Uncharted Waters

The last two weeks of February have felt like swimming in uncharted waters. From seeing the community outcry pour into Antioch City Council calls and social media since the news of Angelo Quinto’s death surfaced on February 18, 2021, I feel overwhelmed and heartbroken. Yet, I am perplexed by my own grief for a Filipino man I never knew.

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Questioning the Hyphen

Questioning the Hyphen: Considering the hyphenated-American for an alternative approach to U.S nationalism by Aaron Gozum, 12/7/2017


Today, the American concept of nation is ardently debated between traditional nationalists hailing from a dominating gaze of white male patriarchy and the emerging voices of among the marginalized ethnic groups who have differing perspectives on American culture. As Anderson famously theorized, nations are constructions of our imagination built upon the culturally and politically dominant ideas of a group. The popularized definition of nation was defined as “an imagined political community — and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” (Anderson 1983). Essentially, Anderson sought the belief that nationalism seemed to be the abstracted invention of nations where they do not exist through means of developing a sort of political kinship (6). Among the discourse of nationalism, many variations emerged. In the course of the U.S., two seem most prevalent: civic nationalism, which derives from political legitimacy intended to represent the democratic will of the people via social contract; and ethnic nationalism, which focuses on determining nationality from linguistic, religious or ancestral commonalities (Anderson 1983, Rousseau 1762, Barnard 1967). Emblematic of civic nationalism, President Theodore Roosevelt was an outspoken anti-hyphenate who seemed to stand for an assimilationist belief:

“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism… The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities… each preserving its separate nationality” (President Theodore Roosevelt on Columbus Day, 1915).

Though the goal was most likely an attempt to reinforce solidarity, President Theodore Roosevelt — regardless of intention — imposed a necessity for homogenization. Post his presidency, World War I was underway, giving rise to the question of political loyalties among ethnic groups, particularly Irish-Americans; thus, motivating the denunciation of the hyphenated American as a response for national unification in the country. Though the negative effects of homogenization deserves further discussion, the main issue of this paper points here: if homogenization was the goal for U.S. American nationalism, the compelling question falls to unraveling why the term Asian-American appeared in the 2000 U.S. census reports, decades after the initial usage of the hyphen. If the aim was to create a shared, assimilated community among the residents in the U.S. like President Roosevelt intended, what is the purpose of tacking on another categorical box on the national population records?


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