1: My Name

4 12 2012

My name is Kurt.

That’s Kurt, not Curt.  Curt is short for Curtis, and Curtis is French.  I‘m not French.

I’m German.

Well, actually, I’m an American, and that is to say that I am and always have been a citizen of the United States of America.  I was born here, reared here.  (That’s reared, by the way, not raised.  As my mother used to insist, “You raise lettuce, beets, and corn; you rear children.)  And I now grow old here, as an American.

Of course, the people of Canada, Mexico, and Uruguay, among the many other nations of the western hemisphere, are also Americans.  The two continents of that hemisphere – North America and South America – were named after an Italian merchant and sailor: Amerigo Vespucci.  Back in 1497, he as one of the first Europeans to do so explored these parts of the planet.

A great American architect named Frank Lloyd Wright once coined a new term to distinguish the people of these United States from other Americans: Usonian.  Perhaps it would be better spelled USonian.  As is obvious, it comes from the common abbreviation for the United States.  Except as a name for a kind of affordable housing he designed, however, Wright’s word didn’t come into parlance.

When I say that I’m German, I mean that my people are German and that my ethnic identity and heritage are German.  One may say that the Germanic people of today’s Federal Republic of Germany now form one ethnic group.  Yet those whom we might think are German come out of a number of earlier, ancestral ethnic groups.  We would consider in particular the Teutons, the Goths, the Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes.  We would also consider the Franks and the Alemanni, and perhaps even the Huns.  Germans established many ethnic groups outside Germany.  As examples, there are those residing in the nations of Austria, Switzerland, France, Poland, Russia, Romania, Italy, Argentina, and the United States, among others.

We Germans have long formed one of the largest ethnic groups in this American nation.  At the end of the 20th century, more than a fifth of all Americans were of German ancestry.  I understand that, at one time, a third of the settlers in the Midwest were immigrants from German-speaking parts of Europe, populating sizable communities in such cities as Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, and especially Milwaukee.  When I stood in a crowd during a speech made by the Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany during one of Milwaukee’s German Fests, we were told that just over half of the citizens of the state of Wisconsin have a German ancestor.

As one might reasonably deduce, the other largest ethnic groups within the USA have been the English, the Irish, and the Scots.  If one combines those three into one called British, then that would always have been the largest, at least until the 21st century.

That word British mixes things up, however, in a way similar to the word American.  The ancient British were Britons, a Celtic ethnic group who were the ancestors of today’s Cornish and Welsh, people who are not descended from the other ethnic groups that came to live on the British Isles: the Angles, the Saxons, the Jutes, the Danish Vikings, and the Normans. The Welsh and Cornish are Celtic, as are the Scots highlanders (who themselves are an amalgamation of the earlier Picts and Gaels, among others). Something similar can be said of the Irish.  Nevertheless, those peoples today living on the British Isles are all called British.  Add the province of Northern Ireland, also called Ulster, to get the United Kingdom.  The people of Ulster are often included in the term British, too.

Things get mixed up.  The British are no longer Britons.  The English are no longer Angles.  I wonder if anyone could today find a purebred Briton anywhere in Wales.  I doubt that anyone could today find a purebred Angle anywhere in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  Time passes.  Ethnic groups intermingle, and new ethnic groups come into being.

This, I suspect, is today becoming true of Americans – that is, those of us who live in the United States of America.  There has been much intermingling over the past one hundred years, and soon we may have, not just a national group, but an ethnic group that can be called American.

Perhaps a term that will be more carefully used is Neo-American. This will distinguish the new ethnic group from Native American, also known as Aboriginal American and American Indian (Amer-Indian for short). And then there will still be the terms Metis and Mestizo to take into consideration.

Even if the new term is as imprecise as the terms English and British, it would have a valid ethnic meaning: someone who is a member of a group of people with a distinctive language and culture that influences how one behaves, speaks, and even thinks.  Indeed, this seems already to be true.  I heard one man say that he used to consider himself an African-American, or Afro-American for short. During a journey into Africa, however, he changed his mind. To him, it became obvious: he was about as African as Jazz. He adjusted his wording to say, “I am an American, an American of African descent.”

Now consider the amount of influence that Americans have had on the other peoples of the world over the past two centuries or more. Think of politics, economics, business and commerce and finance, science and technology, arts and entertainment, communications media, military affairs, and even language.  More people today speak English than any language other than Chinese.  This because so many people choose English as a second, third, or even fourth language, and this would seem largely due to the influence of Americans.

A decade or two ago, someone might have thought that someday the world would become American, that someday the world would have its first trans-global empire. It would perhaps be the first empire established less by military conquest and more by incessant influence.

Prior to 11 September 2001, such a state of affairs may have been plausible.  But since?

Such thoughts were not the thoughts of common people in America during the years of my youth.  Half a century ago, we worried about Russia – then known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – and about the establishment by force of a world-wide Communist empire.

woodcraft 1




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