Ethnicity?  Heinz 57 American

Ethnicity? Heinz 57 American

Last year my daughter was asked to fill in a bubble identifying her ethnicity (as were all the kids in the class).  Any child that wasn’t sure which bubble to use went to the teacher and she looked it up on the computer from registration.

When the teacher told Jaeda that she was Hispanic, Jaeda became very upset and replied – I am not! My mom is from New York and my Dad is from Grand Junction!

Then she burst into tears.

I suppose it’s not really great mothering that prompted me to burst out laughing when I heard about this reaction, but when the teacher called to let me know about “the incident”, I laughed and still giggle when I think about it.

But – insert better parenting moment here – the tears concerned me, so at dinner that night we discussed ethnicity, culture, and the beautiful traditions and family history that comes with it.

“You know how we have beans and chili with our turkey on Thanksgiving?  Yep, that’s part of your heritage.”  I know this isn’t the extent of her Hispanic heritage, but to an 8 year old, food is a very tangible and easy to relate to example.

Jaeda was fine and I am not worried about my daughter, but I do wonder when exactly we are going to just be American?

American Heritage

My children have a very rich heritage (insert Heinz 57 here). Their Dad is more than 1/4 Navajo and the rest is Hispanic – but Hispanic in the sense that I speak better Spanish than he does.  His great-great-grandparents were living in New Mexico when it was ceded to the United States.

On my side, my grandfather was born in Italy, but other than that I think the rest is hodge podge European – Scottish, British, French, Irish? I don’t even know.

When asked I say that I am Italian because I was raised by my father and that is the family he has the strongest ties to – but my kids are as much Navajo as they are Italian as they are Spanish or Mexican or British.

When filling out their ethnicity bubbles I chose to focus on the ethnicities that would most likely give them a college scholarship – Hispanic and American Indian.  It isn’t a fabrication, they do have significant portions of these in their DNA, but they also have a variety of others too.  To be honest, there really isn’t a bubble that fits their profile.

For my kids, what we really need is a Heinz 57 American option.

What about you?  Are you Italian, Hispanic, Asian or just plain old American?

16 Responses to Ethnicity? Heinz 57 American

  1. I believe the same thing. I have no idea what all my heritage entails. I know I have Indian and British and… White. Lol

    The only time my daughter is classified as Indian is on school forms for scholarships as well…

  2. I truly agree with you! I don’t want my kids to have to chose one bubble or any bubble to describe who they are because American should be enough. Until then – they/we fill in two bubbles :)

  3. I have no idea. I just fill in the Caucasian bubble. Speaking of scholarships, I was always very bothered that there was no “brown-haired-brown-eyed-white-girl” scholarship when I was going through the process of applying for everything I could. Sure if I had red hair, or was native Hawaiian, or spoke English as a second language, or was a daughter of the revolution there was a scholarship but what about us plain old white girls?

    • I agree! And I want a brown haired blue eyed scholarship too! I think if the concept is to overcome discrimination, then it should be based upon your looks. My kids are hispanic/native american but won’t be discriminated against because they look like white kids. Then there are the white kids that look hispanic and may run into issues… it’s just a faulty system at this point (in my opinion).

  4. I think you may be confusing ethnicity with nationality.

    I think the question you are asking is: why track ethnicity at all? And the answer is: because discrimination based on ethnicity still happens.

    One could argue whether the plans and policies for preventing that discrimination in schools is effective and whether we could do more to educate kids on what ethnicity is and why diversity should be celebrated (clearly we have a long way to go).

    The other issue you raise, which I think is a good one, is when ethnicity “goes away” due to dilution. I’m sure there’s an offical answer, and it would be interesting to know, since it should correlate with how the data is used (in an ideal world).

    Either way, this is a great post for getting people to think about the issue more deeply and thoughtfully. :)

    • Thanks Jen! You make a good point identifying there is a difference between ethnicity and nationality. When I travel, I say I’m American. I wonder if other countries, with longer histories, track ethnicity and if so, what that looks like or helps. USA is relatively young as a nation so it is possible to still trace people’s roots and origins – but my kids are a prime example that we are nearing the end of being able to trace ethnicity. At the point when there are 4 or 5 do you default to Caucasian? One of our cousins is 1/4 black, 1/4 white, and 1/2 hispanic. How should she describe herself? Then think of her kids – it gets even more convoluted. I don’t think white should be the default bubble when the others fail to work any longer, so maybe a mixed bubble? Or hard to say bubble? It just got me thinking about it and wondering how long it will make sense to try to put people into categories.

  5. I totally agree with you. I just went through this with my boys and said, ENOUGH! I am a huge ancestry nut so I do mostly know where are roots are–pretty much everywhere. So, were done…unless the option is American.

    • But they don’t give an American option. I suppose we could abstain, but it’s not an ethical reason for doing so – it’s simply that the options they give aren’t appropriate! Thanks for commenting Barb!

