Teddy Roosevelt’s Definition of “American”

A couple of weeks ago, a friend posted this meme on his Facebook page. My attempt to engage in a discussion regarding TR’s statement was vociferously shut down by another “friend”, so my opinion appears as today’s blog post.

Teddy Roosevelt (“TR”) makes some serious assumptions based on opinion and misunderstanding of the human experience in this statement.   It’s a short statement, but it redefines the term “American,” changing it from an adjective describing a person’s place of origin or inhabitants, to a determination of patriotism.

When I asked what TR’s definition of American is, I had the tables turned on me.  I was asked how I define myself as an American.  I responded, “I define myself as an individual, part of many groups. I am also German, Jew,  American, Mormon, female . . . I don’t let those groups define me.” I define myself in many ways, but according to TR, there’s a problem with that.  He says that tolerance of people based upon race and place of origin “is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American . . . There can be no divided allegiance here.”

Crap.  I’m in trouble.  But I was born here, so does that mean I am exempt from these requirements of patriotism?

There are so many problems with TR’s definition of American.  As my Facebook friend points out, there are two widely accepted definitions of American. The first: “of or pertaining to the United States of America and its inhabitants.”  The second: : “a citizen of the United States of America.”  My personal definition of American aligns more closely with a less-understood, and more politically correct,  definition: “of or pertaining to North or South America; of the Western Hemisphere.” When we call citizens of the United States of America “Americans”  we are ignoring all other Americans including Canadians, Mexicans, inhabitants of the Central American countries, and all of South America.  We are so Eurocentric here that we forget that the people who actually belong to this land prefer not to be called American at all. We call them Native Americans or Indians.

Consider this story that was shared in my Facebook feed:

(I’m waiting in line behind a woman speaking on her cellphone in another language. Ahead of her is a white man. After the woman hangs up, he speaks up.)

Man: “I didn’t want to say anything while you were on the phone, but you’re in America now. You need to speak English.”

Woman: “Excuse me?”

Man:*very slow* “If you want to speak Mexican, go back to Mexico. In America, we speak English.”

Woman: “Sir, I was speaking Navajo. If you want to speak English, go back to England.”

I don’t know if the story is true (I hope it is), but the Navajo woman has made my point.  Our ancestors came as intruders. We pushed our way across the continent, removing the original inhabitants in any way necessary, and called it “Manifest Destiny.” I include the Mexican-American war in this implication.  What our ancestors did in the name of colonization and patriotism is not right.  It’s in the past. We can’t change it. What’s done is done. And now, TR tells us that “Any man who tells us that he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all.”

Part of my personal identity is that I am Jewish.  My grandmother came to the United States between the World Wars and decided that she would “assimilate.”  She left behind her religion and her culture in her attempt to become “American.”  She nearly succeeded too, except that her German accent always gave her away (to her chagrin).  Well, she never gave up European cuisine, and she did speak German to her German husband. Because of her accent, she reports that she was often on the receiving end of racial discrimination, especially during the Second World War.

My mother did not learn of her Jewish heritage until she was in her mid-twenties. And since that time, my mother and I have been working hard to relearn the customs and practices lost when Grandma “assimilated.”  To define what it truly means to be “in every facet an American,” one must consider where “Americans” come from.  Americans came here as political refugees who loved their country but could not safely remain because of differences in opinion.  Americans came here as slaves, captured like animals and chained in the underbellies of ships.  Americans came here as children of parents looking for something better. Others were told to assimilate to their new European oppressors or to stay on reservations.  Still others had their country taken away from them through acts of war, and are now being told they never had any right to be here in the first place. Today, most of us were born here, and many of us disagree with this so-called patriotism where we have to deny our parentage and live according to an “American Dream” that sometimes looks more like a nightmare.

