When I was in college, I read an excerpt of a Teddy Roosevelt address to the Knights of Columbus about “hyphenated Americans.”
“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism…a hyphenated American is not an American at all…Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance. But if he is heartily and singly loyal to this Republic, then no matter where he was born, he is just as good an American as anyone else. The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans, or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality than with the other citizens of the American Republic. The men who do not become Americans and nothing else are hyphenated Americans; and there ought to be no room for them in this country. The man who calls himself an American citizen and who yet shows by his actions that he is primarily the citizen of a foreign land, plays a thoroughly mischievous part in the life of our body politic. He has no place here; and the sooner he returns to the land to which he feels his real heart-allegiance, the better it will be for every good American.”
When I first read this, I remember thinking that his logic was sound, but it seemed harsh and impractical.
Was it really that big of a deal if people took pride in where they came from, or kept hold of some of their culture from the old country?
And in true urbanite fashion, I immediately started thinking about what implications this would have for dining options. How were we supposed to enjoy tasty foreign treats if all immigrants were held to such rigid assimilation standards?
But in the words of a friend I had this conversation with more recently, “I don’t know if the falafel was worth it.”
For three weeks now, we’ve watched American (and European) streets flooded with flags of the Middle East. We’ve seen Muslims and Jews brawling in the streets, calling for each other’s genocide. We’ve seen citizens and foreign nationals alike demanding action and aid, not based on what’s in the best interest of the United States, but based on what benefits their ethno-religious affiliates.
Of course, this isn’t unique to the Israel/Palestine conflict.
When Ukraine went to war, I saw Ukrainian-Americans become overly emotional, unable to look at the situation objectively, abandon their principles and advocate for the interests of their country of origin over that of the country that welcomed them with open arms.
When Cuba was in crisis (I mean, it’s always in crisis, but when it was in the news in 2021), I saw the same thing (though one could argue that the United States had more of an ideological obligation to lend a helping hand to victims of a communist regime an hour long plane ride from Florida than these geopolitical disputes entire oceans and continents away).
The more I think about it, I don’t know if it makes sense to call these people Arab Americans, Israeli-Americans, Ukrainian-Americans, or Cuban-Americans. It seems more accurate to describe them as Arabs that live in America, Israelis that live in America, Ukrainians that live in America, and Cubans that live in America. They think of America as a place that they live, and a resource to exploit. It’s not their home and it never will be.
Because no matter what your passport says, your heart is what really matters. I know that there are plenty of Americans that take pride in America, and pride in their foreign heritage. But in the same way that no one can truly serve two gods, I struggle to accept the premise that a person can have real allegiance to more than one country, or that we aren’t made weaker as a nation with such a large share of our population dividing their patriotism among other countries.
You’ll find many cases of immigrants that take more pride in being American citizens than Americans with centuries-old roots in this country. But you’ll find just as many cases of immigrants that are only here because it’s safer and/or more prosperous than where they came from. They don’t care about America, her people or her future. They have no interest in the ideas or values that made this country what it is. They’re here to take, not to contribute.
When it comes down to it, a lot of people are American In Name Only, and we can’t afford them in any sense. They’ve wreaked havoc on our once-great nation, and it’s only getting worse.
And make no mistake – I know this isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to immigrants or their children and grandchildren. I know there are plenty of natural born Americans, with parents, grandparents, and great grandparents that have lived here their whole lives, with no affection for the country they call home.
But it seems straightforward enough that we can and should demand more of the people that we admit into this country than the people legally born here with full constitutional rights.
All that to say, as much as I love pizza and sushi and the different cuisines I’ve been able to indulge in as a result of immigrants with strong ties to their motherlands, the more time that’s passed since I first read Teddy Roosevelt’s remarks, the more I agree with him.
When I got the idea for this blog post and started fleshing it out, I knew I ran the risk sounding xenophobic, and it was one I was willing to take.
But I’m not afraid of immigrants or their cultures. I’m afraid of an America without one.
I’m afraid of an America divided by racial, ethnic and religious conflicts that will never be solved. I’m afraid of an America full of citizens apathetic and indifferent to the decay all around us because their true loyalties lie abroad. I’m afraid of an America full of Americans doing other countries’ bidding.
Because America will never come first in policy if it doesn’t come first to its people.