Subscribe to the IHARE Blog

If You Are a Native New Yorker, Are You a Native American?: The Weaponization of “Native” and the Culture Wars

Bronx and Queens Natives (https://medium.com)

This blog continues the discussion about Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It began when three states self-righteously “dumped” and “ditched” the former in favor of the latter (Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: A Lose-Lose War). That blog was followed by an examination of the role of Columbus and Columbia in American history (Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part II – Columbus and America). The next blog in the thread focused on the weaponized use of the term “indigenous” and the calamitous effect the now bogus term would have if it were applied in the global arena outside the elitist college environment where it originated. Its effects would be truly devastating especially to Moslems and Arabs if the nations of the world adopted this American invention as their own policy (Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part III- The Meaning of “Indigenous”).

In this blog, I wish to address the weaponization of the term “native.” Consider the following examples. They are not the result of an internet search. They are not a scientific sample. Instead they simply are the examples I happen to come across while reading the printed version newspapers and magazines I receive.

March 15 New York Times op-ed on billionaires and prostitutes: “A professional escort (or even just a native, English-speaking one)…” In other words, instead of patronizing Chinese natives at Orchids of Asia Spa in Florida, why not use a native? Presumably this English-speaking native might be black or white or even an American Indian but one might infer from the op-ed that the author intended the use of “native” to refer to white people.

May 10 New York Times wedding article: “[The groom] met [the bride}, a native New Yorker.” Based on the bride’s photograph and last name, the native New Yorker probably was of Chinese descent or East Asian. The music of Barry Manilow was played during the reception.

Note – It is important here to remember the distorted use of the term Asian-American. It does not actually mean people from anywhere in Asia. In a description of the movie “Always Be My Maybe,” (New York Times, June 2, 2019), the author notes the involvement of “a pair of Asian-American stars” and “an Iranian-American female director.” So whereas Iran (Persia) was part of Asia for more than two millennia, now it no longer is. Geography teachers should be notified of this change.

May 12 New York Times book review by Nancy Foner, a prominent person in immigration issues: “An astounding 77 percent of adult Indian immigrants in 2015 had a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with 29 percent of all immigrants and 31 percent of native-born adults.”

May 15 Journal News: Iona College Names Bronx Native as New President (headline).

August 5 Time on Iceland’s Prime Minister: “Many cultures have native words for unique experiences.” The native cultures presented to illustrate the point are Iceland, Germany, and Spain. I think it is fair to say that these native cultures consist of white people.

All of these examples of the use of the word “native” are normal traditional uses without any awareness or belief that such usage might be improper. One suspects these natives of the Bronx, New York, Florida, and the entire country all consider themselves American natives.

Of course, it is no secret that Native Americans are not actually native to America. The idea that people from the Greek-based word Asia crossed over into the Italian-based word America is not new. Scholars debate exactly when the people crossed over, exactly how, and in exactly how many waves. There is unanimity among them that people did leave the eastern hemisphere for the western hemisphere millennia ago.

Lately due to advances in deciphering of DNA evidence, scientists have been able to develop a more detailed understanding of these people were who undertook the journey. Here is the title of one such article from Science Magazine (online, June 5) on the subject:

Closest-known ancestor of today’s Native Americans found in Siberia.

Correct me if I am wrong, but doesn’t the title mean the people are Native Siberians who emigrated to America? The first sentence adds to the linguistic confusion.

Indigenous Americans… descend from humans who crossed over an ancient land bridge connecting Siberia in Russia to Alaska tens of thousands years ago.

Under normal circumstances, one would expect the editor to correct the writer to say that indigenous Siberians crossed over to Alaska, but these are not normal times and the meanings of words are distorted.

The article describes multiple movements by multiple peoples not all of whom remain extant today.  As a result of this DNA analysis,

It’s the closest we have ever gotten to a Native American ancestor outside the Americas.

Can you imagine someone saying the following about DNA analysis fro a people who migrated west into Europe?

It’s the closest we have ever gotten to a Native Italian ancestor outside Italy.

In the New York Times (June 11, 2019), the teaser on the front page of Science section states “A lost people in Asia may be ancestors of Native Irish.”  I am sorry, I mean a lost people in Siberia may be ancestors of Native Americans. The article provides more details than did the Science Magazine one. It refers to an article just published in the journal Nature about new clues “to the migrations that first brought people to the America.” Presumably if you migrate from England, France, Spain, or Holland on ships instead of by land to America, once you arrive here you become a Native America just as if you come from Siberia. Right?

