Monday, October 10, 2005

History of the term "Hyphenated American" (part 2)

The term "hyphenated American" was popularized in the 1910s by President Theodore Roosevelt, responding to the increasing fractionalization within the nation along ethnic lines. In an October 12, 1915 speech to the Knights of Columbus, Roosevelt said, "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." Isn't it interesting, that as Roosevelt went through the list of potential hypen's (German, Irish, English, French, Scandinavian and Italian), he left out any group with a darker hued skin including but not limited to Native-, African-, latino-, hispanic-, mexcian Americans. Why did he do that? Why was it so important to him that lighter hued people all be identified as "American's" only? What did this country lose when German's ceased to be German and Irish ceased to be Irish...? "President Woodrow Wilson also regarded those whom he termed "hyphenated Americans" (German-Americans, Irish-Americans, etc.) with suspicion, saying, "Any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready." Does it suprise you that there was a time when "white's" were hyphenated-Americnan's too? And it was in the midst of all this that an American original being born--Jazz. (quotes from Wikipedia.com)

9 Comments:

Blogger Phil said...

Nope, doesn't surprise me at all. Even further back than that, it was Northern Americans and Southern Americans, and even further back than that, it was Virginians and Pennsylvanians and Georgians and Rhode Islanders.

9:20 PM  
Blogger Pete Gall said...

How does it strike you, JT, that the implicaton from the presidents is that people who were using the hyphens were holding something back - from the country and ultimately from their engagement with the realities surrounding them?

There is no question that the list ignores a great many people and is Euro-centric. There is little question that non-Europeans tended not to be invited into the fold. But is that blindness really an insurmountable snub worth predicating as much upon as has been?

Who owns America? Who gets to claim its definition? Is it as simple as being the person who has a seat of power and extends an invitation, or is that just a rare instance of someone casting a wider net than their own niche (sort of)?

To what extent has the sense of outsider-ness been fostered and self-perpetuated? Jazz kept to itself instead of mingling further and inviting beyond itself? Withholding clung to so fiercely as to become an idol? Pain vaunted and hidden behind? And even sought out in a wicked self-fulfilling prophecy?

You've spoken of jazz standards - rules that govern the interplay between musicians. Is one of those rules that those who seek to interact would seek to add value to the ensemble? That they would seek not to disappear into the group, but compliment it?

And what then of the musician who, however talented, belittles the ensemble or blows out of time, or sets up his own racket and calls that an alternative? How does the jazz community respond to hecklers?

What level of conformity is required for ANY ensemble to play well together?

Is a person a saxophone player, a jazz saxophone player, a jazz musician, or a musician?

I think what I hear is that traditional church folk would be the saxophone player (unconcerned with different instruments). The emergent church would be the jazz saxophone player - aware of the others, but still fixated on self. I think you're hoping for a place where people are jazz musicians - bringing their abilities into concert with one another, able to listen and respond...but having agreed to work to play together. Beyond the Church are musicians, undefined and unsure what to call music because the standards and definitions are missing...so maybe all noise is music.

I wonder if the invitations from the presidents may not be the move from prioritization of personal instrument to submission to the ensemble.

8:59 AM  
Blogger voixdange said...

Does it suprise you that there was a time when "white's" were hyphenated-Americnan's too?


"Irish Need not apply."

Nope.

12:12 PM  
Blogger jazztheo said...

Pete,

I'm not sure how to reply...I'm assuming the more than a dozen questions are rhetorical, if not I just don't know where to start. I can join you in your last sentence and "wonder if the invitations from the presidents may not be the move from prioritization of personal instrument to submission to the ensemble."

12:58 PM  
Blogger Pete Gall said...

Is jazz a rejection of the inviation to join the ensemble?

Is the hyphen, the minus sign, a representation of the portion of oneself held back from community?

I'm NOT saying that it is. And my previous post was not intended as assertion so much as a laying out of a hunch for you to help me see through your lens.

I value what you have to say and your wisdom tremendously...hopefully I'm not asking too vigorously or rudely.

1:49 PM  
Blogger jazztheo said...

I don't think that jazz is a rejection of the invitation but rather a move towards community inspite of the rejection.

I look at what these presidents did and I think that they were men of their times, seeking to lead America at a time of massive immigration. They saw a need to bring the country together. Their view of the country simply left out a lot of people.

The American experiment asked Europeans to give up who they were, and now I wonder if it was worth it.

Secondly, as those left out of the original invitation, start choosing hyphenated Americanism, are we un-american.

I have three more posts in this discussion...tomorrow we look at the African-American tension, what happened in jazz and then most importanly what does all of this have to do about our approach of God...the way we do theology.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous scott said...

