Photo credit: @julesdwit.
A not-for-profit media organization supported by people like you.
What does being an American mean to Baratunde?
May's weekly guest is comedian and blogger Baratunde Thurston.
May's weekly guest is Baratunde Thurston - comedian, politics watcher, and web editor for The Onion. He offers his take on the latest news, the media world, and American identity in 2010. This week: What's Up With Arizona?
What does it mean to be an American to you? Tell us how you define it.
While not quite articulating what "American" means, I am with Michael from Manhattan in that I too am "Native American" - my ancestors were Incas before the Spanish "took over" South America - but there are no forms that ask me about this part of my heritage... As far as the "melting pot" - years ago I thought that was a great thing until I learned it actually meant we all "melded" together to make one group, not actually recognizing the various facets of our different cultures...
I know exactly where Sarah is coming from. I'm a Brazilian who was brought to the US at the age of 6, returned to Brazil at 14 and then came back to the US on my own at 21. During my entire adolescence, I dreamed of coming back to a cleaner, organized and uncorrupted country, only to find the mess that she describes. I have since naturalized, but I'm also very proud of being Brazilian and hold onto both passports. I have also lived in England, France and Japan. What galls me most is when Americans who haven't been anywhere, especially out there in 'Ohidaho' still adamantly chant the "We're No. 1" mantra while other countries pass us by...
I'm an immigrant from a Pacific Island country. From my external point of view, "American" means someone from the Americas; Brazilians and Candians have just as much right to claim that identity as USans. The question of a unifying American identity is therefore more than a little bemusing.
Identity is always changing, changed with every wave of immigrants that came from Europe, with the slaves brought from Africa, and with all the population already existing in the South that was Spaniard. Being American changes from latitude to latitude, and it depends a lot who you ask. I'm a Mexican woman married to a Jewish man and with a toddler adding to the mix; to me, being American is accepting that change is something natural that we cannot stop, so let's celebrate rather than fight what is already in process.
Historically, most multi-ethnic empires and states eventually fragmented, from the time of the Roman Empire right up to the USSR. Even democratic Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. There are few exceptions, like Switzerland, which is possibly the world's oldest existing democracy, so there is some hope that democracy as a system might be able to accomplish what few others have. That is, to keep a multi-ethnic, multiracial, multi-religious society, each of them a minority, together as a functioning, prosperous and strong state. But the US is an experiment that hasn't really been around long enough to draw any final conclusions from yet. It will probably take another century or so to prove that the bond of democracy is sufficiently strong enough to keep such a diverse group united in peace.
I would like to point out that Hispanic culture comes from Spain, a white European country. But all sides seem to find it convenient to look at illegal immigration through the prism of racial politics. It would be too incovenient to look at it as a fight among ourselves.
The one thing all sides have in common is the pointing of fingers. No one wants to talk about their own responsibility; they want to point at some other person who is really bad. "You're bad because you want to call me illegal." "You're bad because you do not have a visa." What about taking responsibility? "You do have a point that I broke the law." "You do have a point that I enjoy the benefits of cheap, under-the-table labor."
Being an American means that among other freedoms and rights I can express my views and opinions in a forum such as this one.
I am a black immigrant looking to apply for citizenship this year, and that caller's comment from Farmingdale totally disturbed me. What is "white Identity" anyway? does it mean that I'm going to have to forget about my own identity and lineage and adopt a "white identity" after I become a citizen? if so why doesnt the US apply to become part of the EU? its comment like this that makes minorities feel unwelcomed in this country.
I think baby boomers relate powerfully to the 50's and 60's as their America. We were taught that this was the "Greatest Nation on Earth", and that we were "The Melting Pot". People came here to participate in America, and the American Dream. Then multi-culturalism came into vogue. This profoundly undermined the process of self incorporation into the American mainstream, which has been defined by it's more European roots. Suddenly, the America that existed was pushed to the back burner. Illegal immigration is a war being fought largely without guns, and the America That Was is losing it. Whomever feels they stand for what we were taught to appreciate about this Country, from the recent past, can't help but feel it is slipping away - and that the future does not look as bright or wonderful as we expected.
Just a quick tangent, if I may indulge...
The country's identity was shaken most on 9/11. Ever since then, who is an American, what an American should be, and who is un-American has been fought over publicly, vociferously, in some cases violently, but in all cases to no resolve. But this is merely the latest layer of frosting on the multilayer cake that is America's history: immigration (legal and illegal) was a social problem in the 1860s, the 1900s, 1930s, 1970s, etc., and "un-Americanness" can be dated back to the Revolutionary War (although the Red Scare and McCarthyism should suffice).
