Opinion

Ethnicism in America: We can learn from each other

They’re going to build the wall, so now, about a third of the border will.have a wall. Which is good news, really: now, there are only 1,300 miles of border for the Mexicans to cross, unless they invent/build/bring a ladder.

Anyway, logic aside, the wall reflects deeper ethnocentric attitudes which I think are very unhealthy. Race is increasingly acknowledged as a social construct, based on skin tone, facial features, etc. While our society is increasingly aware of “racism” and many people have “successfully debunked racist myths,” I don’t think that today’s prejudices aren’t based on race as much as ethnicity.

Immigrants used to be incorporated into American society by disavowing their cultures and thus “assimilating.” From that point of view, ethnic stereotypes are baseless. However, there are an increasing number of neighborhoods in the country which are ethnically/culturally identified. Miami is a good example: Hialeah and Little Havana are Cuban, Little Haiti is obvious, Sweetwater is Nicaraguan, Overtown is African-American, and so forth.

Living among members of their own culture, immigrants, however recent, don’t assimilate the way immigrants used to. Language is a clear indicator of this lack of assimilation – think Spanish in Miami – but there are many other cultural values that are retained.

And if people aren’t assimilating, ethnic stereotypes do have some ground. As the saying goes, “It’s not good, it’s not bad. It’s just different.” I don’t think it’s our place to pre-judge people, to apply our cultural values without understanding the alternatives and deconstructing both sets of values, but simply identifying the difference can be useful.

I’m not saying lack of assimilation is a bad thing – on the contrary, I think that different parts of “American” culture have become toxic, for different reasons, and could benefit from retaining other cultures’ values.

For instance, I’ve lived in Latin America, and I think that their view on weight is much healthier than the attitude in the US, which, as the movie Spanglish enunciated, is “a desire for the comfort of fullness.” My attitude toward weight changed while I lived in Latin America. I know that it shifted from stressing constantly because of pressure from my endocrinologist and my mother, to relaxing, establishing a manageable weight – slender yet curvaceous (and that’s how I define it), and my health records prove that my weight has since stabilized.

I feel like our culture has become inbred; the melting pot has become rancid. By not re-examining our packaged values, we fail to understand them, and often miss the point: embracing sex instead of compassion, violence instead of freedom or self-determination. Because of blind American supremacy, our toxic, corrupted values have multiplied like bacteria, they are poisoning our society, and they need to be checked.

Lady Liberty’s got a yeast infection, and it’s high time to pop some penicillin.

Bethany Quinn is a senior majoring in latin American studies and visual communication. She may be contacted at b.quinn2@umiami.edu.

October 24, 2006

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published in print every Tuesday.