According to the article, these geneticists have learned that people who live in a place today often have little genetic connection to those who lived there thousands of years ago. Is that even legal?

Wait. It gets worse. As the geneticists traced the various combinations of peoples over extended periods of time who mixed and mingled, they discovered an unexpected participant.

The story gets more complicated. Shortly after that split [24,000 years ago of the ancestors of the Native Americans and Ancient Paleo-Siberians], the ancestors of Native Americans encountered another population with genetic ties to Europe.

 FAKE NEWS!!!!!!! HOW DARE THEY PRINT THAT!!!!

 All living Native Americans carry a mixture of genes from these two groups.
                The new study can’t pinpoint exactly where Native Americans emerged from the meeting of these two peoples.

So not only are Native American not native to America, they have genetic ties to a people from Europe!

MORE FAKE NEWS!!!!!!!

So what then should these people be called?

In 2018, a professor posted a query on H-Early-America, one of numerous H-Net discussion groups which have been created in the academic setting. The question raised was “Help with ‘Native American’ terminology.”

I recently submitted a proposal for a new course that I will teach in our first year seminar program in the fall.  It entails two Reacting to the Past games:  Forest Diplomacy, 1756-1757 and Greenwich Village 1913: Suffrage, Labor, and the New Woman.  My question is about the former.  In the “official” description of the course, the author uses the word “Indian.”   This is the comment I got from the committee that approved my course:  “The committee would like to note that Native Americans are called “Indians” in the description. We are curious about this word choice (when a more accurate/ politically agreed upon way to describe this population these days is Native American). Perhaps this is how historians talk about the past. But it is worth raising as a question and as feedback.” I chose not to engage immediately since I was simply happy that they approved the course.  But now I’m curious–and would like to respond to the committee since they chose to raise it as an issue.  Is it indeed a settled issue among historians that we don’t use the term Indian and instead used Native American?  I’ve always understood that it is NOT settled and that “Indian” is an acceptable term, but I could certainly be educated by the experts in the field. 

Here we have a classic example of the thought police at an elitist college gently showing the history professor sinner the error of her ways without appearing to be too zealous. The answers to the query help shed light on the present situation.

I wanted to respond since I’ve had almost the exact same conversation regarding my “Imagining American Indians in Film” course. First of all, stick to your guns, as the committee is, in perhaps overly-simplistic terms, incorrect. It is a terminology in flux.

With that in mind, here are some concrete ways to respond.

I start by framing the conversation around the right of groups to choose their own terminology. This is written into the inclusive language policy at my institution, so I make sure to point to that.

In that sense, I always use national/tribal names when possible, deferring to the term preferred by the nation itself. For example, Dine rather than Navajo or Haudenosaunee rather than Iroquois. In moments when I need to refer to people more broadly, I use American Indian. On this I turn to a number of sources to defend that position. The first are American Indians themselves. While the opinion is not unanimous, high-profile individuals have made the case for keeping American Indian. Sherman Alexie is a particularly popular one. There are also larger connections to the history of American Indian activism that many Indian people want to preserve. Finally, there is a legal case for continuing to identify as American Indian, as this is the term enshrined in case law.

Note the use of the term “nation.”

A lengthy comment reiterated these points while offering an interesting take on how once again American Indians are victims of white cultural imperialism.

It is my experience since becoming a historian in my second career that American Indians prefer to be called “American Indians” (after their tribal identification, of course). This comes from asking members, especially when I was a historian with the National Park Service and worked on many projects with tribal historians and other tribal members, as well as in my own research and writing, and the overwhelming response I received was “American Indian” was preferred almost to a man and woman. I am no longer with the NPS, but I understand the agency conducted a survey before compiling its style guide a few years ago, and the respondents overwhelmingly preferred “American Indian.” While some answered “either” was “acceptable,” many more expressed the view that they felt “Native American” was offensive, paternalistic and racist.

