The results from my 23andMe test were not overly surprising. My heritage is predominantly Eastern European, something I already knew given my Hungarian surname and grandparental origins. There were a few small revelations: hints of Ashkenazi Jew and Yakut, a splash North African. How much credence one actually gives to numbers less than one percentage point depends on the individual.
Identity is a strange thing, however. Craig Cobb built his own as a white supremacist, only to find out, and disavow, that he is actually 14% black. Most people, myself included, swab our spit for kicks. Go far enough back and we know the few points of origin anyway. It just depends on how much you want to turn your head around.
Individual identity crises are usually created by brain damage or simmering emotional turmoil finally releasing its ravages. The famed male midlife crisis is one example: a little more around the middle, a lot less on top. Suddenly those collegiate memories feel like another human being embodied the adventures.
What happens when a nation experiences an identity crisis? Author Guy Garcia entertained this question in his 2005 book, The New Mainstream. Garcia, a Los Angeles native of Mexican descent now residing in New York City, argued that businesses have to pay attention to Latino and Latina consumers, for they were making up bigger shares of the national market. Garcia’s insights were realized, in part, last June when the Spanish-speaking Univision edged out four major networks to snag the top spot in the ratings.
As Garcia told me shortly after The New Mainstream was published,
Latins are not only driving the economy, they’re creating the networks that entertain and inform people. This new economy is a reflection of the numbers of these people and their cultural integration. Just as what you are seeing happen economically, these people are commanding a bigger and bigger share of the cultural zeitgeist. As people join into the mainstream through the money they spend or places they live, they’re transforming the American mainstream as well.
To drive home the point regarding the zeitgeist, Garcia debunks the persistent notion of a ‘white America,’ writing that only 25-33% of Americans trace lineage to Protestants from the British Isles. He continues,
The majority remains the majority by widening the definition of itself to include the margins that would otherwise overwhelm it.
Garcia has long been interested in the topic of American demographics. A co-founder of AOL Latino back in the nineties, he’s been investigating how nations change identity in real-time, predominantly through economic and cultural means. While it was estimated that America would no longer be predominantly ‘white’ in 2043, Garcia recently told me while visiting LA that the time is pretty much, well, now.
Not now as in today, but according to the group Garcia has been working with, America becomes majority minority on August 22. What Ethnifacts had not taken into account was the diversity of white households, which more often than not boasts members of Latino, African-American, Asian or other ethnicities. In fact, the number of people self-identifying as only American (with no foreign ancestry) on the 2010 census was 29 million, under 10% of the total US population.
The statistics got murkier when a number of Americans of Latino heritage self-identified as ‘white,’ a trend that Garcia previously noted was common in immigrant families. The process of assimilation causes one to rid themselves of their former identity to make a more agreeable impact among peers. This trend is not exclusive to Americans: many of the 250,000 North Koreans who have fled to South Korea never admit where they’re from to dissuade the bombardment of stereotypes they regularly receive.
What happens when America is no longer white? Like much in this country, it depends on who you ask. For my entire adult life I’ve lived in ethnically diverse urban neighborhoods, by choice and circumstance. I personally cringe whenever spotting a congressman pushing for English as the official national language or placards of a white Jesus. The world is so much bigger than we are. Now we’re finally understanding that from the inside out.
Our national identity has been transient since our nation’s founding. Over the last century we’ve made giant strides in Civil and Women’s Rights and more recently marriage equality. Garcia’s revolution is more subdued, for it’s entering our bloodstream through the slow infusion of marriages and children besides the more reliable influx of immigration. If we’re haven’t noticed it yet, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. The melting pot is just getting stirred up once again.
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