That somehow, because we are not white, because we are "hyphenated" Americans, we are not "real" Americans.

This theme has certainly replayed throughout history--the Japanese American internment was in large part based on the belief that Japanese Americans were not loyal to the U.S. but instead were "foreign enemy aliens"--even if they were born and raised in the U.S.

So I take particular offense at the rhetoric coming out of the Republican party and by Sarah Palin, Robin Hayes, and Michelle Bachman specifically. Because the idea that somehow I'm not a real American because I have an Asian face, because I was born in NYC and raised in CA (ie: NOT in the heartland of the U.S.), and because I'm a liberal academic elite--that these markers somehow mean that I am anti-American, unpatriotic, and "fake"--I just find that repugnant. And insulting. And demeaning. And wrong.

I do not wear a flag pin. I do not pledge allegiance to a flag in my classroom. I do not write in this blog that I love America. But none of these things disqualifies me from being an American. And neither does my dissent of the opinions of the current administration. Or my critique of race in America. Or my criticisms of America in general. In fact, as I've said countless times in other blog posts, dissent is one of the most American things I can think of. Dissent in a respectful way. In a way made to push us to be better. To do better.

I am an American. A real American. And there are times when I do feel pride in my national affiliation. And there are times when I feel shame and sorrow. But throughout it all, I do appreciate being able to feel both pride and shame, and to express these in this blog, in my class, in my research, and in my day to day life. And anyone who says otherwise does not know American history and does not appreciate true American diversity. And so you have to wonder, how "American" can THAT person be?

Now, don't take my word. Check out these other posts by people writing on very similar issues:

*New York Times Op-Ed columnist Frank Rich writes a great opinion piece, "In Defense of White Americans" that is an elegant deconstruction of Republican rhetoric and the disservice it does to white Americans in thinking that race baiting will work.

*My blogging sister, Tami of What Tami Said has hit the big time and has a post of hers featured in The Huffington Post, "Middle Americans Are Not Just White, Christian, Working Class Folk." As usual, Tami's eloquence and rhetorical fire leaves me feeling hugely impressed.

*Poplicks takes on the McCain volunteer who used the classic "black male attacker" stereotype as a last ditch effort to get her candidate elected.

And finally here's an appeal from Opie/Richie Cunningham/Ron Howard:

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

By the way, for all you regular readers, I'm heading to a conference tomorrow and will be without reliable internet until Election Day, so please bear with me on publishing comments or responding to comments or writing new blog posts. I'm sure I'll have LOTS to write about come Wednesday, November 5.


Anonymous said...

A real American can be of any race the problem with hyphenating anything it draws away from what it means to be an American. My wife when she is able to become an American citizen will be an American not a xy or z-American. Our children will be American they'll be biracial so not belonging to any race (which is a good thing) since race first allegiance is a divisive idea all in itself.

Anonymous said...

Could Sarah Palin also have been giving a hint that her husband is part Native American?

Todd Palin was born in Dillingham, Alaska, to James F. "Jim" Palin and his first wife, Blanche (Roberts) Kallstrom.[5] His father, a native of Seattle, Washington,[6] is a former general manager of Matanuska Electrical Association.[7] His mother, a former secretary of the Alaska Federation of Natives, is one-quarter Yup'ik, and his maternal grandmother, Helena (Bartman) Andree, is a member of the Curyung tribe.[8]

Very interesting to note. This of course makes all of Sarah Palin's children mixed contrary to any belief otherwise.

Jennifer said...

Palin's comments haven't been in the "real" American category so much as they've been in the "pro-America" category. Here's a quote reported in Huffington Post (among other sources) of Palin's remarks during a NC fund raiser:

"Being here with all of you hardworking, very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation. This is where we find the kindness and the goodness and the courage of everyday Americans,"

The contrast in the article is to more rural areas and states (N.C., Alaska) with urban cities and liberal elite enclaves (San Francisco, Washington DC, NY).

So no, I don't think this is a reference to her husband's American Indian background. IN fact, I'm sure she has made political hay out of his First Indian status/heritage, just as she's made hay out of so many other aspects of her family's life (continual reference to son in Iraq--and yes, I know, Biden does it too--but the McCain's take the cake with that "feel good" doc they made about "rescuing" and "saving" a poor, brown Bengladeshi baby from an orphanage and bringing her to the warm bosom of America through Cindy McCain.

The rhetoric of who counts as a real American is still one very much coded as racial (ie: white American)--even Indigenous populations, like Navajo, Inuit, Hawaiian, Aleiutian are not treated as the "real" Americans--they are romanticized into a proud people who some claim distance heritage with and thus a way to prove an ethnicity without the taint of too much racial coding (as in many people's claim to be "part" Cherokee--but it is entirely unclear whether that means your mother is Cherokee or whether your great-grandmother told your Dad that her great grandfather was Nez Pierce).

CVT said...

All I can say is it never fails to piss me off when all these white folks talk about how they're "part" Native American with such pride - while living a white, privileged life and doing absolutely NOTHING to preserve Native culture, restore Native land and rights, or anything else of that nature.

Why aren't those same people proudly claiming their "one-drop" of African blood (which they most likely have)? Why don't they even know what tribe they are affiliated with or know anything else about Native culture?

Because - claims aside - they are WHITE, and happily so.