The Dual Construction Of Ethnicity History Essay


Kathleen Conzen's concept, the dual construction of ethnicity, is the most dominant concept, in regards to the: Irish, Germans, Mexicans, Chinese, Africans, and Native Americans, because all of these groups had to incorporate their own culture with American culture. Conzen's concept, the dual construction of ethnicity, is defined as: "Rapid and easy assimilation" (Gjerde, pg. 22). The merging of two cultures, (for example: the Irish became Irish-Americans, and the Africans became African-Americans). Handlin's concept of uprootedness is defined as: "to emigrate or to die" (Gjerde, pg.5) Forces, outside of a group of people's control, force them to leave the land in which they live. Bodnar's concept of transplantation is defined as: The immigration into a capitalist society (In this case America) from another part of the world, for economic/monetary gains. Uprootedness and Transplantation do apply to some of these groups, but the dual construction of ethnicity is the concept that is seen throught the majority of these groups.

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The dual construction of ethnicity applies to the Irish because, once in America they had to assimilate to the American way of life, while still maintaining their own Irish culture. "The Irish also succeeded because they held on to their Old World identity." (Olson, pg. 42) The Irish culture was very important to the Irish people, they were forced to uproot (to America) by the English/famine yet they still kept their culture alive in America, by creating schools, businesses, and churches. Merging the American capitalist society with their old world values, the Irish created a culture that now became Irish-American. Many of the Irish immigrants were un-skilled laborers, they saw gaining respect by achieving public authoritative jobs. "Starting in the 1850s, cities on the east coast began to establish municipal entities, including "professional" police and fire departments." (Section 2.1, Slide 25) The dual construction of ethnicity, although prevalent was the second concept (chronologically) to apply to the Irish. First the Irish experienced uprootedness, "The British "yoke" had been "enslaving" Ireland. Protestant landlords pushed Catholic peasant farmers from the land…" (Takaki, pg. 112) Also, a potato famine swept the countryside, "In 1845, a fungus, the potato blight, rotted the potatoes while they were still in the ground." (Section 2.1, Slide 9) These outside pressures forced the Irish to immigrate to America, "During the nineteenth century, three million Irish crossed the Atlantic." (Takaki, pg. 113) Once in America the dual construction of ethnicity began along with the other cultures that were immigrating to America, or were already there, at the time. Transplantation does not apply to the Irish because it was a "to immigrate or to die" (Gjerde, pg.5) situation; they saw America as their only means of survival.

The Germans experienced the dual construction of ethnicity once in America, due to the Germans presenting their culture to the Americans, and incorporating the two of them together. A few examples of how the Germans incorporated their culture are depicted in these quotes from the texts: "German regional identity was also closely tied to foods and beverages." (Section 2.1, Slide 66) Many of the beers that the U.S. have today, originated from German beer-making companies. Also, "A tremendous variety of sausages (wursts), which depended on the meats and spices available" (Section 2.1, Slide 76). As the lecture showed the Germans incorporated aspects from their culture into the American way of life (Ex. Beer, Sausage, gymnastics, religion, schools, music, and celebrations like Christmas.) The Germans were different from the Irish because within their country they had many different regions, which had different languages, and customs. This cultural divide made it more difficult for the Germans to assimilate in America, because the German bond was not alive, only German regional cultural bonds were alive. In A German American Family Changes Its Assessment of American life, 1850-1883, Anna Maria Schano, nee Klinger states, "…since in America you have to work if you want to amount to anything, you mustn't feel ashamed, that's just how you amount to something…" (Gjerde, pg. 109) Anna states that the Germans were assimilating to the American culture; they accepted that to gain respect you had to work hard. Before the Germans experienced the dual construction of ethnicity, they first had to experience transplantation from Germany to America. "Between 1820 and 1924, more than 5.7 million people immigrated from Germany…" (Olson, pg.45) Some may argue that the Germans were uprooted due to political problems, and the famine, yet the Germans were not in a "to immigrate or to die" (Gjerde, pg.5) situation. This is why the Germans are classified as transplantation, instead of uprootedness. As Olson states, "… for every German immigrating for religious or political reasons, a hundred came for economic reasons." (Olson, pg. 46) The Germans immigrated because they wanted to better their life, In Germany they low class, but once in America they could be anything they desired.

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The Mexican American situation is unlike many of the other groups in the aspect of geographical location (They were already in America). Their situation is similar to that of the Native Americans which I will discuss later in this Essay. The dual construction of ethnicity applies to the Mexican Americans because their land was acquired by the Americans, and the Americans asserted their culture onto the Mexicans.

"After months of bitter fighting, triumphant American troops entered Mexico City; on February 2, 1848, the two nations signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. For $15 million , the United States acquired California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and parts of what became Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming; Mexico recognized American title to Texas, Manifest Destiny had triumphed." (Olson, pg. 78)

The United States had now expanded from the Atlantic to the Pacific, by taking over the Mexicans land. Once this occurred Americans forced the Mexicans to adopt a Mexican-American cultural identity, in order to become a part of their American culture, or else they had to return to southern Mexican lands. Uprootedness applies to this particular point in the Mexican-American experience, although they were not physically forced off their land they were uprooted out of their Mexican land, and forced to live in American lands. Once the Mexicans were uprooted the dual construction of ethnicity began, "Americanization seemed to seep into the barrios from all directions- from schools, factories, and even the ethnic press." (Gjerde, pg. 263) The Mexican culture was very distinct, and it was hard for traditional grandparents and parents to assimilate, but for their children it was relatively easy. "Although enjoying the creature comforts afforded by life in the United States, Mexican immigrants retained their cultural traditions, and parents developed strategies to counteract the alarming acculturation of their young." (Gjerde, pg. 263) The Mexican way of life was now the Mexican-American way of life, and the Mexican people had only two choices to assimilate, or to leave.

