Becoming American Becoming Ethnic

Becoming American Becoming Ethnic

Edited by Thomas Dublin
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Becoming American Becoming Ethnic
    Book Description:

    More than at any time since the 1920's the issues of immigration and ethnicity have become central to discussions of American society and identity.Becoming American, Becoming Ethnicaddresses this contemporary debate, bringing together essays written over the past eighteen years by college students exploring their ethnic roots-from the experiences of their forbears to the place of ethnicity in their lives.

    The students range from descendants of Europeans whose families immigrated several generations ago to Asian and Latin American immigrants of more recent decades to African-Americans and Hispanics-some have more than one ethnic heritage to grapple with, while others have migrated from one place to another within the United States. Together their voices create a dialogue about the interplay of ethnic traditions and values with American culture.

    These are moving personal reflections on the continuities and changes in the ethnic experience in the United States and on the evolving meaning of ethnicity over time and across generations. Despite vocal concerns in recent years about ethnic divisiveness, these student writings show how much many young Americans share even in their differences.In the seriesCritical Perspectives on the Past, edited by Susan Porter Benson, Stephen Brier, and Roy Rosenzweig.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0369-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    A spirited debate on college campuses in recent years has focused on the content of the undergraduate curriculum. Advocates of reform and defenders of current practice square off on a central question: Should we continue to focus general education requirements around classic works in the Western civilization tradition, or should we broaden that canon to include other cultures and traditions?

    This book enters that debate by offering examples of student writing that demonstrate the compelling importance of multicultural identities in students’ lives. Written as “Roots” papers for an undergraduate course on American immigration and ethnicity, principally by students in their...

  5. PART I Family Traditions
    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 11-14)

      The fourteen essays in this section explore family histories that begin with the immigration or migration experiences of great-grandparents and grandparents of the student authors. The essays are organized chronologically by the dates of migration of the central family members on whom the essays focus, ranging from the experience of an immigrant family from the Portuguese Azores in 1899 to that of an African American migrant from North Carolina to New York City in 1957.¹

      Broad patterns of immigration are reflected in the makeup of the immigrants described in these pages and in the nature of their experiences. Given the...

    • Life after Terceira
      (pp. 15-19)
      Virginia Correia

      The process of Portuguese immigration in my family’s history extends back to the beginning of the twentieth century. As you read this essay, you will see how the process of assimilation has affected the first immigrants in my family, beginning with my great-grandfather and great-grandmother and ending with my father and brother-in-law. You will also be able to see the common process of immigration that runs through their experiences, including the types of jobs immigrants first held and a common first place of residence—Lowell, Massachusetts.

      In the year 1899 a nine-year-old boy by the name of Louis F. Gonsalves...

    • Coming to Terms with My Heritage
      (pp. 20-28)
      Tanya Mlodzinski

      Growing up in Yonkers, New York, during the 1950s and 1960s, I had always scorned my Finnish heritage because it was so different within that environment. I remember being the subject of much teasing due to my “funny” name—Tanya Kaartinen—and the even more peculiar ones of my parents—Toini and Onni. Many of my peers had never heard of Finland. Yet a few elementary school projects elicited some pride in my nationality; my parents were very education minded and it was a way to impress my teachers. Our Yonkers neighborhood was largely one of Italians and Poles; my...

    • The Family History of a Fourth Generation Pole
      (pp. 29-37)
      Sara Kindler

      The Saturday before Easter 1992, my family and I traveled to Massachusetts to visit my grandmother for the holiday. I was able to interview her before the rest of our relatives arrived to partake of Granny’s annual Easter borscht. That afternoon she helped me trace my maternal roots. I was really impressed by all the stories I had never heard before about my family’s rich history.

      In 1889 Antonina Rzeszutko, my maternal great-grandmother, was born in Wola-Lubecka, a small town in Poland. At the age of sixteen she traveled by boat, across the Atlantic, and reached Ellis Island. This young...

