Wednesday, May 03, 2006

2436 Ethnicity in the United States

About a decade ago I heard that the largest ethnic group in the United States, if you can call them that, was German-Americans. I think it was 30% or something. That would be me. But when they count the Scots-Irish and the English, that would also be me. So somewhere along the graph of ethnicities, the statisticans will have more than 100% if I get counted three times. So when I heard on the radio that by 2050 the United States will be over 50% Hispanic, I figured, Yes, if we don't count anyone twice, which wouldn't be fair.

I have a number of friends and family who ethnically are Hispanic--i.e., their parents or grand parents were born in Mexico (where the borders are now). To my knowledge, they don't know a word of Spanish, except maybe cognates or names of restaurants. They are middle class and evangelical Christians. Republicans, would be my guess. My husband's niece, even with the extremely fair skin of her blonde Indiana Scots-American mother, is noticeably Hispanic. Her sons, only one-fourth Hispanic have her large, snappy dark eyes and stocky build that hints at their Indian ancestry.

We've got an architect friend in Texas; both his parents are from Mexico. I remember asking him about Spanish, and he said his parents never spoke it in front of the children and so he spoke nothing but English. A very successful architect, he graduated from college as did his siblings with blue collar parents. And what about all those Spanish descended Americans--from Cuba or Puerto Rico--who have no native peoples in their bloodlines? How are they going to be counted--as European Americans or Hispanics? They never picked tomatoes or cleaned toilet--they've always been privileged.

My German ancestors gave up their German-English dialect in Pennsylvania after about 100 years--around the 1840s. It was probably an economic necessity--they were farmers, carpenters and teamsters and worked with "the English." Then they moved westward, and probably forgot what little German they knew. And what value would it have been to hang on to a child-like, narrow dialect when the rest of the German speaking world moved on in literature and music and politics evolving a language as they went? I once asked a German student at the university if he could translate a note I found in a family Bible. He was completely baffled. He knew it was German, but not what it meant.

And so it will be in 2050.

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