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Don’t fear the hyphen

LeeAnn Heinbaugh
Vail, CO, Colorado

Frosty Wooldridge’s March 20 article, “Destroying American Culture: How ‘multiculturalism’ undermines the all-American ideal,” calls for another perspective.

Wooldridge states, “Today, millions call themselves Hmong-Americans, Muslim-Americans, Korean-Americans and African-Americans. In other words, they do no not hold total allegiance as an American.”

What? We live in a multicultural country and world. That’s fact.

In Wooldridge’s article, “all-American” is hyphenated and as a woman I ask: If I marry and hyphenate my name, does this speak to a lack of “total allegiance” in my relationship? No, it does not.

On the contrary, it represents a relationship where I remain me and join in the union of something greater. Hyphenation represents an honoring of origin and my larger life. It is not about either this OR that. It’s about this AND that AND whatever else.

One lives as American and daughter and wife and professional and friend and neighbor and on and on. It’s like a great work of art or a beautiful landscape. The countless images, layers, textures, and colors are uniquely beautiful and even more beautiful together. It’s the nature of life.

Wooldridge also writes, “Those people with hyphenated nationalities manifest ‘multiculturalism'” and he believes that “By its very name, it destroys one culture by breaking it into many.”

If “all-American” is a doctrine of purism, then we need to stop practicing many of our religions, celebrated holidays, eating ethnic foods, and send the Statue of Liberty back. They aren’t from here. We either brought them or adopted them as parts of our culture.

Origin is origin. The land in which we live is our community. It is about pride versus prejudice, both in how it is lived and how it is understood. Culture versus country equals conflict.

This reminds me of a story from World War I. On Christmas Eve of 1914 two lines of soldiers, one British and one German, were in trenches on the Western Front.

Between them was the firing zone known as no-man’s land. Homesick, German soldiers began to raise military-issued Christmas trees with twinkling lights. The British cheered.

Soon German and British soldiers began to sing Silent Night. This encouraged the Germans, who laid down their guns and began crossing no-man’s land bringing gifts. The British followed.

For hundreds of kilometers the celebration spread. Thousands joined. The fighting stopped. They played soccer, sang carols and shared food.

Horrified commanders later had to transfer thousands of soldiers to reignite the fighting. The soldiers could no longer kill having remembered their relationships as human beings, as something more than lines of identity.

This same truth holds with all life. As Native American Chief, Dan George, said:

If you talk to the animals

They will talk with you

If you do not talk to them,

You will not know them,

And what you do not know

You will fear.

What one fears one destroys.

Whether we see reality in terms of people, nature, economy, culture, language, or origin, we will continue to destroy until we change our relationships. It is an AND-world. Life is calling us to find common ground. Without it, we remain on the battlefields of fear divided by no-man’s land.

Wooldridge later poses the question, “Should all these immigrants, arriving from failed cultures, succeed in their demands that we respect the injection of their culture and language into ours?”

First of all, the term “these immigrants” rings derogatory. It demonstrates an OR-mentality, not an AND-mentality. Secondly, “arriving from failed cultures” demonstrates ignorance. The reality is economy, government, natural disaster, land development, and war most often drive people from their homelands. Not failed cultures. Culture remains. Modern America itself was born of these same situations.

It is a tone of superiority, separateness and fear which denies the inherent nature of life and relationships. This, in itself, is a shared story we would be well served to acknowledge, honor and change.

It is time to re-evaluate and re-create our relationships and know what it means to honor one another, nature and life in all forms. After all, we are in this together AND that is not going to change.


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