Puerto Rican-American??

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Thu Mar 20 18:28:28 UTC 2003

In a message dated 3/20/2003 12:16:16 PM Eastern Standard Time,
zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU writes:

> the big generalization seems to be that the
> first element X in "X-American" refers either to (what we view as)
> an ethnicity or to a nation or region of family origin.  "Jewish-
> American" works because we think of being jewish as, primarily,
> an ethnic rather than a religious identification.

A coincidence---my daughter is having to deal in the real world with the
question whether "Jewish" is ethnicity or religion.  Her school is having an
ethnic foods day and she was planning to bring a challah and has tied herself
in knots as to whether a challah is a religious or an ethnic item.

> so we have "Arab-American" and don't have "Muslim-American"

Arabs themselves have a problem with defining who is an Arab.  The most
useful definition (due, I think, to Gamal Abdul Nasser) is that an Arab is
anyone whose native language is Arabic.  However, Sefardic Jews whose native
language is Arabic (rare in this country, but quite common in the Middle
East) are not usually considered to be Arabs.  On the other hand, the Middle
East has quite a number of "Christian Arabs" or "Arab Christians" (e.g. a
substantial portion of the Lebanese).

>       <snip>
> "African-American" is forever, though, so long as you're physically
> recognizable; but you also have to be of slave descent.

Slave descent is a new one on me.  I have a co-worker who is a native of
Ghana and is a naturalized US citizen.  I always thought that made him an
African-American African-American.  Maybe not...

Then there is Colin Powell, whose parents, if I remember correctly,
immigrated from Jamaica.  Presumably Secretary Powell's ancestors were slaves
in Jamaica, so does that qualify him as an African-American?

The number of people of "African" race who emigrate to the US from Africa,
and their descendants, is still fairly small but it is growing.  An
interesting socio-linguistic speculation:  in the future will these people be
considered "African-Americans" although not of slave descent?  Or will they
come to be considered a separate ethnic group?  (Perhaps Sub-Saharan?)

                  - James A. Landau

PS The local grocery store decided today to have a special on "half-American
subs".  I am still trying to figure out if there is any political
significance to that item.  And if apolitical, the structure of the sandwich.
 Is the cheese deposited on only one half of the bread?

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