    • My Paternal Forebears
      (pp. 38-44)
      Michele Kitko

      My paternal forebears left Austria-Hungary as a result of discontent with the monarchy and as a means toward realizing a value that in their lives had priority above all others. They sought in America a place where they and future generations could have a better life. The desire to better the lives of their children was so important to them that they willingly left their homeland and its people. Austria-Hungary failed to provide the opportunity they needed to better their lives—specifically, to own land-and so they voluntarily immigrated to America, a country that could provide the opportunity they sought....

    • The Loss of My Family’s Ethnic Ties and the Strengthening of Their American Identities
      (pp. 45-51)
      Rachel Koch

      Reflecting on her childhood, my grandmother Julia Koch remembers fondly the time she spent in the Old Country and most of her experiences once she moved to the United States. Born on April 25, 1906, on the small island of Rhodes, my grandmother was the youngest of seven children in the Capuya family of Spanish Jews. Leaving her beautiful tourist island was sad for my grandmother, but she also looked forward to the opportunities and freedoms the United States had to offer. Her immigration experience followed the pattern of many other Jewish immigrants of that period. My grandmother, however, was...

    • What’s a Tyrolean? The Immigration of Mario Leonardi to America
      (pp. 52-61)
      Karen A. Gryga

      Solvay is a small village approximately one mile west of Syracuse, New York, located in central New York State. Begun as an small industrial town and populated largely by immigrants working at Solvay Process and by the engineers and corporate executives of Solvay Process, Solvay still survives as a little village, although the plant was shut down in 1986. Solvay Process, later incorporated into the Allied Chemical Corporation, was the first soda ash plant in the United States. Built by Rowland Hazard, Solvay Process took its name from the process in which sodium carbonate, a widely used alkali in industry,...

    • Turetzky Family Assimilation: From Grandparents to Father to Me
      (pp. 62-67)
      Marc Turetzky

      Assimilation is defined as a process by which people take up and are absorbed into a culture. This essay discusses the migration of my paternal grandparents from Russia to the United States and their rejection of assimilation. It tells how they managed to cling steadfastly to their old-world ideals of religion and family, and how their son (my father) and our family have assimilated in this country.

      I know little about the experience of my Grandfather Turetzky in traveling to this country; I focus instead on my Grandmother Tillie and her family’s struggle. Grandmother Tillie lived in a Russian shtetl...

    • Changing Worlds: The Immigration Experiences of My Paternal Grandparents
      (pp. 68-74)
      Stephanie A. Courtney

      I consider myself fortunate when researching the lives of my relatives who immigrated to this country because of the excellent oral testimony of my paternal grandmother, MaryKate Courtney. She immigrated to America in 1920, a prosperous time directly after World War I, and is, I think, a shining example of the “immigrant success story.” This essay discusses the immigration experiences of Mary Kate and her late husband, PJ Courtney, as well as their lives in America.

      MaryKate lived with her large family in a peaceful section of south-western Ireland on the farmlands around the village of Drumshambo in Leetram County....

    • Roots Paper
      (pp. 75-81)
      Raffi Ishkanian

      It is said that in order to know where you are going, you have to know where you came from. Learning where ancestors came from, why they left, and how they adapted to life when they got here allows people to understand, in part, how they got to be who they are today.

      Both of my father’s parents immigrated to this country from Armenia in the early 1920s. Between the years 1915 and 1923, Turkish troops killed off 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children. The Armenians had become victim to a Turkish nationalistic rhetoric similar to that of Nazi...

    • A Family History
      (pp. 82-84)
      Bob Vaage

      Who are we? Where are we from? How did we come to be in this place? I believe questions such as these need to be asked by all of us. However, we should not search for the answers just to satisfy our curiosity. Our history should be more than just a name in a book or a date from a forgotten past. It should be a basis for our future. For only when we know ourselves can we begin to understand others. We cannot know where we are going until we have seen where we have been.

      My heritage has...