When I asked a Cherokee colleague in @ 2003 or 2004, who had been the tribal historic preservation officer before coming to NPS, he said, “if you were born here, you’re a native American.” Then he said “those who prefer ‘Native American’ generally fall into one of three categories: (1) those who work for the government; (2) those who work on university campuses; and (3) white people who claim to be 1/32 Cherokee.” When I was working on the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commemoration, 2004-2006, I attended a national conference on the topic, and the presenters were divided in their usage. All the Indian historians called native peoples INDIANS; while the only ones who used “Native Americans” were white academics. I understand the Associated Press style guide has recently dropped its insistence that “Native American” is the preferred term in light of other recent surveys.

At the recent conference of the Society for Historians of the Early Republic (SHEAR), the opening plenary session included a presentation on the Cherokee. The historian consistently referred to these people by their proper name. Similarly other Indian peoples mentioned in the talk, the Creeks, Chickasaws, and Choctaws, also were referred to by proper noun name. Collectively they were Indian Nations. Again, note that term “nation.” It is easy to overlook the importance placed by American Indians on being recognized as a nation. They recognized that England and the United States were nations and saw themselves as comparable political entities. “Nativizing” them strips them of this identity. The academics who work with the American Indians know that these people are entitled to the same respect one would show European peoples: use their name and recognize their “nationess.”

American Indians recognize that the term “Native Americans” was created by white people based on the needs of white people. These white people have a lot of power and can be relentless in imposing their will. Eventually the American Indians may have no choice but to submit to the power of the politically correct. One should recognize therefore that weaponization of “native” and “indigenous” did not arise from a grassroots need. American Indians had no objection to being called American Indians until white people told them they should. The use of these terms should be understood as part of the culture war within white people where American Indians are a pawn to be used to fit a white agenda.

Why would white people do this?

What should be done about it?

How the Politically-Correct Helped Elect Donald Trump…..in 2016

https://upload.wikimedia.org

Many factors contribute to the election of an American President. In the last election one can point to the shortcomings of the Democratic candidate, the Russian violation of America on behalf of the Republican candidate, and the ability of the longtime Democrat and Clinton supporter to con Republicans into thinking he was a conservative who cared about them. Yet despite the supposedly massive switch of Obama voters to Republican voters and the Russian assistance, the Republican Party once again lost the popular vote as it has done on a recurring basis throughout the Baby Boom era.

Frequently overlooked in the election analysis is the role of the Politically Correct. Through the longtime manipulation of demographic data, they provided the opportunity for the Republican voters who were terrified by that data to be conned. I was reminded of this fact during a recent poll, perhaps in the aftermath of the State of Union but it does not really matter. The poll divided the respondents into different demographic groups. One such group was non-Hispanic whites.

Have you ever seen a poll with separation of whites into non-Slavic whites? How about non-Celtic whites? Or non-Germanic whites? Non-Nordic whites? Non-Latin whites? Why the segregation of non-Hispanic whites from other whites in the poll? Are they also segregated from non-Hispanic whites in census counts unlike the other groups of whites? What effect does this separation have on the totaling of the number of whites in the country? How does that distortion play out in the minds of the voting public?

The separation of the whites into categories depresses the count of white people in the country the same way the one-drop rule increases the count of black people in the country. The classification system is rigged. Instead of wasting its time on imaginary illegal voting by people running around a polling location and changing clothes, the weeny party of stupid would be better advised to focus on how it is being played by the politically-correct demographic classification system being used.

For example, you might think that if the poll separated non-Hispanic whites from other white people that it would then give the polling results of Hispanic whites as well. No such number was provided at least not in the newspaper account I was reading. There was a listing for Hispanic results however. So what happened to the Hispanic whites? There were deliberately excluded from the white total and then apparently combined with peoples of multiple races as Hispanics. How’s that for rigging the numbers!

What about non-Hispanic blacks? The poll simply provided a total for blacks. There was no differentiation between non-Hispanic blacks and blacks. So where are the blacks from Cuba, Brazil, and Jamaica included? Are they combined with middle-passage blacks or are they considered Hispanics too? It would be helpful if the Thought Police provided guidelines as to how people are being classified racially for identity politics. Imagine if you were a Nazi German who fled to South America and your grandchildren came to America…would they be Hispanic? Would they be people of color?

