Many Americans are referred to or refer to themselves as Irish-American, Italian-American, Afro-American and so on. As a non-American such terms have always seemed to me to be rather disparaging, suggesting in each case Not-yet-fully-integrated-and-properly-American-American.

I think the "melting pot" idea is a great one, but sometimes I feel that what is in the pot is a stew where the individual vegetables are still whole, even if they are well cooked.

How do members of these communities see themselves?
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Would white Anglo Saxon American conjur up similar kitchen treats, in your mind? :-)
I found the topic, Forbes! Emotion: smile

I find your sentiment to be an interesting one, even though I do disagree. As you hint at, the question of idenity is very different for Americans than it is for people of the Old World. While the use of those hyphenated terms may make it seem as though citizens are either unable or unwilling to fully embrace an American identity to foreigners, it rarely seems that way to Americans themselves (at least in my experience). As many around the world note, Americans are a very patriotic people. Despite that, the majority still desire to retain a bit of their ethnic identity. As a nation of immigrants, few Americans can trace their history on the North American continent very far back. There is an obvious recognition that their family histories predate U.S. history. Many Americans choose to acknowledge that fact by using those hyphenated labels. To them it's no different than labeling oneself both a Scot and a simultaneously a subject of the United Kingdom, for instance. Because all Americans face this issue, I think you'll find that there's very little controversy regarding it in the United States itself. In fact, when there is controversy it's usually the result of an ethnic minority feeling that they are being forced to too greatly assimilate, and thus losing a bit of their individual identity. Your "melting pot" analogy is an ironic one, because I've often heard it said that a more appropriate nickname for the U.S. would be a "tossed salad".
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AnonymousWould white Anglo Saxon American conjur up similar kitchen treats, in your mind? :-)
Well, I think you have answered my question because Anglo Saxon American is never heard - at least I've never heard it except in the disparaging WASP epithet. I remember a few elections ago seeing pictures of people carrying placards saying: "Puerto Ricans for Reagan". I do not recall seeing any "Anglo-Saxons for Reagan" placards.

I am reminded of the joke when a Bostonian said, "My family have had nothing but trouble with immigrants since we came to this country."
I know what you mean Forbes, I've always found that a little strange too.

It does look like a desire not to completely assimilate. If I moved to another country I know I would still be English. I would probably still think of any children as English or half English. But after that, with the grandkids, then they belong to that country.

The funniest thing is when an American says they are Scottish/Irish (or whatever) when their last Scot ancestor was generations ago...no you are not! For example, my best friend's mum is Irish but her dad is English. She was born and brought up in England. She considers herself English, not Anglo-Irish or something...
Young Californian

Thank you for responding.

The feeling that comes across to me, and I emphasise it just a feeling, is that a large section of the American population somehow feels rootless. I hate to say this, but to an Englishman American patriotism seems superficial - we always have in mind Dr Johnson's saying that "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." To an Englishman patriotism is something quiet, a simple love of one's country, although there are plenty of jingoistic Englishmen about. The idea of schoolchildren saluting the flag everyday is something we find unnecessary. It would be like saying, "We are patriotic aren't we, we really, really are."

I think the difference may be explained because we in Europe, where dozens of countries are packed into a space not much larger than the US, are all too aware, after two World Wars, not to mention recent conficts in the Balkans, of the dangers of nationalism. For Americans it is different. You have one neighbour to the North and another to the South; on the East and West your nearest neighbours are separated by vast oceans.

I quote the words of Steinbeck from East of Eden, written over fifty years ago:

We all have that heritage, no matter what land our fathers left. All colors and blends of Americans have somewhat the same tendencies. It's a breed-selected out by accident. And so we're overbrave and overfearful - We're kind and cruel as children. We're overfriendly and at the same time frightened of strangers. We boast and we are impressed. We're oversentimental and realistic. We are mundane and materialistic - and do you know of any other nation that acts for ideals? We eat too much. We have no taste, no sense of proportion. We throw our energy about like waste. In the old lands they say of us that we go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening culture. Can it be our critics have not the key or the language of our culture?

I acknowledge that I may not have the key.
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I have to point out that my perspective on this topic is limited to that of a 'European-American' (don't worry, that term is never used, I just want to clarify my ancestry). Most Americans are indeed descended from Europeans, of course. I guess I would agree many Americans feel rootless, in a sense. It's just a natural result of a national recognition that one's ancestors are not from the current country they inhabit, and that the history of this country is relatively short. Apart from American History, the historical subject that most Americans are familiar with and interested in is European History. The reason is that, despite their status as Americans, European History is still part of most American's family history. As someone of German, Scottish, Irish, English, Dutch, and Armenian descent, I'm naturally interested in the histories of those countries, knowing that my ancestors were a part of it. I don't see why an American of Irish descent shouldn't feel a connection to Ireland. The history of that island is as relevant to their family as it is to that of a contemporary Irish citizen.

Perhaps this discussion is the result of a more marked difference between nationality and ethnicity on the part of Americans. For an Englishman who can trace his family history in Great Britain to, say, the Norman Invasion, the isn't really a difference between national identity and ethnicity. They are one and the same. Obviously, this is not the case for the vast majority of Americans. We are not all united by blood, but rather by a common set of ideas and principles. Thus, you get little controversy when someone refers to themselves as an Italian-American, African-American, Irish-American, or the like. No one who calls themself an Irish-American considers themself a citizen of the Republic of Ireland. We Americans all understand that its merely a simultaneous recognition of one's ethnicity and nationality. We don't consider them mutually exclusive.

As for boisterious patriotism on the part of Americans, I think it's just the result of Americans' tendency to wear their emotions on their sleeve. We're not a subtle people, and we like to proclaim our affiliations and beliefs loudy. I understand how that can come off as insecure, but I truly believe it's just part of American culture. Just think of how many artifacts of American culture contain the word "American" or make some other refence to national identity. You British create Pop Idol, we turn it into American Idol. Think of songs and movies like "Born in the U.S.A.", "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.", American Pie, American Psycho, "American Girl", "Surfin' U.S.A.", American Beauty (okay, that's named after a rose, but what's the rose named after), An American in Paris, An American Werewolf in London, Wild America, American Pimp, Coming to America, An American Tail, et cetera.

Love that Steinbeck quote, by the way. We're a nation of contradictions.
I have several friends from Spain, and I get a sense that they don't understand the idea of ethnicity... hence why I decided to post a reply to this thread. To them, I am only American, but I consider myself Thai-american. I am a child of Thai immigrants, so for me, this hyphenation not only describes my nationality but also my ethnic background.

I have noticed that the people I have spoken to who seem to have a problem with the issue of 'living on the hyphen' tend to come from a family that has long had their roots in that country, so the idea of ethnicity and nationality become one.

Me considering myself Thai-american in no way says that I don't want total assimilation, and for anybody to say that who isn't of a similar background can't really speak on the issue. At any rate, the American identity is different to every person, period.

And in regards to the idea of patriotism, I think people in any country can show the same amount of enthusiasm about their nation. To me, it gets a little pointless when people make generalizations, no matter how eloquently they are put.
In one situation you have five Americans.

But if one of them constantly describes himself/herself as an Italian-American, it's interesting how the other four may become German-American, African-American, Greek-American, Mexican-American, or some other combination. Emotion: smile
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