    • My Austrian-Italian Ethnicity
      (pp. 85-91)
      Susan Carnicelli

      All four of my grandparents immigrated to the United States from Europe prior to World War II. My maternal grandparents, Erna Herzog and Eric Vogel, were born in Vienna, Austria, at the turn of the century. They married in 1934 and continued living in Vienna with no intentions of leaving. My grandfather worked as a self-employed plumber while my grandmother worked in Gerngross, a department store in the heart of Vienna. Since my grandparents were Jewish, they began to realize the dangers of staying in Austria with the rise of Hitler in the mid-1930s. But even though they were Jewish...

    • East Side Story: What West Side Story Left Out
      (pp. 92-101)
      Josephine Burgos

      These are the first few lines of the famous song “America” from the American movieWest Side Story.All my life these words have haunted me. It seems that for as long as I can remember whenever I told a non-Hispanic that I was a Puerto Rican, this movie has been brought up. It is a popular opinion among many Americans that the representation of Puerto Ricans inWest Side Storywas accurate. Many of these people forget that this movie was a musical written by whites in an effort to rehash Shakespeare’sRomeo and Juliet.Since the release of...

    • Three Generations in America
      (pp. 102-107)
      Gloria Genel

      In coming from Mexico to the United States, “the great land of opportunity,” my maternal grandmother sought a better way of life for herself and her young daughter. To obtain this economic stability, however, she soon realized there was a price they had to pay, and this was that they must learn to adapt and acculturate themselves to this new and foreign environment. This meant having to adjust to the standards of a distinct dominating society. As they were very much aware and proud of their identities, they held onto their cultural heritage. Looking over several generations, we can see...

    • Where I Stand and Why
      (pp. 108-112)
      La Toya Powell

      Athough generations before me did not come to the United States from a different country, we as African Americans have endured our own form of immigration. My family, originally from Lumberton, North Carolina, migrated to New York City in the fall of 1957. My grandfather Franklin Powell left North Carolina at the age of twenty-three with his eighteen-year-old wife, Shirley Ruth Powell, in search of a decent job and a better life for his new family.

      I interviewed my grandfather to find out what similarities I saw between us, drawing on the concepts of border crossing and traveling. The concepts...

  6. PART II Our Parents, Ourselves
    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 113-114)

      The essays in this section focus on parental immigration or migration experiences and speak to the impact of those experiences on the student authors themselves. More so than the authors in the last section, these students have been directly affected by the immigration process. The dominant theme that emerges is that of feeling torn between two cultures-the culture of one’s parents and the broader American culture within which these students have grown up. Discrimination and a feeling of marginality have also influenced these students. Racial and cultural differences have set them apart from the dominant white culture in the United...

    • A Challenge of Loyalty
      (pp. 115-124)
      Lynn Sugamura

      As a result of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, all persons of Japanese ancestry were directed by Executive Order 9066 to leave the California coastal area, an order that was enforced by Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt of the Western Defense Command. Members of this group were forced to evacuate their homes by a certain date and were allowed only a minimal amount of baggage per person. Many families had no choice but to sell their belongings for as much money as they could get (usually very little), or entrust them to their non-Japanese friends. After...

    • A Bicultural Experience
      (pp. 125-129)
      Shana R. Rivas

      Puertorriqueña o moyeta?(Puerto Rican or black?) This is a question I have been confronted with for the past eleven years. My experience might be different from others because I am a product of two cultures. I sometimes wonder whether I should consider this a gift or the development of an identity problem. In this essay I focus on the migration experience of my father from Puerto Rico to Nueva York and that of my mother from Virginia to New York. I also add my migration experience and show how it has permitted me to identify my two cultures.


    • My Family History
      (pp. 130-134)
      Cecilia Pineda

      Tracing my historical beginning was not as easy as I thought it would be. It proved to be a fascinating experience just to hear the names of my ancestors, yet a frustrating search for those I will probably never know. Through remembrances of my parents I was able to learn about my maternal great-great-grandparents, my paternal grandparents, and of our immigration to the United States.

      My family is of Philippine descent and most of my ancestors are full-blooded Filipinos. On my mother’s side, my grandparents were Patrocino Feliciano and Lourdes David. They lived in San Fernando, Pampanga, which is one...