An example related to this question recently occurred in Brazil. The fashion director of Vogue magazine’s Brazilian edition was just obligated to resign due to some photographs that alluded to the black slave labor in Brazil’s past. No, the white editor did not appear in blackface like a Virginian politician but the setting of the photographs suggested a reference to Brazil’s black slave past. Brazil today has a population where blacks and biracial people are over 50% of the population and everyone knows in what category they belong. So when Brazilian whites, blacks, biracial, and Indians come to the United States are they all Hispanic? Are they all brown people?

The issue of American Indians bears further analysis. In the United States there are Indian nations or tribes. Demographically they are categorized separately from other peoples. What about Indian peoples from south of the American border. How are they classified? Consider this letter from my local paper (2/15/19) entitled “I’m not Latin:”

Let me start off this letter by saying that I’m not Latin nor am I Hispanic, Latino, Spanish, or Latin American. These wildly misleading terms for Spanish-speaking Americans are implicative of European colonization and its culturally-corrosive ethos. My family heritage is that of the Quechua peoples of Ecuador, and many Spanish-speaking individuals I’ve encountered find offense in being subjected to a label that misconstrues their ethnicity (i.e., “Latin”). I consider myself an Indigenous Americano, so don’t call me or my Central and South American neighbors “Latin” or any of the misguided aforementioned labels.

The claim to be “indigenous” is suspect itself. Lately there has been a lot of news about DNA research on humans back in Paleolithic and Neolithic times. Here is how the New York Times reported on the arrival of the first humans in the Americas (“A Migrant Wave, Ages Ago, From North to South,” 11/9/18):

The earliest known arrivals from Asia were already splitting into recognizably distinct groups…Some of these populations thrived becoming the ancestors of indigenous peoples throughout the hemisphere.

WHAT! People who migrated from Asia to the Americas are the ancestors of indigenous peoples! What does it mean to be indigenous then? If peoples migrated from Europe to America, how long before they can be considered the ancestors of indigenous people too? The Spanish have been here 500 years. The Dutch and English 400 years. Black Africans 400 years in the United States as of 2019. At what point do people from somewhere else become indigenous? How could one reporter write such nonsense in consecutive sentences? How come an editor did not catch it? Welcome to the warped language of the Politically Correct.

This complaint by the Quechua individual about not being Hispanic resembles the words and comments made about another bogus politically-correct people, Asian-Americans. In an article “What a Fraternity Hazing Death Revealed About the Painful Search for an Asian-American Identity” by Jay Caspian Kang (NYT 8/13/17), the author writes:

Asian-American’’ is a mostly meaningless term. Nobody grows up speaking Asian-American, nobody sits down to Asian-American food with their Asian-American parents and nobody goes on pilgrimages back to their motherland of Asian-America….My Korean upbringing, I’ve found, has more in common with that of the children of Jewish and West African immigrants than that of the Chinese and Japanese in the United States — with whom I share only the anxiety that if one of us is put up against the wall, the other will most likely be standing next to him.

A comment on that article expressed a similar attitude:

Thank you for this article. I think you really captured the particular neurosis that is the “Asian American” identity. I am second-gen Asian American and mixed, and I agree, I really have no idea what that means, beyond the attendant stereotypes…

At times, people needed to be instructed that they were Asian.

I didn’t know I was Asian until I came to America at age 14 from Korea. Asia was a large connected piece of land that did not confer any identity on me until I came to the US. Growing up in Michigan, I felt at times “Asian-American” felt like an identity concentration camp where white Americans shove all the foreigners who spoke goobledegooky languages into one category. It took about 20 years for me to feel comfortable describing myself as an Asian-American – that made-up identity.

Yet on 10/1/2018, the New York Times (“When Turkey’s Big Plans Fall Short”) dared to refer in the article on development in Istanbul to Turkey’s “Asian shore.” Didn’t it get the memo? Sure Turkey was what the Greeks meant when they invented the word Asia but Turkey and Persia are no longer part of Asia in the alternate reality of the Politically Correct. The Orient Express now really ended in Korea not Turkey! And Caucasians from Asia aren’t white people either. Now only East Asians and Southeast Asians are Asian-Americans while Central Asians and Southwest Asians (the Middle East) are not. South Asians seem to go both ways depending on who is doing the counting.