Rocky Mountain News columnist Paul Campos recently commented on his ambivilance toward trumpeting his hispanic heritage:

"Identity politics in general, and ethnic pride in particular, is a subject beset by all sorts of ironies. For one thing, it's always seemed to me somewhat unfortunate that people are driven to take pride in their ethnic background. Taking pride in being a member of Group X is almost always a reaction to Group X finding itself in a culture in which Group X is treated as being in some way inferior.

Thus everyone would recognize the absurdity of white males taking pride in the appointment of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. Indeed people react with pity and disgust to people who take pride in being white, since it's understood that people take pride in belonging to a culture's dominant ethnic group only when they have nothing else to be proud of."

Campos went on to comment on the current furor in Denver over Italian-Americans organizing a Columbus day parade, saying it was almost an anachronism. While Italians may have been at one time a marginalized group in America, needing to elevate their status and story, this is no longer the case. As part of an ethnicity now well in the mainstream, their parade agenda seems quirky at best and offensive at worst. Even wackier is the alleged case of a white man (Ward Churchill) pretending to be a member of a minority group (Native American), and making a career out of plagiarized protests against oppression.

As for me: I grew up without any ethnic consciousness whatever--ironically, a possibility afforded me precisely because I was a white child in rural Colorado. In the same way that I learned most profoundly what it means to be an American by living overseas, I have learned most about my whiteness by living in an urban neighborhood among people of color. I now can read those meanings (nationality, culture, ethnicity) back into my story and heritage, and there are insights to be gained by doing so. But I've only come lately to that project, and for reasons Campos mentions I'm ambivalent about reinforcing my identity as white or american or a hyphen of the two.

Does that leave me simply as an individual? If so, what could be more white american than that? Ah, the irony... and hence my own ambiguity... my own hyphen?

7:21 PM  
Blogger jazztheo said...

hyphens, hyphens everywhere...Scott, I had not read the Campos column, thanks.

7:34 PM  
Blogger Katie's Dad said...

Isn't it interesting, that as Roosevelt went through the list of potential hypen's (German, Irish, English, French, Scandinavian and Italian), he left out any group with a darker hued skin including but not limited to Native-, African-, latino-, hispanic-, mexcian Americans. Why did he do that? Why was it so important to him that lighter hued people all be identified as "American's" only?

Your premise is faulty.

First of all, "Native Americans" were not citizens and could not be naturalized until after the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which was after TR's and WW's comments. There were no hyphenated African Americans at the time. Black Americans were called either "negros" or "coloreds" or "Americans," depending upon who was doing the talking. As far as latinos or hispanics or whatever you want to call them, they were not considered "hypenated" because, with a few geographic exceptions, there were not enough of them to matter for point of discussion. The legacy of this is that our census does not count "hispanic/latino" as a race; thus, they count toward the black or white populations, depending upon how each latino identifies his or herself.

Further, the Knights of Columbus is a Catholic organization and at the time was made up almost exclusively of first, second and third generation Americans who either came from the various European nations Roosevelt named, or were otherwise descended from people who originated there.

So, your premise that Roosevelt was somehow prejudiced in his speech is an uninformed one. He was making a point to his audience in a manner that would connect with them. There were no blacks, hispanics or arabs in the room. Why would he have diluted his message by including them?

What did this country lose when German's ceased to be German and Irish ceased to be Irish...?

It lost nothing. It avoided balkanization thanks to the process of community-level enforced Americanization. Unfortunately, we've ditched that practice in favor of multiculturalism and "diversity is our strength" nonsense, as if these concepts are long-held American values. They're not, they're post mid-1960's quasi-socialist inventions.

"President Woodrow Wilson also regarded those whom he termed "hyphenated Americans" (German-Americans, Irish-Americans, etc.) with suspicion, saying, "Any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready."

This quote comes from you again out of context. Wilson said this in a speech in which he was trying to get his "League of Nations" together, the precursor to todays United Nations. He was speaking shortly after the end of WWI. Anyone who openly called themselves a hyphenated American of any sort would surely have been viewed with suspicion. He was stating what the vast majority of Americans of the day considered to be fact. Further, this nation was only five years from embracing the 1924 Immigration Act, which came as close to shutting immigration off entirely than any legislative act in our history. It was a time in which assimilation and Americanization were enforced by the majority. American Civics classes were imposed up all public schools.

Does it suprise you that there was a time when "white's" were hyphenated-Americnan's too?

I sincerely hope that this is not an actual revelation for you. Especially after the 1924 Act, this nation was moving toward being more united than it had been before. It makes perfect sense that a the lovely contribution from the "negro" community that jazz represents would have been more easily embraced and popularized during this period. Of course, the emergence of radio and the mass distribution of the phonograph helped create a synchronicity that surely helped jazz along.

11:07 AM  

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