As it is with most healthy, red blooded heterosexual American males from the suburbs, I love sports. However I would rather chew tinfoil than to watch a bunch of Europeans kick a ball around for hours. Yet once upon a time, I found myself in a room full of testosterone laden, ethno-centric soccer fans, who for some reason seemed to feel that a game of grown men playing kick ball not only warranted their attention, but their passions as well. The match, as it turned out, was between Italy and Ireland.. and it was reflected in the tribal exuberances of those watching. I was in a Clockwork Orange-like soccer purgatory, being forced to watch a horrifically boring sport while surrounded by rabid Irish, and Italian Americans.
So in the spirit of “when in Rome” –or in this case lower Manhattan– I decided to ask a few pertinent pastime questions of someone who appeared not to have lost his mind, as to aid my soccer illiteracy towards becoming barely soccer literate. It seemed that the deafeningly vociferous hub-ub was occurring because Italy was heavily favored, yet Ireland was winning. Then it was explained that the United States would stand a better chance of achieving a medal with Italy eliminated. So being an American, I decided that I would place my hopes on a win by Ireland, so as to better my own country’s chances.
In an amazing cultural dynamic (to me, anyway, but apparently not to most people) this choice was akin to an ethnic betrayal. Being of pure Italian decent, I was supposed to root for Italy. I found that people who resembled me, if not for the Cro-Magnon slope of their foreheads, and who spoke in what is known in the common vernacular as “Paisonics” were legitimately angered at the thought of a fellow Italian rooting against our common nation of origin. When I reminded them that my grandparents were born in this country, it seemed not to matter. We wops had to stick together… “Minchia, wutda F&%$ is wrong wit You?” I had, for all intents and purposes unintentionally violated the rules of ethnic protocol, and sided against my culture of origin.
But here’s the thing, and maybe it’s just me…
The entire concept of ethnic pride escapes me. Why would one be proud of something that they had nothing to do with? It’s not like anyone worked hard to choose the culture they were born into, let alone what culture their ancestors were born into. It’s not like anyone has ever scored the winning point in the “my culture vs. the rest of the world” badminton tournament… or that anyone’s singular intellect vaulted their country of origin so far above the median I.Q. that it had won them the coveted “international smartest nation” award. Hell, most of the people watching this soccer match with pride could barely spell their own names.
Much of this began under the John F. Kennedy administration, when he prodded the voting public to get in touch with their ethnic roots. One can only guess at the motives for doing so, but the result has been a probable, unintentional division of our citizenry. Instead of standing United, we now wave flags for countries that were fled to start a better life in America. Then we continue the disaffection by hyphenating our Americanism with our country, continent, or culture of origin, as if that would set any of us above, rather than simply apart. Now more than ever, we are Irish -American, Italian- American, Hispanic- American, African- American, Jewish-American … rather than simply Americans. Our melting pot of cultural assimilation has become a mosaic of separate entities. Perhaps it’s time for someone of note to brave the potential retribution of culture warriors, and call an end to our purposeful division.
But I think President Theodore Roosevelt said it best back in 1907:
“In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American…There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag… We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language… and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”
No one should honestly give a damn about what country people, they have no connection to other than geography, came from… especially if they have made the conscious choice to make America their home. If any of my direct ancestors did happen to accomplish something special, then I am glad for them, I guess… but what would that mean for me? Did they pass down “super special holy cow you’re wonderful” genes to me? Does Darwinian rule suggest that only positive indigenous traits handed down to future generations to only people of *your* ethnic background? It’s like every idiot who believes in reincarnation. All of them seem to be descended from royalty. None were ditch diggers in their past lives.
If I am to gain a sense of pride, it should be for things *I* accomplish… and if pride is to be extended vicariously, then at most it should apply to family. But for my great great uncle Carmine who ran a terrific horse trade… or even the Roman who invented the aqueduct? Please explain why *I* should take pride in that? “Hey, you’re lazy and good for nothing… but be proud that you came from X” … Really?
And while for some reason I seem to be genetically encoded to be able to understand the slightest innuendo in any Martin Scorsese movie, that is kind of cool, but still nothing to be “proud” of. I’m happy that I don’t have to lean over to the nearest paisan and ask what the hell is going on, but proud? It would be like having pride in my inability to keep my hands at my sides while I speak. These are things I had no control over… and if I had been switched at birth with a baby from another culture, my experiences would be entirely different.
There are certainly things –many things– I am proud of. But none of them have to do with anyone who is dead for thousands of years, and who lived in a land across the ocean. And if I am to have an irrational sense of geographically specific pride, it will be to the country –not just of my birth– but of my choosing… The United States of America.
… and come to think of it, that whole “putting a man on the moon and defeating the Nazi’s” thing was pretty cool, too.