On Wed, 9 Apr 1997 02:14:08 -0400 [log in to unmask] writes:
>Neil, what is an American?
That's simple...an American is someone who is born here or who chooses to
move here and become a citizen. What culturally is an American? That is
a tougher one to answer. Is there an American culture? Yes. Are there American cultures? Also yes. Which is more real? All are.
Is that sufficiently vague? Okay, let me see if I can de-vague it. I saw, today, a review of a book on John Wayne as a cultural symbol. The
author said that a midshipman at Annapolis told him that every Saturday
a group of midshipmen watched "The Sands of Iwo Jima"...every Saturday.
In a very real sense, that is like a group of young warriors in training
in ancient Ireland listening to a seanchai/ telling of Cuchulain at the
ford. "This is the ideal...this is what is good about him, what makes
him a hero. And here too are his flaws." THAT'S CULTURE. That's not all of it, but we very definitely do have a culture. No it isn't as old as
some of the pubs in England, but it does exist and the fact that we do
have symbols like Wayne (Whether or not you like the symbol isn't a
point here.) is proof of that.
>However, this country is still a hodge-podge,
>We are not a melting pot, in the sense that we have somehow comingled
>our various heritages into a homogenous blend, but more like a fondue
>in which we have all been coated with a veneer of Americanism while
>retaining our heritage underneath it all.
Let's see...I agree with the first, that we are not a melting pot...or
rather, as a headline in TV Guide (I know.) said in 1976, "The Melting Pot Hasn't Worked...Thank God!" But I don't agree with the fondue image.
If we were a geological formation, I'd say we were a conglomerate.
American Culture and the commonalities of everyday life is the
accreating agent, binding us together. And while some have maintained a
culture underneath, many others kept only a name and developed a sort of
myth. I knew too many American Irish in the parish I grew up in who had
perfect or almost perfect lineages...who didn't know the first real thing
about Ireland. Oh, they sang "Wearin" of the Green", with all the
anti-British lines in it and they knew about the Famine and all the
troubles, but... Their idea of Irish music was "Danny Boy'" and I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen" and "Toor-a-loor-a-looral" Play the
Chieftains or Battlefield Band or Altan or Clannad or Tannahill Weavers
and they'd want to know what that crap was. I'm not saying that they
were wrong or bad or stupid or...but they are the people who gave us the
American Irish green beer, shamrocks, leprechauns (including the Notre
Dame symbol)"everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's Day" Irishness.
Neil used a word...ethnocide. The English had been practicing it on the
Irish for centuries and the people who came here from the Famine, the
great in-migration of the Irish in the mid-1800's, were lucky to be alive, not to have starved to death at home or of illness on the coffin
ships...too busy trying to gain a foothold in a country that didn't
really want them (NO IRISH NEED APPLY)...to worry about reclaiming a
Yes, of course there were areas where music and dance and, in some cases,
even language was kept alive...Yes, they kept their culture alive, but it
wasn't the rich, old Celtic culture...and, when you consider that of all the ethnic groups who came here, the Irish had the smallest percentage to
return, it's not difficult to see how a myth was created out of nostalgia
and dimming memories and "could've/should've beens".
I think the problem is that the real heritage ISN"T underneath and that some of us, rather than letting go of the myth and seeking the truth, just
compound the myth. Don't get me wrong, in the final analysis what
constitutes an American Irish or American Scot or American Welsh person
is going to be determined by those same people...not outsiders...by the
immediate family and not the extended family. But we do have an
obligation to learn all we can.
The reactions of the Zuni and the Dine/ (Navajo) to WW ii is instructive.
The Zuni were, and still may be, (I hate to use this word, but can't
think of another) zenophobic. So their young men who went away to the
war had a very difficult time returning and many didn't make it, either going away physically or turning to alcohol. The Dine/, on the other hand, welcomed the chance for their young men to go out into the world of
the strangers to see what it was like and to learn new things. When
these men came home, they were welcomed, debriefed and given ceremonies
to return them to the bosom of the tribe. Then the tribe picked through
what these men had brought back and decided what to keep and what to
discard. What they kept, they made Navajo.
And a blurb about language...the Marines in the Pacific had a perfect
radio code, Navajo...the Japanese couldn't break the code because they
couldn't learn the language (And we think Irish is difficult!) Ya'a'ta
> I will grant that language is one attribute of
>Celticness, but not the only one, nor should it be the one great deciding factor.
I have to agree with Neil on this one. Language doesn't make you Irish
or Celt, it keeps you Irish (or Scot or Welsh or Manx or Breton) or
Celt. It contains the thought patterns, the ideas and concepts than can
only be imperfectly expressed...in some cases they can be expressed...in another language. In time, if enough people learn, American Irish might
well show the kind of drift you see between Irish and Scots Gaelic...but
only if there are speakers. And let me say this...I am not Irish. I am
not Irish-American. I am American Irish, a new Celtic tribe...that
could well die out as anything but a version of the Society for Creative
Anachronisms unless we put some meat on its bones. Language is a part of
that meat. I was a member of the AOH for a long time and still have many
friends there. It's a wonderful organization, wonderful people...but
when it comes to Irish history and culture, it's the Knights of Columbus
with a brogue. That is a ticket for endangered species status.
What has been one of this country's greatest strengths is that it can and
has drawn from almost every country in the world. What a resource bank of
ideas. There has been some crossover...food, for example...but that's
just like the returning Dine/. If and when we should become
homogenized,however, we lose something...we go from being a stew with
each ingredient both itself and adding to the whole, to some sort of
pureed pap. To keep those cultures alive, they have to be solid. We
cannot give "to airy nothing a local habitation and a name" and call it
a culture. It's still airy nothing. It can be done without language, I
would suppose...and Madame Butterfly can be done without the music...but,
oh, how much less it is...and how quickly there would be no audience. No
If you were to take a baby from the Gaeltacht and swap it for a baby from
way back in the non-English speaking part of a Lakota reservation and
raise these children to adulthood...the full-blood Lakota would be the
Irishman and the Irishman would be Lakota...especially if both chose to
stay and actively participate in the culture in which they were raised..
most .especially if English was their second language. Culture is as
much, if not more, nurture than nature. We've been nurtured on our
culture, but it's been a thin gruel of myth, in many cases, compared to
the real thing.
Finally, while we have every right to build our own future, we also
deserve every knock and sneer we get when we go blindly marching into
blind alleys follow will-o-the-wisps and myths. I'm sure there'll be
some fleering and jeering when we feel we don't deserve it. So, we stop, make sure we've made the best call possible and if we're comfortable
with it, tell the fleerers and jeerers to go pee up a rope.
Standing around playing "I'm more Celt than you are" gains us
nothing...we need to go seek it and learn it. To that end we'd do well
to remember something from that most famous of Celtic legends, the
stories of Arthur. When the knights left Camelot to go seek the Grail,
they were told that they could not find it by traveling the roads of the
world...rather they were to enter the forest where it was the thickest
and most trackless. Grails aren't for wusses and we're talking Grails
>The Flaming Redhead