Ethnic Diversity  
    Jai Jackson

I have never felt at home among my people. Among my extended family, I mean. They are my people, after all. But they don’t properly recognize their heritage (although they think they do), and it is mainly for this reason, I think, that I feel uncomfortable around them. They are, first and foremost, Americans, and their heritage, always, takes a second place to our great country. It is for this reason too that I sometimes feel uncomfortable. I’ve never been a “true” American, by their definition. (I’ve never really let them know this, except in a very precursory way, through my behavior.) I’ve always felt that this country has been many times too wrong. I am the rebel, and the founding fathers are my heroes in a way that my family cannot comprehend. I don’t admire the founders for their country-constructing abilities, as does the rest of my family in its conventional wisdom. I admire them because they had the audacity to defy established authority and secede.

My ancestors are from Europe. Where, exactly, is hard to define. Primarily, on my mother’s side, through my grandfather’s lineage, we are from the Alsace-Lorraine region. This means that we could be French or German, most probably German, because we look German, and because that is the accepted opinion among our family members. But as we all know, appearance and opinion aren’t everything, and there are some names on my mother’s mother’s side, which suggest that we could be partly French. And this is the most clear-cut branch of the family tree. (Earlier on my mother’s father’s side there is some scantly evidence that we were related to a group of Jews who emigrated to Russia when our branch of the family came to America. This may be true, or it may not be.)

There is greater ethnic diversity on my father’s side of the family. Although he was at least half German, my father had always considered himself Irish. There are some Irish names, such as Riley, on his mother’s father’s mother’s side, but most of his maternal ancestors’ seem to have come from Germany, although some of names suggest a more Central European origin. But my father ignored all of this to declare himself totally Irish, based on the fact that his father was partly Scotch-Irish-American all the way back to the earliest of stock. He maintained this stereotypical belief until the day he died, because he liked to drink so much.

That is a summary of the most overt evidence of my lineage. But there are hints of other influences: Spanish (European, not Latin American), Scandinavian, English (Norman), even a bit of Native American (Iroquois\Seneca\Turtle Clan, if it is true), and as I mentioned earlier, French and Central European.

So, what can I conclude from this diverse mix of blood? That we are mongrels, breeds? This is probably a fair assessment. That we are in fact true Americans since, setting aside the prejudices and preferences of individual family members for particular favored allegiances, we are a sincere product of the melting pot? Definitely. In fact, it had previously been my position, before I arrived at my new theory of my heritage, that when asked for my “nationality” (which people almost always ask for when they mean “ancestry”), I would respond, “American,” being literally correct and metaphorical as well.

But now, when I am asked, I have a newer designation. Based upon my more correct (un-romanticized) and better-studied perceptions, feeling an empathetic reaction for the various regions and cultures of Europe, I now declare that I am Euro-American, following the postmodern fashion of the hyphenated-American tendency. My family is neither from here nor there, but proverbially everywhere, in Europe at least. I wish we could be from a broader range of the globe. I wish I were part Chinese and Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese, Russian and Mongolian, Tibetan and Indian…[I feel a desire to develop this imaginary lineage for pages, but I won’t.]

I want to be able to call myself a hyphenated-human, a citizen of the earth, and I want to designate this heritage after the manner of Latin Americans who list their matriarchal lineage sandwiched between their first and last names. I want to call myself a Euro-Sino-Latino-et ceterao-American. But I am not that universal in my particular heritage (although we all are if we can trace our ancestry to Adam and Eve, or to the great apes they symbolize.)

People want to believe that, being Euro-American, I am not then a minority, but this is not true. I am a minority in that I recognize a heritage that is not a fiction. How many of us, like my father, have chosen a convenient heritage, based upon what we want to be rather than what we actually are? And how many more of us are what we say we are, but only in large part, that part predominating, the remainder being like myself, a mix of influences? The fact is, we don’t know in whole what we are, none of us. We make it up as we go along. I am a minority because I incorporate this fact into my definition of my ancestry: a Euro-American is a minority class because it is not recognized as a class.

We Euro-Americans are a repressed and disenfranchised group, to the point where we have been denied our right to be who we are, by consensus (when I tell people I am Euro-American, they think I am making a joke, or being silly), by our human (and especially American) desire to be something else (other than white; even the whitest of whites want to be separatists), and by our institutions (why doesn’t the term “Euro-American” appear on, for example, the census form, if it is such a mainstream category?)

Euro-American does not mean “WASP” (it includes Jews, Latins, et al.); it does not mean the culture in power (many working class people who have never seen the inside of a boardroom are, if they would only admit it, Euro-American); it does not even have to mean “white” (it can, theoretically, include blacks and Asians of mixed heritage; and many Jews and Arabs do not consider themselves white.) But, like all minorities, it could easily become a power-group, if we would recognize our common heritage and unify to achieve a better way of life.

The only qualification I would place upon this identity would be that, once we have achieved our liberation, we would next work to extend it to the other disenfranchised ethnic groups in this country (and ultimately, the world), to make them a part of us, because when we engage in the strategy and tactics of ethnic identity, as positive and empowering an experience as that practice can be, eventually we reach a point where our identity not only becomes a fiction (through intermarriage) but a detriment as well, when we exclude others who should rightly be a part of the identity we do not want them to be, our more exclusive selves. Hard-core Americans feel this way. They want to be unique, and in their struggle, they exclude a greater part of themselves.

At one time, in the distant past, we were all from somewhere else. When we belonged to groups more properly labeled tribes than nationalities, we roamed our sections of earth looking for places to settle. We had strong and limited social identities then, and we tended, out of a sense of survival, to be suspicious of strange groups and social practices. Where are all those groups we once were now? Where are all of the tribes that migrated into central Europe and lost their identities to the greater whole? And of those we know of now, thanks to archaeologists, how many still demand allegiance from their progeny? As millennial time passes, we forget. Assimilation is the norm. In the very long run, ethnic identity is a passing fad. Today, our survival sense should be telling us that we had better start forgetting our social differences and begin to get along.

I have never felt at home among my people, because they are always trying to be something they are (or I am) not. Now, I am a Euro-American, and I am proud of it. Tomorrow, I am an Earth-American, and then I am simply an Earthling. Ethnic identity is a temporary state of existence.

jai jackson is an ex-industrial psychologist living in postmodern seclusion in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has written six novels. The most recent, LIFE STORIES, was released by Xlibris this year. Shorter works include an erotic piece to be published in the next issue of "The Exquisite Corpse."


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