Intercultural Communication

Course Website for Tunghai FLLD Seminar

Article on “hyphenated” labels for ethnic groups

Posted by thuicc on August 27, 2008

Saw this article via H-USA, an e-mail list I’m a member of:

Does the institutionalized usage of hyphenated-nationalities help, hurt, or distract a country from more pertinent issues?

America is a country of immigrants.

One side of the American street prides itself on not seeing the person as a combination of ancestral ethnicities but, instead, each individual becomes a culmination of their life experiences.

The other side of the American street takes pride in the achievements of their ancestors and believe their ancestor’s struggles, sacrifices and oppressions are intrinsic to who they are and how America treats/sees them.

This boulevard of contrasting views pervades most aspects of American social laws and policies. Almost every social issue faced by our judicial and/or legislative bodies, on national, state and local levels, have an ethnic/racial purpose or impact and we spend inordinate amounts of time debating, protesting, defending, and balancing these facets.

There is the beginnings of a new movement within our country to re-think the use of ethnic qualifiers to the American nationality. African-American, Hispanic-American, or
your-ethnicity-goes-here-DASH-American is of questionable benefit to the nation’s social fabric and, debatably of course, does more harm to national unity than good.  This same debate was part of the nation’s conversation at the turn of the 20th century when it was the German-Americans, Irish-Americans, and Polish-Americans that qualified their nationality.

In many aspects, where America goes, so goes the world.  Before any other country steps into this pit of social identities, there are some questions the people of that country should ponder:

  1. Are institutionalized hyphenated-nationalities  good for a country’s unity and socio-mentality or is it an institutionalized contradiction to the term “nationality”?
  2. Can you belong to more than one country and, if so, what happens when the two countries have conflicting policies?
  3. Can you maintain the cultures and customs of your ancestral homelands while still assimilating fully into your birth country?
  4. Does the use of hyphenated-nationalities proclaim an aversion to the idea of assimilation?
  5. Is the use of the hyphenated qualification a two edged sword that cuts both ways?  In other words, can you expect your country to treat you different because of your hyphenation but treat you the same despite your hyphenation?

What are the ideas of migration researchers in these points? What influence does the use of hyphenated labels by migration researchers have?

William Myrick Thomas
dolarbil@gmail.com
www.dropthedash.com/fusion/html/links.html

What do you think? Is the author addressing an important point? Check out the website and see what you think. (Note: I don’t necessarily agree with him myself…)

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2 Responses to “Article on “hyphenated” labels for ethnic groups”

  1. It is refreshing to see this issue referenced in so many other forums. It is disappointing to see no comments entered. 😉

    I noticed you said you do not neccessarily agree with me and I was hoping this comment could start an exchange with you. I embrace all debates as long as they can remain civil. I know this can be a sensitive subject with many people but, in my opinion, that is one of the problems. We have become so ethno-sensitive (understandably so based on the recent racial past of the US but not understandable considering the future of our children is at stake) that to engage in debates on this subject often times brings out more anger than insight.

    I look forward to our conversation.

  2. Eloise said

    Its a great topic for a discussion. I’m surprised you didn’t get responses from crazy reactionaries. But, as you’ve noted, even thoughtful people are afraid of making themselves vulnerable by weighing in honestly on this topic.

    My idea is that the reason hyphenated names are popular has less to do with “belonging” to the hyphenated nationality than the desire to feel special/unique and to stand out from the crowd. Identifying with a foreign nationality while co-opting the dominant culture provides the best of both worlds. Paradoxically, the desire to express individuality is a a very American trait. Perhaps you allude to this in your fifth point.

    I don’t think the practice of nationality hyphenation will end any time soon. I do wonder if the practice is equally distributed among first and later generation immigrants or if the number of generations in the US dampens the enthusiasm for identity hyphens.

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