Friday, July 17, 2009

what we claim

I've taught a class that discusses media images of underrepresented groups this summer. To add perspective I've invited as guest graduates of the department, former students who a few years out of school are eager to come back and talk. They even admit to missing school...

Erika, one of the young women who came in last week, reminded me of something that had happened in one of her classes a couple of years ago.

I often ask students how they identify - how they choose to label themselves. There is a pattern: Very few white Americans identify as "American" when they're in the US. Instead they refer to their countries of origin, and may say that they are Irish and Italian, Irish and German, French, or Portuguese, even if they have never visited any of those countries and their families have been American citizens for generations. It's an interesting phenomenon, and often the focus of several class discussions. It is odd that white people, who in many ways feel the most ownership of the country, and who enjoy privilege and positions of symbolic power, do not talk about themselves as American.

Erika remembered that she had been the only one in her class of 30 or so students, a predominantly white group, to use the word "American". She referred to herself as Mexican-American. Her parents are both immigrants from Mexico, but, she says, "I was born here, I am American".

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