  6. Daria –

    Thoughtful post. Let me try and give a perspective that’s a little different here as an African-American woman and maybe one that’s not going to very popular with some other posters here. First of all,I applaud your addressing this issue because it’s never easy. I wrote a somewhat similar blog entry a few months ago on race and a global mindset that sparked some very interesting discussions. Talking about race and ethnicity is very difficult in the US – partly because of the legacy of slavery and discrimination that many people of color – not just African-Americans experienced. The census form specifically is trying to capture both demographic and geographic information – it’s an imperfect system for sure – but it serves an important purpose from a public policy perspective whether it comes to allocating federal monies, addressing specific health disparity issues that impact certain groups,fair housing laws, etc. I do think that as we have more people who identify with multiple ethnicities, you will see more and more people refusing to identify with just one group. I don’t know for sure but I think the census has a multi-racial category now – or maybe it just being talked about. I think including a multi-racial category would be a good evolution in our census and other demographic questionnaires because more people would be willing to be counted.

    But let me say this – it’s not just about ancestry as one poster stated, it’s about IDENTITY. Whether we choose to accept it or not, race and ethnicity are integral parts of our identity. I respectfully disagree with statements that say “Can’t we just all be Americans?” I don’t know why we would want that. I think this is a common refrain when we don’t want to deal with issues around race and ethnicity and identity politics head on. When your skin is brown,tan or yellow, you don’t have the “luxury” of “just being American”. Like it or not, you are identified by how you look. We owe it to our children to help them feel proud of who they are both in ethnicity AND nationality. We owe it to them to help them navigate the waters of racial and ethnic identity in a so-called “post racial” society (which doesn’t exist if you ask most people of color) If you or your children “look white” you have the ability to “pass” and thus not have to deal with the race question head on.

    I’m curious why you identify your children as Hispanic and Native American for “scholarship purposes”? Is this the only time you are identifying them with being Hispanic/Native American? Perhaps, this is what upset your daughter because other than perhaps a few small traditions in your family, she doesn’t feel the connection to her Hispanic heritage? Please don’t misunderstand the question or tone of my post, I’m just trying to understand and perhaps share a different point of view. [ SIDE NOTE: More and more state university systems are challenging race-based scholarships – so much so that they may be a thing of the past when your daughter (and my toddler son) are in college. You might be surprised to know that if you are person of European descent you can get a “minority” (hate that word) scholarship to an Historically Black College or University. Also if you are of European ancestry and come from a rural area, there are also college scholarships available.]

    I’ve traveled extensively and lived abroad for a number of years and I can tell you that the Europeans don’t have this any more figured out than we do. Integration of “non-white” “minorities” in countries like France, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands is highly fractious. These countries are struggling with immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East who are not assimilating in ways that locals expect/demand. Take a look at the Turks in Germany for instance. Chinese and Japanese societies (and I’ve lived in both countries- because they are so homogenous, are highly intolerant of other ethnicities).

    I don’t believe in a post-racial society, nor do I think it’s necessary for us to be that to be a great American society. This is country is great specifically because it’s one of the few places in the world where you can come from any religious or ethnic background and succeed. Yes, we should celebrate what we have in common but we should also celebrate our differences and what makes us unique and special. I can tell you that I am bringing up my son to be proud African-American man. Proud of the men and women who paved the way before him, proud of his beautiful skin color, hair – AND proud of a country where he can be anything he wants to be – including President of the United States.

    So while I agree we need more sophisticated ways to allow people to self-identify across multiple ethnic groups – I don’t agree with your rationale why. There is a lot more I could say here but I have to leave it there for now.

    Again, provocative post and I applaud and support you for “stepping out there” to create the discussion.

    • Thanks so much for posting your perspective. I believe this is a conversation we need to have.

      Your reply actually made me a bit teary when I read about how you are raising your son to be proud of his heritage. It’s so important. Complicated, sometimes, by those with good intentions (and those without), but instilling a sense acceptance starts with the self.

      Thanks, Portia!

  7. Great comment Portia! May I post is on it’s own – it deserves a post of its own.

    For our family – because we do blend – we don’t have an easily distinguishable heritage to be proud of – same reason we aren’t likely to be discriminated against, I suppose. We can’t look in the mirror and identify readily with any one nation of people or any one history. I often feel that lack of culture is unfortunate and have been trying to create our own traditions, but it’s not the same as feeling ties to a people that developed over 100’s and 1000’s of years. I’m not really complaining, just musing…

  8. I’m 75 percent native American and the rest of the 25 is mixture of Mexican sicilian and Filipino. And definitely use that heinz 57 bubble I guess. But am mostly native American.

    • I think this generation may still be able to identify the strongest of their ethnic heritage, but the next? Mixed or Heinz 57 or American or something to capture the “melting pot” of our cultures.

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