Sunday, May 23, 2010

American Music is in my Sou-ou-ou-oul, Babyeee...*

I was at a party last weekend with a very international crowd: the hostess was Italian along with many of her guests and there were guests from Japan, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Guatemala, Peru, and probably other countries I'm forgetting. And, of course, there were Americans including me. Several of these Americans were part of Fieri, an Italian-American young professionals organization. Which brings me to my post topic.


I got in a bit of a heated discussionwith the woman from Romania who was essentially laughing at how Americans claim their heritage, such as being Italian-American. This was after I explained that I'm Italian, Polish, Slovak, and Slovenian. "You are all Americans, nothing else," she said. "You don't even speak the language."  I vehemently defended us, saying she just couldn't understand since she wasn't American.


I explained that while, yes, first and foremost, I and my fellow members of the Italian-American group were Americans, our heritage also defines us. Our families act differently, eat differently, and have other differences from, say, someone whose family came over on the Mayflower or from a Cuban American (this is in my mind now, having just come from Miami!) or a Chinese-American.


I found the funniest part to be when her partner (husband?) who was American (of Russian descent) said "Well, then, you've been here ten years. You're no longer Romanian." :)


This conversation stuck in my mind long after the party. I thought a lot about how so many people, from different cultures can come together and make a country. It makes me incredibly patriotic to think about it. There are so many cultures--both from every immigrant that has entered America hoping for a better life and that exist within our own nation now. For example, people identify as "Southern" or a "New Englander" or a "Pittsburgher" and this means something, becomes part of our being.


I just find it amazing that wave after wave of immigrants have come here against all odds, and bring the best of their culture to share, and eventually, America embraces them and makes them her own. We're tied together by belief in working hard, in belief in a better way of life, in belief of freedom and that despite the flaws, a life with freedom and justice is better than one without. We have pizza and tacos and bagels and vodka and egg rolls, among other culinary treats. American music, too, is an amalgam of every culture that has passed through, from that of those slaves brought here from Africa against their will to the salsa beat of those from Latin America.


I'm far from hearts and sunshine when I think about America--there are many problems and things that need fixing--but it's a pretty amazing experiment we have here, and one that I'm proud of despite the flaws.  


*apologies to Violent Femmes. Trying to be cutesy in post titles ends dangerously.

3 comments:

  1. I'm whole-heartedly with you. I think that America's diversity & embrace of change is what has made us so successful in such a relatively short existence. I just wish that Americans whose families have been here a long time would remember that they, too, started as immigrants.

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  2. I can't help but think that there's a bit of resentment (maybe even jealousy) when a European comes here and disparages our love of hyphenated ancestries. A few of the western nations have become a bit more like melting pots in recent decades, but even a diverse nation like the UK is still over 90% Briton-born. They just cannot claim an ethnic pastiche in the way that we do, and our "culture" (which many Europeans perceive as an absence of the word in the States) depends upon the amalgamation that you speak of.
    Then again, I'm sure it would be to your poster Kim's chagrin that for a significant number of Americans (nearly one-fifth), when asked by the Census what their country of origin is, simply respond "American". This comprises a majority of the population in the states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas, so it hardly characterizes states with a large Native American population.

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  3. Well said, both of you. I really think it was kind of ridiculous that this particular woman said that because having lived here for 10 years, you would think that she has experienced this for herself. I can better understand a European living in Europe saying this, where it's easier to gloss over the subtleties that make America what it is and say that America is just hamburgers, crime, movies, and shopping malls. Oh, and even more ridiculous is that she works for the African American history museum, if I remember correctly!
    And Eric, I think you mean ancestry or something--isn't country of origin for actual immigrants? If it isn't then I need to go back and change some data!

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