By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Our Primary American Reality

Statue of Liberty in New York seen from its ba...Image via WikipediaSince the 1970's, there has been a trend in the U.S. of rediscovering and emphasizing one's ethnic roots, even to the point of dictating the very names that we give our children. There is something to be said in favor of that: as one of my favorite philosophers, Ortega y Gasset, wrote long ago, we engage the world through the prism and perspective of our very particular historical identities, traditions, and cultures.

Yet, it seems to me that it may be getting too easy to forget our very real, common American identity and, maybe, to overemphasize our ethnic identities--identities which at times seem to me to be more a matter of wishful thinking by polyglot, ethnically mixed Americans trying to concoct an ethnic identity which is, in reality, quite culturally distant and even, at times, somewhat implausibly maintained given the vast ethnic intermixture which has always been the American experience.

Here are some words of Theodore Roosevelt which came to mind to me on this July 4th. They can serve as a balance to our tendency to create our separate, quasi-fictional worlds, separate worlds that sometimes seem more imaginary in character than realistic and true to our actual circumstances. The excerpt below is from the Wikipedia article "Hyphenated Americans":

Former President Theodore Roosevelt in speaking to the largely Irish Catholic Knights of Columbus at Carnegie Hall on Columbus Day 1915, asserted that,[3]
There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all... The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality, than with the other citizens of the American Republic... There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.
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That's quite a forceful statement without much, if any, nuance. (TR was not one to go much for nuance, anyway, and certainly had his share of defects of character and blind spots.) But, maybe, this balancing view is a necessary corrective to consider as our own imaginations sometimes blind us to our primary and most realistic circumstance as privileged citizens of the United States: the fundamental reality of simply being American. That is an identity much envied throughout the nations and continents from which our ancestors came.

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