The photo shows my oldest son, Richard, age about six months, who will be 50 tomorrow. Happy Birthday Richard. I pulled out the old photos to find some of Richard as a child for his son Jacob who is assembling a “family tree” as a school project.
Jacob has many relatives from all over the place. On his Mom’s side he is a mix of European and Mexican, on Richard’s side — Dutch, German, English and Polish. Jacob having a mind of his own on this subject has decided he is Hispanic, according to his Mom. This example begs the question: what does it mean to be Hispanic in the US?
The Census Bureau says you are what you say you are, so if Jacob says he is Hispanic, he is.
A few years back some folks of Italian descent decided they would be Hispanic. The court frowned on this decision. The Italians argued that for many years Italy and Spain were a single entity, so they must be Hispanic. The court said No. The concept of self-identification does not work everywhere.
What I know from studying the genealogy of my family, and history, is that nation-states did not exist much before the Industrial Age. For example, Germany and Italy were “combined” in the nineteenth century. Owing to WWII, my parents always stressed Great Grandma Anna came from Bavaria which she did. They thought if Anna was Bavarian she could have no connection to those awful Nazis. They were wrong. The Nazi party started in Munich which is in Bavaria. (see Where Ghosts Walked: Munich’s Road to the Third Reich by David C. Large)
As late as the late nineteenth century, the French government was trying to convince the peasants they were Frenchmen. (see Peasants into Frenchmen: the modernization of rural France, 1870-1914, by Eugen Weber). This didn’t work well, as anyone who has traveled in the provinces of France knows.
So, my first point is that nationality is largely a social construct.
The second point is that with the Industrial Age came great waves of migration. Although many folks think immigrants only come or came to the US, guess what, they migrate from anywhere to everywhere. The story of the fifteenth century forward is mass migration, which really grew in the nineteenth century.
We all descended from a wide variety of individuals who come from goodness knows where, and our ancestors migrated all over the place, and almost no one I know has been able to keep up with the various flows of groups of people. The best you can do is identify Mom, Dad and grandparents. Don’t forget, go back 10 generations and you have a thousand ancestors. That’s 2 to the tenth power (try it on your calculator). That’s 2-4-8-16-32-64-128-256-512-1008) So you must be whatever you think you are.