Roosevelt’s assertion of patriotism is rife with logical fallacies, the most glaring is that of genetics.  He is claiming that origins determine character and that the only acceptable character is that of American.  He then asserts that one can deny origins, and forsake culturally defining characteristics to become American.  And the speech issue?  My grandmother spoke German and English fluently.  Was she supposed to speak English to her relatives that she left behind in Austria?  Should she have been writing her letters to them in English? Was she supposed to become monolingual even when she was tired, or homesick?  Wasn’t my mother missing out on a great educational opportunity by not being allowed to learn German?

I can think of ten arguments to this one particular statement.  But TR didn’t just speak out against immigration this once.  It was his battle cry for the remainder of his life.  And my battle cry is that of charity, the pure love of Christ, who told us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and not only if those neighbors were legal “Americans.” If we can afford to reach out in love and share our abundance with others, shouldn’t we do it?

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Banned Books: That was Then, This is Now

How my reading lists have changed over the past four years

If you are a reader, you will probably recongize today’s blog’s title as a banned book title.  It is the sequel to one of my very favorite banned books (then and now): The Outsiders

My favorite banned books in 2010:

  • Harry Potter
  • The Davinci Code
  • The Adventures of Hucklebery Finn
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • Twighlight Series (I’ll count these as one)
  • Of Mice and Men
  • 1984
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • The Outsiders

My favorite banned books today:

  • The Scarlet Letter
  • The Book Thief
  • Harry Potter
  • The Davinci Code
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Hunger Games Series
  • 1984
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • The Outsiders

Ten banned books I have read in or before 2010:

  • The Chocolate War (The references to masturbation have led me to ban this book from my personal favorites list.  Otherwise I loved it)
  • The Color Purple (See comment above)
  • Eight Seconds (I recommend this book to adolescents who wonder about sexual orientation, although it doesn’t seem to have much of a plot)
  • Captain Underpants series (I didn’t actually read them, but my son–10 at the time– read parts of them out loud to me, and I thought they were hilarious!)
  • Scary Stories Series (I haven’t read all of them, but I liked them–found ‘em a little tame. LOL)
  • The Great Gatsby(Too voyeuristic for my taste)
  • As I Lay Dying (I loved it, just not sure if it is a favorite)
  • The Awakening (It has a good message, just not sure that I completely agree with it)
  • The Giver (I hated the ending–I thought they died)
  • Are you There God, it’s me, Margaret (I read it because all my friends were making a big deal out of it.  I thought Margaret was stupid–I was 11 at the time.)

Ten other banned books I have read up to 2014:

  • Carrie (Steven King is one of the greatest writers alive. However, I don’t like his language or subject matter.)
  • A Day No Pigs Would Die (It was assigned for one of my children. Since he left it home while he was at school, I read it too. He liked it better than I did)
  • The Face on the Milk Carton (A great book, but a little outdated–now we use social media.)
  • Catcher in the Rye (It did absolutely nothing for me, so I quit halfway through.)
  • Go Ask Alice (A hard-hitting book on teens and drugs.  I totally recommend it to teens who experiment with drugs, even if it is a little outdated.)
  • My Brother Sam Is Dead (A great book!  Why is it banned?)
  • Kaffir Boy (I read the Reader’s Digest condensed version of this book.  LOVED it!)
  • A Light in the Attic (I read it to my children. We all loved it! There’s a copy on my bookshelf at home.)
  • That Was Then, This Is Now (Did I mention that I read it?)
  • The Witches (I love Roald Dahl. Why was this banned, and not Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?)

    Did I just say what I think I said?

Uh, Oh.  Now I have to up date my to-read list. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t get to many of them. This year I intend to finish the whole list. (I can’t believe I said this in public!)

Anyway, here’s my list from 2014 with the books I actually read crossed off

  • I know why the Caged Bird Sings
  • The Golden Compass
  • Bridge to Terebithia
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Lord of the Flies
  • A Farewell to Arms
  • The Jungle
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • Carrie
  • A Mercy (I can see why people question her books. They are very violent and graphic, but accurate to the subject matter.)

