Hyphenated-Americans and Our Place in Society

Flags of countries of participants of the Winter Olympic games 2014 year

Flags of countries of participants of the Winter Olympic games 2014 year

Theo Menon

I was born in St. Paul, Minnesota to an Indian immigrant father and an American-born Caucasian mother. I grew up in a Twin Cities suburb. My father, brother, and I were three out of five minorities we knew of in our town. Despite being “different” in terms of ethnicity, I never felt treated differently by kids at school or by my teachers.

One thing that I have never doubted is the fact that I am an American. However, I have always been acutely aware of being ethnically different from most of the people I knew in my country. I am an Indian-American. This doesn’t mean I am an Indian citizen, nor does it mean I harbor loyalty to India. It means that ethnically, I am Indian and American. I am aware of my Indian culture and I accept that it is a part of me.

In recent years, a movement against this labeling surfaced. People say hyphenated-Americanism forces division. Surprisingly, the movement was not born out of vain victimhood-searching from the left, but out of extreme nationalism and anti-multiculturalism from the far right. For the sake of our unity as American people, it must end.

Americans have become more accepting of other cultures and ideas. Our country has, unarguably, progressed, embracing the multiculturalism that the nation was fundamentally founded upon.

The anti-hyphenation movement seemed to catch fire last year, when then-Louisiana Governor and Republican Presidential candidate Bobby Jindalthe son of Indian immigrants– said, “We are not African-Americans, Asian-Americans, or Indian-Americans; we are Americans.”

Governor Jindal’s comments opened a portal to a set of ideas that were more radical than those he was expressing. To many people, only “Americanism” is acceptable; any derivative is not. The crucial issue with this argument is that in order to think that this attitude encourages unity, one must believe different cultures and ethnic identities are innately divisive.

To encourage conformity is to discourage the spirit of America. The belief that identifying as a hyphenated American makes one “less American” is simply incorrect. American culture is not built around a shunning of other cultures and ideas. My ability to say that I am an Indian-American shows precisely what is best about this country.

As a nation that was founded on the ideas of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression, we should encourage individuality and difference of culture. This is what makes this country the most incredible country in the world.

As opposed to a melting pot, in which the components lose their identity to become a conglomerated amalgama final substance entirely different from any given individual componentAmerica is a tapestry in which each thread weaves its individual contribution into the overall image, but maintains its color and its own history in its trail.

Therefore, I would edit Governor Jindal’s statement slightly: We are African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Indian-Americans, or any number of ____-Americans, and yet, we are all Americans. That is what unites us above all other differences we may have.