The week before Columbus Day, the White Creativity bunch, all five of them, held a demonstration at Kalispell’s Depot Park. Aw, geez…
William and Helen Deutsch, my paternal grandparents, lived in Washington Heights on Manhattan, with a stunning view of the George Washington Bridge. There’s a little park across the street, where I was subjected to the Jewish Grandmother Parade cheek-pinching ritual every sunny Sunday.
In the early 70’s the park was still safe during daylight, and there would always be a klatch of old guys down there playing chess. So, I’d go play chess and kibitz. One of many things we kibitzed about, besides whether Montana had paved roads and television, was how my chess friends got those tattoos: “Were you in the Navy?”
“No, young man, I was in a camp.”
Playing good chess is tough when the sidebar discussion covers how a citizen could be shipped out and reduced to a numbered piece of meat, then killed. “But then, the Americans came, we came to America, and now we are Americans, too.”
I didn’t understand, not really, until both my grandparents and my chess buddies were all long gone. Maybe I wasn’t expected to. But could I forget? Never.
Trust me, I keep a very dark spot in my heart for neo-Aryans, right there with all the other ethnicists, racialists, separatists and/or bigots.
Face it, brownshirt wannabes aren’t the only “identity” or racial issue to be concerned about in America.
Why is it OK to be a “wise Latina woman” but not a wise white WASP? Why are T-shirts emblazoned with “Native Pride” acceptable while “White Pride” is not? Then there’s BET, for Black Entertainment Television. White Entertainment Television? Thank God, no, but why not? Really?
What about all this blank-hyphenated-American stuff? Why do we have, just under the “A’s,” African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, Armenian-Americans, but not Aryan-Americans? Yeah, I know why, but why are any of them acceptable, when none should be?
Hyphenation isn’t unique to the United States. Take French-Canadians. While the English version of “O Canada” ends “we stand on guard for thee” – in essence, “we” promise to defend Canada – the translated French version ends “will protect our homes and our rights” and sings completely different. No wonder the issue of Quebecois separatism won’t go away.
Nor is hyphenated identification a new issue. In 1915, Teddy Roosevelt, seeking to address the split loyalties of Irish immigrants (Ireland was neutral in the Great War and rebelling against England) and members of the German-American Bund, declared “a hyphenated American is not an American at all.”
Roosevelt spoke, appropriately enough, on Columbus Day, which itself began as an “Italian-American” celebration. It then evolved into an official state holiday in Colorado in 1905, becoming a national holiday in 1971. Now Columbus Day has deteriorated into an occasion for Native American protest – and in South Dakota, home of the American Indian Movement, Columbus Day is now, yep, Native American Day.
Ironic, isn’t it, that the anniversary of Roosevelt’s warning there is “no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism” is the most hyphenated day of all? Perhaps we should just can all the hyphenated angst and make the second Monday in October “American Day.”
We should all be OK with being American, just like the Americans who came for my chess buddies and brought them home so we could sit together, safe in the sunshine.
If there are no more Americans, who will come next time?
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