    • Being an Other
      (pp. 135-142)
      Melissa Algranati

      Throughout my whole life, people have mistaken me for other ethnic backgrounds, rather than for what I really am. I learned at a young age that there are not too many Puerto Rican, Egyptian Jews out there. For most of my life I have been living in two worlds, and at the same time I have been living in neither. When I was young I did not realize that I was unique, because my family brought me up with a healthy balance of Puerto Rican and Sephardic customs. It was not until I took the standardized PSAT exam that I...

    • Discovering My Ethnic Roots
      (pp. 143-148)
      Sang-Hoon Kim

      I am a second-generation Korean American. Both of my parents immigrated to the United States from Seoul, South Korea, for similar reasons: the limited freedoms and the lack of economic opportunities in the decades after the Korean War caused them to seek better ways of life in America. When they arrived in the foreign land, they almost immediately faced racial prejudice and discrimination. Both my father and my mother, at some point in their lives, had to struggle to find out what it means to be Korean American. It surprised me how their struggle with their ethnic identities was so...

    • The Experiences of My Parents in Italy and America
      (pp. 149-157)
      Peter Bosco

      In September 1945 my mother, Anna Marie Lauriero, was born in the town of Altamura in the province of Bari, Italy, the second of four children. She lived with her family on a subsistence farm that her father, Donato, had received as a dowry when marrying my grandmother Maria. This farm grew enough food to feed the family, but created little, if any, surplus. In addition to working on his own farm, my grandfather worked on the farms of others to bring in extra income.

      Life in Italy was simple for my mother. She went to school until the fifth...

    • Getting to Know My Parents So That I May Know Who I Am
      (pp. 158-162)
      Lizette Aguilar

      It’s about 5:30 P.M., two days after Thanksgiving. I am at my father’s house in Paterson, New Jersey, having my second Thanksgiving dinner. My parents are divorced so every year I celebrate two Thanksgivings, two Christmases, etc., etc.

      I am the daughter of a black Peruvian and a white Puerto Rican. I choose to put the color of my parents’ skin before their nationality because in this country that is how they are seen: first by the color of their skin and then by their country of origin. My essay focuses mostly on my father's life and his experience as...

    • Finding Home
      (pp. 163-170)
      Ann Fenech

      The sun was setting as I sat with my parents at the kitchen table. My mother was drinking a mug of tea, resting her feet on one of the legs of my father’s chair. My father, in an undershirt and plaid pants, was finishing a plate of spaghetti. From time to time, my two younger sisters would come into the room to listen for a while to my parents, who were speaking about their ethnic roots and their experiences of immigrating to America.

      My mother began first, needing only a few questions to get her started on her story. She...

    • The Assimilation Problems of My Family in America
      (pp. 171-180)
      Soo Y. Kim

      I have often asked my parents the reasons behind our immigration to the United States, but they have always been ambiguous in their answers. My father would give different reasons on different occasions, depending on his mood. One day he would declare better education for his children as a motive but a few days later he would alter it to military and political instability. I can remember about half a dozen motives my father has given me for our departure from South Korea to the United States.

      My father first heard of America when he was in grade school in...

  7. PART III Ethnicity in Our Lives
    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 181-182)

      The final group of essays offers views of the United States today, for it brings together the stories of students who were either born in this country in the 1960s or immigrated here in the 1970s or 1980s. These students came of age after the abolition of the national origins quota system, in a period in which Asian and Latin American immigrants predominated. They are a group—including four Asians, two blacks, and one Mexican American—who feel very keenly their differences from white, mainstream America.

      These students have been challenged to come to terms with their multiple identities—as...

    • The Oreo Cookie: Black on the Outside, White on the Inside
      (pp. 183-186)
      Cathy Thompson

      My ethnic background is something that has caused me to constantly reflect on myself and my place in society. I am half “white” and half “black.” My father was from Kenya, Africa, and my mother is American. My mother is a mixture of Dutch, English, Welsh, Irish, Spanish, French, and Indian. So I guess I am what some would call a mulatto.

      Being of mixed blood has caused me much confusion throughout my life. My mom says that I am a white girl in a black body growing up in a white world. This is because I have had absolutely...

