What’s in a name…again


Peonies in my garden

Peonies in my garden

Cathy over at https://cranethie.wordpress.com wrote an interesting response to a comment I made about tea from West India:

LOL Dianne – when I saw ‘West Indian’ I thought you meant from the islands in the Caribbean! I always relate Darjeeling to Bengal which of course is in the west of India 🙂

When I worked for the U.S. Census Bureau on ethnic statistics we had great difficulty enumerating the people many once referred to as “Indians.”  Finally, the Bureau began to use tribal names for those who wished to have this designation.

You see, many Indians from Asia, who think of themselves as American Indians also had a problem with this designation.

Other than a tribal name (what individuals called themselves), what could one call the “first peoples”?

“Native American” doesn’t work because many people who are descended from the indigenous population are also Black, White and Asian, racially speaking.

Also, how long does an ancestry line in a locale have to be to make one a “native”?

For example, one of my ancestral lines goes back to 1620 (came with the first pilgrims from Europe) and I think of myself as a native American.

Many people from Latin America and Canada, descended from Spaniards or French or Dutch who migrated to the “New World” in the sixteenth century, think of themselves as “Native Americans.”  Many Canadiens and Latin Americans are also Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Japanese, Indian (from India), German and “American Indian” descent.

Many people with ancestral roots that run deep into the ‘Americas’, especially from places like Oaxaca, the Yukon or Appalachia think of themselves as “Native Americans.”

And then there’s the problem of citizenship status.

Many of the descendants of more recent immigrant arrivals are citizens because being born in the U.S. or a U.S. outlying areas like Puerto Rico or the Marianas for example, confers U.S. citizenship whatever your parents status.

Conversely, being born abroad of one U.S. citizen parent confers citizenship (think of the children of U.S. personnel abroad), even if your parent was an immigrant and returned to his or her place of origin after having acquired U.S. citizenship (think of U.S. naturalized citizen service personnel in the Middle East).

I’ll stop there because this problem gets more and more convoluted.  As one of my colleagues liked to put it, “This is a real can of worms.”

This next comment is directed to political junkies:  The next time you hear someone make a comment about someone’s citizenship status (Cruz or Obama, for example), think twice before you punch them in the face.

And Cathy, now you know why Americans (a confused lot) began calling the islands off Florida the Caribbean (after the Carib Indians who no longer exist) and not the West Indies.  Of course we still don’t know how to pronounce it.

16 thoughts on “What’s in a name…again

  1. Dianne you cetainly like to stir the pot don’t you lol. Just out of curiosity how are Indian national fron the sub continent classed? Oh what a wonderful history teacher you would have been with such an eye for detail and an ‘attitude’ to boot 🙂
    I have an awful lot of Irish in my blood with a smidgeon of Scot as well. Many born ‘overseas’ in the 1800s due to fathers being in the army but all thought of themselves as Irish or Scottish. Even I born in England because my parents were serving there during the war consider myself Irish by birth and naturalised Australian by choice.
    BTW I wonder where the emphasis ‘should’ be – kerribb’ean as you say or karri’beean as we say?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indian immigrants are Indian American, until they out marry, then they are a mixed lot like the rest of us. I don’t subscribe to the notion you can be two things. What is Irish blood? I always wondered? If it’s Celtic, then your relatives are in Scotland, Wales, Brittany and even Spain (Iberero-Celtic). And of course, owing to migration in modern times, almost everywhere else. But what does it mean to be Irish? Name, religion? I spent hours in various anthropology, social-biology, and sociology classes discussing the concept of self identity….a tricky. Business we never resolved.


  2. I’m American going back only 2 generations, or 3 on my mother’s side. But I think that makes me every bit the Native American as someone whose family goes back 9 or 10, or even 100, generations. Perhaps it makes me even more American, since we are a nation of immigrants!


    • Well Tom you can’t have it both ways. Either folks in the first or second generation are ‘native Americans’ or they are not. If they are natives, then they are not Irish or whatever. I don’t like the phrase ‘we’re a nation of immigrants’. It’s meaningless. Every place on earth was populated by migrants. And if you are a native as you say, why then you are not an immigrant. So my question still stands…how long do a people have to reside in an area to make them native? Or to put it another way…how many generations before you are not an immigrant.

      PS the foreign born are a small minority in the U.S.


  3. OK, now I’m thoroughly confused too.
    Thank you so much for leaving a comment and testing out the Blogger form for me. I wrote to Blogger Help and they did give me some information. I hope it wasn’t too difficult to comment. Dkzody said it took her four tries and had to choose bread and cake. I’ve never seen that so I have no idea what that is like.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I left the Census Bureau steeped in this stuff. Great fun, but gives you perspective to know people are arguing over a chimera.

      Easy-peasy to leave a comment today, except the screen was black where you copy the number to prove you are not a robot. I guessed lucky!


  4. Gregg and I were talking about DNA analysis this morning. I am seriously thinking of getting it done. Now that he is well and truly into the geneaology journey, I am very interested. His father had his done several years ago. Fascinating post as always Dianne and your peonies are gorgeous!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Eventually, I will have the DNA test also. Reading a book you might like, ‘Britain Begins’ by Barry Cunliff. He says two waves of migrants entered the British Isles after the last Ice Age (everyone else who might have come before was dead from cold, or had migrated south).

      One wave came via the Danube and is of Germanic/Near Eastern descent, the other out of Spain and of Celtic descent. Cunliff argues that the so-called ‘Anglo-Saxons’ of later years were joining relatives in Britain from the Gitgo.

      As you came from the Midlands you could be either, but I’ll bet your Anglo-Saxon descent perhaps with a little Viking thrown in. I know I have Viking ancestors. That’s where my good bones originate.


  5. Yeah, keep it simple. I will always be a Korean-American, but what do people of mixed races call themselves?
    For example, my elder daughter is 1/2 Korean 1/2 Irish.
    And my younger daughter is 1/2 Korean, 1/4 Irish, 1/8 English 1/8 Scottish.
    Do they identify with the Asians or with the Whites?

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Census Bureau, after having learned the hard way, works on self-identification. Unfortunately, federal law says all respondents must be fitted into one of five race categories…black, white, asian, etc. Its all hooey as far as I am concerned, but the law is the law and until that changes, who knows. Uber Liberals suffering from post-modern paralysis created this mess. Today, race is a myth we’re all trying to live with. As for ethnicity, you are what you think you are. Your kids probably see themselves as Americans.

      I thought people were nuts when they told me I was a Haole when I lived in Hawaii. Haole means “foreigner” in the Hawaiian language, although the connotation in these trying times is racial. It’s stupid because plenty of white kids are born in Hawaii. Even Obama would be a Haole given his parentage.


      • The first foreigners to Hawaii were white, so now any white person is considered haole whether born in Hawaii or elsewhere. My kids are 1/2 haole 1/2 Asian.
        They identify with Asians and don’t have any haole friends. Maria’s husband is Asian and Lisa’s boyfriends have all been Asian, also.


      • I meant the early Hawaiians considered the white sailors haole or foreign.
        I did not mean the original settlers who named the Hawaiian islands.


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