Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Fightin' Mexicans

A lot of people talk about their desire to see a post-racial, non-multicultural America in which everyone is assimilated into one big nebulous mass that is American.  The obvious problem with this is that America was first founded by relatively recent immigrants, and then took on as its narrative the concept of embracing people from all over the globe's aspirations for a better life.  What this inevitably led to was a diverse range of ethnic populations and communities - from Irish to German to Mexican to Vietnamese, Jewish, etc.  You can then add to this dynamic the Native Americans that were already here and nearly wiped out, and the African Americans that were brought here as slaves.  Multiculturalism isn't just an abstract concept - it is who we are.

It is hard then to find a better explanation for the insistence of the part of so many that all must assimilate to one standard and narrow cultural form than an ugly and selfish impulse to ethnocentrism - that is, white, Christian pride.  This sentiment is on display in the frequent opposition to any celebration of most forms of non-white or non-Christian cultural heritage.  From naming streets after Martin Luther King or Cesar Chavez, to requiring equality-minded mandates on religious expression in public institutions, gay pride parades or multicultural advocacy curriculum in schools.

Defenders of assimilationism argue that "identity politics" - the celebration of and reflection on ethnic differences - ultimately has a negative effect because it is fundamentally divisive.  Yet ironically, the only divisions it really seems to have brought out is between the assimilationist white Christians and everyone else.

However, this claim may be a red-herring to begin with if the real reason behind the opposition comes down to simple ethnic bigotry.  Evidence towards this is the fact that there appears to be little opposition to celebrations of ethnic pride among historically marginalized communities who are white and Christian.  For instance, no one seems concerned when Italian or Irish heritage is trumpeted.  Jews for the most part, although obviously not Christian, have seemed to have escaped assimilationist wrath (although many fundamentalist Christians of course actually view Jews as an integral part of their own apocalyptic scenario). 

Here's a view of Notre Dame's "Fightin' Irish".  Maybe the University of Arizona ought to change their team from the Wildcats to the "Fightin' Mexicans".

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