    • Should I or Shouldn’t I?
      (pp. 187-192)
      Jaime Dominguez

      Many unfortunate children are sometimes caught between asking themselves, “Who am I?” and “Why am I different?” Consequently, many youngsters have lost touch with their cultural heritage due to pressure of socialization in American society. As for myself, I was caught between the struggle of recognizing my Mexican descent and the importance of it to me. My family always pressured me to recognize the importance of keeping my Mexicano culture. I was caught between disassimilation and assimilation with the Anglo culture. Although the struggle swung back and forth, my educational maturity helped me to come closer to my culture in...

    • My Experience with Immigration/Assimilation in America
      (pp. 193-197)
      Catherine Tagudin

      Upon my mother’s decision, we left the Philippine Islands ten years ago to seek the many opportunities we heard America had to offer. She felt that the instability of the political and economic situation in the Philippines, triggered by President Marcos’s martial law, offered little advancement for the individual as well as the family. Moreover, my father was unemployed during that period, leaving my mother to play the role of the family “breadwinner.” My family situation was also somewhat unstable, because my parents did not relate well to each other. This gave my mother an even stronger incentive to leave...

    • Leaving Home
      (pp. 198-205)
      Anh-Dao Nguyen

      In writing this “Roots” essay, I felt very excited because I wanted very much to share my roots and ethnicity. But having no sources (other than my immediate family) or documents to research through, it was difficult for me to go back further than my paternal grandfather. I realized that my father is probably the most important influence in my life because he’s given me a big part of my identity. He himself has experienced so many diverse cultures in his life that he’s instilled a lot of roots in me and shaped a lot of my thinking. I’m very...

    • Being Indian in America: My Ethnic Roots and Me
      (pp. 206-212)
      Lila Shah

      My heritage and ethnic roots are the foundation of myself. I am fortunate enough to know my roots and appreciate them. My life changed dramatically thirteen years ago when my family and I emigrated from India. The immigration experience transformed my life and me, personally. I have had the advantage of enjoying both cultures and understanding how they have shaped my life.

      My family was a part of the Indian middle class. Unlike America, middle class in India meant a life of daily struggle and marginal economic mobility. Typically, the rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and the middle...

    • My Immigrant Experience
      (pp. 213-216)
      Vladimir Sinayuk

      On May 11, 1976 my parents and I landed at Kennedy Airport in New York. We were newly arrived immigrants from the Soviet Union, originating from a town called Chernovtzi, in the Southwestern Ukraine Republic. Fourteen years later, the Sinayuk family is a typical middle-class Long Island household. All those years ago, however, the novelty of the American land and Western freedom had not yet overshadowed the misery that we, and many like us, had risen out of.

      As Jewish citizens of the Soviet Union, our premigration lives and motivations for migrating were common to many. In 1975 Chernovtzi had...

    • Triple Identity: My Experience as an Immigrant in America
      (pp. 217-223)
      Puwat Charukamnoetkanok

      “America is the land of opportunity.” Is this a myth or reality? I came to America four years ago with a faith that I would find opportunity here. However, I realize a reality: racism exists and most people will not easily accept immigrants. In the spring of 1990, I took a course, “Immigration and Ethnicity in the United States,” in which I learned that I am not alone. Many immigrants encountered similar barriers. My grandparents are also immigrants, and I have learned about their experiences. In this essay, I compare the experiences of my paternal grandparents with my own experiences....

    • Two Poems
      (pp. 224-228)
      Rose Rameau
  8. Afterword
    (pp. 229-234)

    What are we to make of these accounts-of the thirty essays and two poems that students at the University of California, San Diego, and the State University of New York at Binghamton wrote in an immigration history course between 1977 and 1994? A skeptical reader might find them interesting yet pose the question, Are they true?

    I would respond by quoting from Studs Terkel, in his introduction to the collectionHard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression:“This is a memory book, rather than one of hard fact and precise statistic.” Addressing the truthfulness of his respondents, Terkel...

  9. Appendix: Sample Roots Paper Topic
    (pp. 235-236)
  10. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 237-242)