To sum up, the current politically-correct demographic classification system is rigged. In a world of identity politics it is essential that there be strict guidelines over how people can classify themselves. For example, you can just go up to an Indian nation and demand a cut of the casino earnings. Tribes have established guidelines prospective members have to meet before they can pass themselves as members of the tribe and collect.

We need to do the same nationally. If you are going to represent yourself as being a member of a particular hyphen, you need to be able to prove it. Calling biracial people of black and white ancestry “black” is racist. You only have to look at the people who pass for blacks to realize how racist a society we are.

The manipulation of this demographic information isn’t just by chance. Given the deliberate minimization of the white and Caucasian numbers, given that biracial people are generally categorized by their minority race (Obama, Harris), and given the one-drop rule (Sally Hemmings is 75% white!) one observes a method to this madness. Demographer Dowell Myers, University of Southern California, witnessed the impact in 2008 when the garbage-in data produced results that in 2042 non-Hispanic whites would be a minority people in America (“Racial Projection by the Census Is Making Demographers Uneasy,” NYT 11/23/18):

Dr. Myers watched as progressives, envisioning political power, became enamored with the idea of the coming white minority. He said it was hard to interest them in his work on ways to make the change seem less threatening to fearful whites….”It was conquest, our day has come,” he said of their reaction. “They wanted to overpower them with numbers. It was demographic destiny.”

Remember when Germans weren’t white and then they were? When Irish weren’t white and then they were? When Italians weren’t white and then they were? One day Hispanic whites will be white people too. One day Caucasians from Asia and Africa will be white people too. And one day the intermarriage which has, is, and will occur will wreak havoc on the projections the Politically Correct love.

The irony of all this is that it is the Republicans who have accepted the politically-correct classification system hook, line, and sinker. The Politically Correct have foisted a bogus classification system on the country where people are expected to be authentic, true to their hyphens, and not be a traitor. The classification system is rigged. Furthermore, if a person objects to that system and wants to be treated as an individual human being, there is no party of Lincoln to reach out to them to welcome them. Instead the weeny part of stupid is too fearful and terrified to expose it as fraudulent. Instead the Republican Party accepts the validity of the politically-correct classification that a demographic deluge is coming to take their country away from them. What are people to do given the apocalyptic doom that is caravaning to America’s southern border? Who will protect us from being destroyed by the politically correct peoples flooding the land? It is God’s plan that our Lord and Savior draw a line in the sand so real America will triumph. And America’s 21st century Elmer Gantry has heeded the call. The Donald Trump presidency is the price America pays for being politically correct.

See also

Did Little Syria in Lower Manhattan Consist of Asian-Americans? – Issue for the 2020 Census

What Race Is Meghan Markle? What about Sally Hemmings?

Did Little Syria in Lower Manhattan Consist of Asian-Americans? – Issue for the 2020 Census

Little Syria Exhibit (Arab American Museum)

Once upon a time in the 19th and 20th centuries, there was a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan called Little Syria. The area was defined as west of Broadway to the Hudson River and from the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan north to Liberty Street. Beginning in the 1880s, a variety of people from the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East began settling there. By the 1920s, the population consisted of about 8000 people including 27 ethnicities. Their tenements were located near the docks where the residents worked. Thanks to the construction of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the World Trade Center, almost all of Little Syria has been destroyed. The 9/11 Memorial is now adjacent to what was once Little Syria.

Are these Syrian-Americans Asian-Americans? Are Iranian-Americans Asian-Americans? How should Americans be classified by race?

ASIA

“Asia” itself is a Greek term. In addition, the Greeks named part of Asia “Syria.” The Greeks were under the impression that Assyria, located in the Mosul area in northern Iraq, actually had been further west than it really had been. The error stuck and today the land is still called Syria from the Greeks. Is it still part of Asia?

The ancient Egyptians used other words to designate the area since the term “Asia” had not yet been invented by the Greeks. They definitely considered the people to its east not to be real people and to be in what today is Asia. The traditional translation by Egyptologists in reference to these people in Sinai and the Levant is “vile Asiatics.” The modifier is implied even when it wasn’t used.