And two more to add to the list so when I report back next year, I can say I read all ten:

  • Looking for Alaska
  • Persepolis

 

 

Exercise your freedom to read.

Back in the day, about four years ago, when no one was reading my blog and I was still in Chicago, I wrote this post. I thought I’d share it again today to explain why I read banned books (you do too–shame on you!), and so that I could write another blog tomorrow comparing my then and now favorites and to-read lists.

 

Have you read a banned book? Chances are you have.

On Friday, I received an email invitation to participate in a marathon reading of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl followed by a round-table discussion about the poem, censorship, and book-banning.  This reading is being presented by DePaul’s University Center for Writing-based Learning. I am excited about the prospect. Not because I want to participate in the reading, but because I see an opportunity to explain how I can maintain my personal and religious standards while actively opposing censorship and advocating free speech.

 

Personally and ethically I find the poem demoralizing and debasing, but its existence is important. The poem is scathing and vital evidence of  social maladies existing and unaddressed in the American psyche.  It presents an opportunity for dialogue regarding respectful vs. self-destructive opposition to political control and injustice. Howl is worthwhile on other levels as well, but especially as a previously nonexistent form of self-expression–a new way to look at poetry.  I don’t see much use for it in the classroom however–except in the social sciences. Would I teach it in my own classroom? No, but I reserve the right to make that decision for myself, and I would not discourage others from reading it.

 

I think too, of another document at the conservative end of the spectrum: Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Last I knew, the book was illegal in Germany. I wonder if the Germans are hoping that if they refuse to allow it, the reality of Hitler’s deception will disappear?  But I have read Mein Kampf; don’t like it, and intend to buy my own copy of it. I find it interesting, aberrant, and useful for many of the same reasons I reject Howl; and I want to keep a copy as a way to keep evidence of the truth alive. The Holocaust was real, and without understanding the mentality which supported it, we run the risk of allowing it to happen again; or worse, becoming perpetrators too.  Denying a problem doesn’t make it go away.

 

Banned Books week couldn’t have come at a better time, either.  Just two weeks ago, we watched as a Florida pastor threatened to burn the Quran in protest of a planned Muslim center of worship near Ground Zero of the former World Trade Center. Whenever books are burned, it is done to send a message.  The  message I always get is this: I am ignorant and afraid of people who are different from me. I don’t think that is the message Pastor Jones meant to convey, and I believe that once he could see the Christian outrage in response to his intolerance, he changed his mind, despite the fact that he claimed his mission to be “accomplished.” Accomplished how? Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t that Islāmic center still going up? Simply put, censorship only serves to magnify ignorance.

 

In honor of Banned Books Week 2010, here are my own banned book lists:

 

10 of my favorites :

  • Harry Potter
  • The Davinci Code
  • The Adventures of Hucklebery Finn
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • Twighlight Series (I’ll count these as one)
  • Of Mice and Men
  • 1984
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • The Outsiders

Ten banned books I have read:

  • The Chocolate War (The references to masturbation have led me to ban this book from my personal favorites list.  Otherwise I loved it)
  • The Color Purple (See comment above)
  • Eight Seconds (I recommend this book to adolescents who wonder about sexual orientation, although it doesn’t seem to have much of a plot)
  • Captain Underpants series (I didn’t actually read them, but my son–10 at the time– read parts of them out loud to me, and I thought they were hilarious!)
  • Scary Stories Series (I haven’t read all of them, but I liked them–found ‘em a little tame. LOL)
  • The Great Gatsby(Too voyeuristic for my taste)
  • As I Lay Dying (I loved it, just not sure if it is a favorite)
  • The Awakening (It has a good message, just not sure that I completely agree with it)
  • The Giver (I hated the ending–I thought they died)
  • Are you There God, it’s me, Margaret (I read it because all my friends were making a big deal out of it.  I thought Margaret was stupid–I was 11 at the time.)