Perhaps the reason why the so-called heartland has a problem with their identity being threatened by the influx of immigrants (again, legal or illegal) whereas the urban centers aren't having as big a conniption is because cities have been through this Gestalt before, adapted, and thrived.
ben franklin feared the germans that lived in the new USA would also change the culture for the worse
Rev Sharpton's point is Black American's do not view Mexican's as "taking their jobs" That is a media hyped view. I have never heard a Black person say that!
The first caller misses something on the white identity of America. Original non-white settlers aside, a large portion of those settlers, who would hardly be seen as Anglo-white, were Spanish speaking. The Spaniards.Also, Africans have been here, albeit as chattel, nearly as long as Europeans and Asians helped settle the west. But I guess the Anglo-whites did it single handedly. (Except for those unwanted Italians, Irish, and Germans who tainted America back in the 1800-1900s)
I'm multi-ethnic, which, while I grew up, I thought was quintessentially American, a great example of the "great melting pot" I was told about. I'm a tax-paying citizen of this country. I contribute to society. I am entitled to all the rights and benefits of any other citizen of this country. Which is why I'm bewildered by the continuous hysterical babbling by people who think the American identity is white. What?????
I am a Native American.. The Mexican immigrants here in NYC are Native Americans too. They were here for thousands of years before these borders were put up and they have the right of return to re nativeize the USA.
Come on! Do you really think our country was ever pure? Start with the new biography of Aaron Burr, and check out the section on the national election of 1800. Have we ever learned anything - at all????
There is no "white identity" associated with America! Ask any Native American.
We were driving into Manhattan on the Bruckner today when we saw a sign, painted in six foot letters on the side of a building in the Bronx, that read, "NO HUMAN BEING IS ILLEGAL." Hope it stays there.
White identity? What is that? Generally, as I noted in another post today, I'm "white." Yet as a southern Italian -- I am not Norwegian. Many people from my background were victims of ethnic discrimination at the turn of the 20th Century, and were at that time characterized as "non-white" and therefore "dangerous" to the putative American gene pool. Now it's 2010 Are Asian's "white?" Spaniards? Iraqis?
Your caller -- John -- is very confused. Clearly, what he fears are those whom he suspects, probably incorrectly, do not share his values -- namely, Mexicans, Central and South-Americans, and African-Americans.
White identity = master race?
I pay my taxes and obey the law, and am therefore a contributing citizen of this country. I am entitled to all the rights and respect due to any citizen of this country. I am multi-ethnic, and always thought I was the fruit of the "great melting pot" that america was supposed to be, and I'm frankly bewildered by this white American identity these people contine to babble hysterically about.
I feel that the reason that Arizona has rushed this anti immigrant law to the forefront is to intimidate the Hispanic population in an attempt to have them exclude themselves from the census count. it is no accident that the law gets passed as census workers are out and trying to count these populations. This law has frightened people and led to the census workers jobs being made much harder . This is what white Arizonians want, to make sure they keep their dominance in the state a bit longer.
Would Arizonians be happier if African Americans grouped together on street corners waiting to be picked up for work?
I think the Native Americans might have a differing opinion of America's lost "White identity."
The guy's from Farmingdale. I'm from Farmingdale. He's reminding me of why I never went back.
There is already a pathetic 287 program (which deputizes state authorities to do immigration work). How does the Utah law differ from this?
Brian, thanks for calling that last caller out on his ideas of "white identity". I'm embarrassed to be from the same town (originally) as this racist idiot.
Your guest hit the nail on the head. This law makes undocumented people afraid to seek help. What if the hero Muslim immigrant that alerted police in the Time Square bombing attempt had been too afraid to call the police for help?
Wow, this caller is disturbing!
Well, to me, as a Colombian (that is as an American in its original sense), when people say "American" to refer to US citizens, the term gets charged with imperialistic tones. I wonder how a term that refered to the inhabitants of a whole continent extending from Canada to Cape Horn became a term to refer to just a part of that continent. Power?
Email addresses are required but never displayed.
Brian Lehrer leads the conversation about what matters most now in local and national politics, our own communities and our lives.
Subscribe on iTunes
Brian Lehrer Weekend: Mad Men's Matt Weiner, Ira Glass & Sarah Koenig, '04 Food
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio
stations, broadcasting the finest programs from NPR and PRI, as well as a wide range of award-winning local
programming. WNYC is a division of
New York Public Radio.