This distinction between the real people in Egypt and the subhumans in Asia continued on with the Greeks. They differentiated the people of Europe and the barbarians of Asia. The issue climaxed in the 5th century BCE when the Persians (modern Iranians) sought to expand their empire from Asia into Europe as the Greeks understood the world. Waterways from the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean did provide a natural and easily recognizable “line in the sand” to mix metaphors between Asia and Europe. The great journey by the Mycenaeans in the Trojan War represents the oldest story of such a crossover. The Persians moved into Europe twice leading to the famous battles at Marathon and Thermopylae. Notice how all these crossing from one domain into the other became great stories in western tradition.

Then in the next century, the Europeans turned the tables. Under the leadership of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE, the Europeans crossed eastward into Asia Minor, modern Turkey, and kept going until they reached India and Afghanistan. To the ancient Greeks who coined the term Asia, that was as far as they went. At that point Alexander’s troops were practically at the point of mutiny. Enough was enough and they were not going to continue marching eastward. Thus for Greece, Asia did not include Koreans.

The biblical experience depicts a similar worldview. After the Flood, the three sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, then repopulated the world. The genealogies in the Table of Nations (Genesis, Chapter 10), identify a mainly Shemitic-world (from which the Semitic language group is defined) stretching no further east then the Elamites in western Iran. When Abram (later Abraham) confronts the kings from the east as biblical scholars phrase it in Genesis Chapter 14, again Elam is the easternmost point. The prophet Isaiah in various passages presents a world view from Elam in the east to Egypt in the west to the Sabaeans (Sheba, modern Yemen) in the south (Isaiah 11:1; 18:1-2; 20:3-5; 43:3; 45:14). Both the Table of Nations and Isaiah assert that these descriptions encompass all the peoples of the world (Genesis 10:32; Isaiah 18:3).

It is with Josephus, the first century CE Jewish historian, that the Jewish worldview is pushed eastward in accord with the Greek view of Asia. In seeking to identify the four rivers which watered the garden of Eden, Josephus wrote:

Ant 1:38 Now the garden was watered by one river, {c} which ran around the whole earth, and was parted into four parts. And Phison, which denotes a multitude, running into India, makes its exit into the sea, and is by the Greeks called Ganges.

Clearly Asia in ancient times to the people who created the term and the other peoples affected by the Greek culture, extended from Asia Minor in modern Turkey eastward to west India. Obviously that definition of the continent has changed.

Scholars today have devised various geographical terms to deal with the vast Asian continent we now know to exist. One really does not become an expert in all of Asia. Instead it is divided into various regions:

1. Southwest Asia referring to the ancient Near East and more of an anthropological term than one used by Assyriologists, Egyptologists, biblical scholars or politicians today
2. Southern or South Asia referring to the Indian subcontinent that geologists say “crashed” into the Asian continent producing the world’s highest mountains
3. Southeast Asia best known to Americans from the Vietnam War
4. East Asia of China, Korea, and the islands of Japan
5. Central Asia of the “stans” or landlocked states carved out of the former Soviet Union
6. Siberia which could be called North Asia but isn’t.

Together these regions comprise the Asian continent. Overall they encompass multiple ecologies and landscapes, two major races, Caucasian and Oriental, four major religions, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Moslem. It’s hard to see what Turks and Vietnamese have in common besides their humanity. Are Turkish-Americans and Vietnamese-Americans both Asian-Americans?

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Orient was a lot closer to Europe then you might think. The Orient began in Turkey then. The famed Orient Express commenced regular train service in 1883. It began in Paris and ended east in Istanbul at the dividing line between two continents. The American Schools of Oriental Research was founded in 1900 and its first school was in Jerusalem. The Palestine Oriental Society was founded in Jerusalem in 1920.

Speaking of Turkey, even today, it shows that old dividing line between Europe and Asia still prevails. Many many years ago, Turkey sought membership in the European Common Market. That application floundered over whether an Asian country could meet the European standards. Now Turkey has if not abandoned then certainly minimized its western “orientation” and turned eastward and to the south. Technically that shift is to Asia but the area is often called the Middle East.

ASIAN-AMERICAN

In the United States, by the time Little Syria was being created in lower Manhattan, Asians from the opposite side of the Asian continent already had become to populate the other side of the American continent. Chinese laborers significantly contributed to building of the western branch of the Transcontinental Railroad completed in 1869. There then began a new phenomenon in the United States called “Chinatown.” Chinatowns appeared in many cities and they weren’t called “Asiantowns.” Similarly in the 18th century when Massachusetts merchants sailed to the Orient, the dishware they brought back was and is called “china” and not “asia.”

