February 03, 2012

Two lovable mobsters in Cole Porter’s musical Kiss Me, Kate sing a song with the following refrain:

Brush up your Shakespeare
Start quoting him now.
Brush up your Shakespeare
And the girls you will wow.

I’m too old to wow any girls, but I’m trying to keep senescence at bay by enriching my mind. So I applied to Santa Monica’s Emeritus College to further my exploration of Shakespeare. What I found on the application form shocked me.

It asked for my ethnic background and offered an appalling 20 different designations from which to choose: “African-American, Mexican/Chicano, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian Indian, Asian (Other), Korean”—you get the picture. The form also said, “The state requires this information for new students.” (My state assemblyman’s office confirmed that.)

With a wavy line I crossed over all the choices and on the margin wrote “American.” The front-desk attendant smirked when I handed in my application. I knew where on the list I was going to be placed. Since they receive more applications than they can seat, it may be coincidental that I was not accepted.

“We foolishly believe it makes us better Americans to accept their refusal to assimilate.”

The designations I crossed out convey the message that we have lost sight of the overarching ideology of what it means to be American. The noble experiment our Founding Fathers envisioned—to subsume multiple ethnicities into one American identity, one that would become an American eidos by which we are defined—is no longer viable. How many times have you spoken to someone whose English was either nonexistent or so fractured as to be incomprehensible?

Multiculturalism is a curse. Hyphenating Americans is racist and divisive, leaving us with pockets of varying ethnicities that identify more with their former homelands than with America. President Teddy Roosevelt once said, “In this country we have no place for hyphenated Americans.”

Roosevelt also said that “Every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or leave the country.” Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But he urged all who come to our shores to embrace the concept of being an American—our history, our political system (warts and all), our language, and our sense of decency.


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