10 Banned books that I plan to read:

  • I know why the Caged Bird Sings
  • The Golden Compass
  • Bridge to Terebithia
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Lord of the Flies
  • A Farewell to Arms
  • The Jungle
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • Carrie
  • A Mercy (not on banned book lists yet, but it is a Toni Morrison novel, so I expect it to show up soon.)
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It’s Banned Books Week Again!

Happy Monday!  It’s time to read a banned book or two.  Banned book week actually started yesterday, but I try not to blog on the weekends.

Since yesterday was Sunday, and Sunday is my Sabbath, I thought about religious books.  They’ve all been banned at one point in time, at one place or another.  I read the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  Both have been banned in many places for all sorts of reasons, although I am pretty dang sure the Book of Mormon has been banned more than the Bible.  But before all of you Mormons begin nodding and crying “foul,”  let me remind you that most of the recent book burnings in the United States have been perpetrated by religious groups targeting the Qur’an. Why would we complain that we are being targeted for our religious beliefs and then target others for theirs?  We’re living a friggin’ double standard!

Burning the Qur’an on 9-11.

My challenge to you this week is to look at the top 100 banned books list for the last decade. I’m sure you will find at least one there that you have read and loved. If you are a reader, you will probably find a few that you liked.   Now find one that you haven’t read but are interested in and read it.  Feel free to leave me a  comment on what you chose and how you liked it. I look forward to learning from you.

How to Deal With an Adult Bully

Just don’t.  Standing up for yourself will not stop them.  Reasoning with them will not stop them.  Even ignoring them does not stop them.

I have many conservative friends on my Facebook account.  I know some are right-winged due to their repeated political posts which I often disagree with. However, I rarely feel attacked when I respond. But one (I’ll call him “Buck”) was blocked some time ago because his comments are often hateful,mean-spirited, flat out cruel, and always politically motivated. I decided I was best not seeing his posts, so I kept him as a friend and blocked his activities. That was not the smartest thing for me to do, because I could still see his responses to politically motivated posts of mutual friends.

I’ll call one mutual friend Ed.  Ed’s a great guy; I’ve always liked him, and even when we disagree, we remain friendly.  Buck has never been this way. I think Buck bullies because people disagree with him, and that just makes them sick and wrong (in his vociferous opinion). However, disagreeing with someone (even vehemently), is never cause for bullying.

Give me a U, an L, a Y, an I, and an N.

Recently, Ed posted a statement from Teddy Roosevelt that I really wanted to respond to. It began like this:

Teddy R. post

 

The first unnamed responses came from someone else.

I learned pretty quickly that no matter what the argument was, there would be no disagreeing with Buck, because he wasn’t listening. I didn’t jump in until Buck had already made blatantly racist comments.   I wondered how  Native Americans fit into his equation, so I put my comment on Teddy aside, and asked.  (Dumb, I know.)  I thought his response was downright cold, but I wanted to make sure that I understood him correctly.  People define things differently, and I was hoping I was wrong. Continue reading

I Don’t Like Mondays Either–Deal With It

Now that I have your attention, I want to take this moment to thank you for your support.  You have convinced me that it is worth my efforts to post regularly to my blog and publicize it so I’m not the only one reading it.  You totally rock!  (Yes, I’m talking about you–right there–the one with the face.)

This blog has been my own personal/private spot to work things out for some time now.  It’s always been “public;” anyone could stop by and read it, but no one was, because I had not fixed my settings so that it showed up in places where people could follow a link to get here.  There is still a page on this site that I consider especially for me, and that is the Music in my Soul page.  I go there whenever I need a pick-me-up.  You can go there too, If you want.

I know today is Friday, but this “Monday” post appeared in my Facebook feedfeed today:

Monday GrrrrIt was a funny post on Facebook.  I shared it too.  I really did think it was funny, and felt that it truly described myself on many days, not just Mondays. It was a I great statement because it made me smile. But then I noticed one of the comments on the original post. This one to be exact: Continue reading