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:
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.