During World War II, the term “Asia” still was not the common usage. Japanese-Americans were interred, not Asian-Americans. The war was fought in the Pacific Theater not the Asia Theater. Not until the Vietnam War in southeast Asia in the 1960s did the term”Asia” become more commonly used. Also in 1965, immigration laws changed. People from many new countries began to arrive here including refugees from the war-torn countries in southeast Asia. Now Americans were aware of problems on two sides of the Asian continent: one called Southeast Asia and the other the Middle East. The bifurcation of the continent had begun.

What then does Asian-American mean in the United States today? In an article “What a Fraternity Hazing Death Revealed About the Painful Search for an Asian-American Identity” by Jay Caspian Kang in the New York Times (online version Aug. 9, 2017; printed version on August 13, 2017 with the title “Not Without My Brothers,”) the author writes:

“Asian-American’’ is a mostly meaningless term. Nobody grows up speaking Asian-American, nobody sits down to Asian-American food with their Asian-American parents and nobody goes on pilgrimages back to their motherland of Asian-America….My Korean upbringing, I’ve found, has more in common with that of the children of Jewish and West African immigrants than that of the Chinese and Japanese in the United States — with whom I share only the anxiety that if one of us is put up against the wall, the other will most likely be standing next to him.

A comment to the article expresses a similar attitude:

Thank you for this article. I think you really captured the particular neurosis that is the “Asian American” identity. I am second-gen Asian American and mixed, and I agree, I really have no idea what that means, beyond the attendant stereotypes…

At times, people needed to be instructed that they were Asian.

I didn’t know I was Asian until I came to America at age 14 from Korea. Asia was a large connected piece of land that did not confer any identity on me until I came to the US. Growing up in Michigan, I felt at times “Asian-American” felt like an identity concentration camp where white Americans shove all the foreigners who spoke goobledegooky languages into one category. It took about 20 years for me to feel comfortable describing myself as an Asian-American – that made-up identity.

“Goobledeooky” is the modern equivalent of the “bar bar” the Greeks thought Asians spoke which led to the word “barbarian.”

It isn’t as if the people called Asian-Americans aren’t only aware that Asian-American is a made-up identity. They also are aware that one size doesn’t fit all peoples from Asia either.

Thanks for this article. East Asians are well hidden in this society. As are South Asians (into which I married many years ago). All are lumped together as “Asians” in the U.S. And all the brownish ones have now morphed in this era of white extremism into terrorists. Racism is simply rampant.

The mention of east and south Asia suggests the possibility that the individual recognizes the existence of Asians in the center, southwest, and northern part of the continent as well despite the use of the term as if it only means east Asia. However I doubt people are comfortable with extending the use of Asian-Americans to include all Americans from the Asian continent, like Syrians and Iranians.

This issue of the meaning of Asian-American is not mere academic chatter. Quotas especially in education depend on the proper classification of people into their respective races. Even though Asian is a completely bogus term as a racial identifier doesn’t mean it can’t acquire legal standing as a recognized racial group. As both political parties maneuver to exploit racism to their own advantage it is essential that there be an agreed upon terminology and definition of races. In commenting of the meaningless of the term “Asian-American” noted by other respondents, one individual wrote:

The term African-American is also meaningless when you live in a city – like NY, Boston, DC, or Miami – where recent black immigrants from multiple countries are a substantial portion of the black population and have not that much in common with native-born American blacks.

Hispanic is also pretty meaninglesss both as a racial and nationality concept, especially in cities where the national origin of Spanish-speaking immigrants is quite diverse. It’s only binding characteristic is linguistic.

Isn’t it time we did away with these silly HR form categories?

Think of the young Nikki Haley, our ambassador to the United Nations, trying to compete in the Miss Bamberg beauty contest where she was born in South Carolina to immigrants from India. She was too light to compete for the title of black queen and too dark to compete for the title of white queen. As a result this South Asian Caucasian was disqualified as not fitting in any existing category. In a time of identify politics where people are defined by their hyphen, it is important that We the People have an adult conversation about the categories we are going to use classify ourselves otherwise Syria, Turkey, Iran, and maybe India will no longer be part of Asia.