Sunday, September 13, 2009

The United States: A Country of "Diasporas"

Of the various readings this week, Karim H. Karim's "Through the Lens of Diaspora" struck a cord with me. The United States is viewed as melting pot or a salad bowl, and how we became whichever of these terms you believe revel ant, is through the various Diasporas that have migrated here over the past hundreds of years. While the term Diaspora was originally referred to the Jewish migration out of Israel, it now refers to a growing list of ethnic communities that have left their "homeland" or geographic location to settle elsewhere. These Diaspora's vary in their level of connectivity to their original nation, leading Karim to make the argument that "transnational communication [is] affording individuals and groups the ability increasingly to remain in contact across countries and continents". Often, groups remain very connected to their heritage, while others attempt to fully assimilate into the "American" way of life. These Diaspora's lend themselves to an important part of the American political landscape and the American culture.

My last name, McCullough, is Scottish for "son of wild boar slayer" (I know, you are very jealous right now). My ancestry is composed mainly of German and Scottish peoples, with dashes and sprinklings of Native American thrown in for good measure. The German and English migrants can be argued to have fully acclimated into American life. While I am German, my family does not cook German food, celebrate holidays in typical German fashion, or even really know much about our own heritage. There is no push from political parties to win the "German" or "Scottish" vote, and there is not a strong connection between German-Americans and the country of Germany. It can be argued that German-Americans are not really German-Americans, but our rather just Americans due to the fact that most of us have lost any connection to our country and ancestry of origin.

As Karim discusses, the most well known Diaspora is the outpouring of Jewish people from Israel and other European countries following World War II. Unlike those of German or Scottish heritage, those of Jewish heritage maintain a very strong tie to their homeland. These strong ties have manifested themselves within every characteristic of the American political landscape. With strong lobby groups, including the most well known, AIPAC, political parties strive to win the Jewish vote. The American-Israel alliance is arguably one of the strongest, and this is only influenced further by the strong connection Jewish-Americans have to Israel. Jewish-Americans have probably not fully assimilated into American culture, as they maintain a strong relationship with their home country.

One of the largest Diaspora's is still occurring right now - the migration of immigrants from Mexico into the United States. Some of these are legal, some are illegal. This stresses the point that Karim makes, "Governmental systems have resisted the accommodation of people without fixed addresses". While we encourage legal immigration, we do not encourage illegal immigration. Most of these migrants have also not fully adapted the American lifestyle, clinging to their heritage and their home country. However, they have integrated into the American political system very well and there is always a debate between the political parties of who is going to win the Hispanic vote.

One of the founding principles of our country is the acceptance of other cultures and peoples that have migrated here through Diaspora's. While this enriches our culture in various ways, it continues to fragment our culture. Especially recently, differences continue to be the focal point, rather than the similarities that may unite us. Instead of uniting various cultures, they continue to be divided as people attach hyphenated names to the word American. We will never think of ourselves as just Americans, everyone will always think of themselves as whatever their hyphenated affiliation is + American.


  1. America certainly presents a unique example in terms of national identity, considering the fact that we are a nation of immigrants. For those of us whose families arrived in the U.S. 3 or 4 generations ago, we have probably never identified ourselves as anything but Americans. But for those that arrive today, by identifying with two countries are they providing a sign that they are not "fully adapted"? (Indeed, until anti-German feelings arose after WWI, German-American immigrants in the 1800s sustained their culture and language in the U.S through a series of broadly read German-language publications and even German-English schools.) I question how holding on to one's heritage and home country is a sign of not being fully adapted - particularly when you go on to say that these newer citizens are integrated participants in our political system. (If you mean they are active by voting, I'd consider that one of the ultimate signs of engagement in a society.) What defines a country's "lifestyle", and who determines how much/what aspects of that lifestyle an immigrant must adopt to be considered a member of the society?

  2. Liz, you pose some interesting questions that also relate to last weeks reading and some other blogs I read about how Americans dont really have a culture or don't think about culture as much as other nations. America is indeed a country of immigrants, a young country made up of people from all over the world, but I definitely think there is a culture here. Many immigrants hold on to their culture and there is a hyphen added. I am Mexican-American for example and my family and I moved to the US when I was 6. I hold onto my Mexican culture although I grew up in the U.S and I'm American by any standards. The interesting thing is that even if your ancestors came to this country two hundred years ago, you still want to know and you still keep that in mind, although you might not know that culture well, there is an inherent desire to at least know where you come from. Perhaps this part of the reason why many don't think about "American Culture'' because so many Americans have other cultures and want to keep these as well. There is definitely a culture here. It revolves around all those very early people who came here and settled and around the 'American' events, history and diverse peoples. Maybe Americans would be more conscious about the culture and other countries who think there is no culture here, if we celebrated the culture more and made more Americans conscious about it. I dont think Americans have 'culture' in mind that is why many dont think of it or don't think there is one at all.

  3. Another way to look at American culture is to consider that it is the multitude of diasporas (both historic and current) that make up our population and thus our culture. As Liz notes, what exactly does it mean to assimilate into American culture, when American culture itself is influenced by so many other cultures?
    I agree that "hyphen affiliations" can lead to fragmentations of society, and I think Elena makes a valid case for competing nationalisms in her blog post this week. But I also feel that it is the constant posing of certain populations as "other", both from without and within that group that contribute most to these fragmentations. I think the discussion would be better framed as, how can American culture INCLUDE all these influences, rather than seeing them as un-American or unassimilable, as "other".