The dual construction of ethnicity applies to the Chinese immigrants moderately, they created their own communities to shield themselves from American assimilation. "During the 1850's Chinatown in San Francisco was already a bustling community." (Takaki, pg. 129) They used these communities to keep their culture alive, while using American capitalism as a way acquire riches. Many Americans saw the willingness of the Chinese to do any job, and argued that they were limiting available jobs to others. "The Chinese Exclusion Act was directed only against Chinese laborers." (Section 2.3, slide 108) This hindered Chinese immigrants looking for work in America, but by this time many Chinese had settled down here. As Takaki states, "Though they generally considered themselves sojourners, the Chinese showed signs of settling down from the very beginning." (Takaki, pg. 129) Thus, the Chinese immigrants came to the United States, for capitalist entrepreneurship, which encompasses the concept of transplantation. As Lee Chew, a Chinese immigrant, Describes Life in the United States and Denounces Anti-Chinese Prejudice, 1882 "The man had gone away from our village a poor boy. Now he returned with unlimited wealth." (Gjerde, pg. 172) Many young Chinese boys ventured across the Atlantic, because they saw the positive changes that America could make for your life. "By 1855, 20,000 Chinese lived in the United States, most in California." "63,000 Chinese in America in 1870...Ten years later, 150,000 Chinese lived in America…" (Olson, pg. 86) According to Olson: Between 1855 and 1880 150,000 Chinese immigrated to America. Uprootedness obviously is not a factor in the Chinese American experience, because they had a chose to go to the united States.

African Americans have had an ongoing struggle with American culture, due to being uprooted, and then forced to service the "white" man. " In 1443, the first African slaves were taken by the Portuguese." (Olson, pg. 95) And "In 1619, Dutch merchants delivered the first Africans to Virginia." (Olson, pg. 96) Now with free labor, the Southern farmers could cultivate great abundances. The oppression of the Americans, and the Africans struggle to maintain their traditions, basically forced a new culture to emerge.

"African American slave culture reflected a combination of elements. Some of the elements were brought from Africa and adapted to the conditions of slavery. Others were directly influenced by the conditions of slavery."(Sec. 2.4, Slide 22)

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This is only the first example of the dual construction of ethnicity in the African American history. Soon, many slaves like Frederick Douglas saw that slavery was immoral, and sought to end it. " …and struggled in vain, to wit, the white man's power to perpetuate the enslavement of the black man." (Takaki, pg.88) With Douglas urging President Lincoln the civil war began, the North ultimately being victorious, and slavery being eliminated. With reconstruction beginning, many American believed that African Americans were to be oppressed in society, and not given the same rights. As we see in the History 10 Reader Black codes were enacted in Mississippi, "…over the age of eighteen years, found on the second Monday in January, 1866, or thereafter with no lawful employment or business, or found unlawfully assembling themselves together, either in the day, or night time, and all white persons so assembling themselves with freed…thereof shall be fined in a sum not exceeding, in the case of the freedman, free negro, or mulatto, fifty dollars, and a white man two hundred dollars…" (History 10 Reader, pg. 6-7) Although discriminated against the African Americans had their independence, and now wanted to create a normal American life. "During Reconstruction, southern blacks adjusted to their new freedom; most did so simply by creating a stable family life based on legal marriages, reunions, the purchase of land, and education." (Olson, pg 111) This is the second form of the dual construction of ethnicity because they had to readapt to American culture, but becoming actively members of the community. Uprootedness applies to the African Americans when they were initially seized from Africa, but after that the dual construction of ethnicity applies. Transplantation, although less applicable could be applied to southern African Americans who fled to the North for freedom.

Native Americans, like the Chinese, had no intentions of assimilating into American culture; due to the Americans overwhelming oppressive power. The dual construction of ethnicity only applies to more modern Native Americans; (for example Indian casinos) in the 1800's this concept did not apply. Uprootedness would be the concept that most applied to the Native American experience, because the European settlers physically forced them from their lands. The Natives tried to physically resisted the dual construction of ethnicity, with violence and force. The American reaction was

"To open land for white settlement and to protect Native Americans, President Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. In what is remembered as the "Trail of Tears" 100,000 Indian people were transported to Oklahoma." (Olson, pgs.66-67)

Americans wanted to complete their forefathers vision of manifest destiny, no Native Americans were going to stand in their way. It was finally decided with the battle at wounded knee, which left the Unites State finally dominant over the Native Americans, and with complete control over their lands. "The Natives had lost their lands, found their cultures disintegrating, and lost their autonomy - they became a people dependent on the U.S. government." (Section 2.5 Slide 99) The Native Americans now had were a part of the United States system. And "In 1871, Congress stopped recognizing Indian tribes as independent nations; instead of negotiating with them, the federal government began legislating for them." (Olson, pg. 198) The allotment bill passed in 1879, which gave reservation land to Native Americans. Although this bill did pass the "white" elites found loopholes in the system to cheat the Natives out of their land. And in 1934 the Indian Reorganization act passed, which allowed Native Americans to return to governing themselves. One quote that seemed to encompass the Native Americans feelings is from Red Cloud Speech at Cooper union, New York (1870), " The Good Spirit made us both. He gave you land, and he gave us lands; He gave us these lands; you came in here, and we respected you as brothers. God Almighty made you but made you all white and clothed you; when He made us He made us with red skins and poor; now you have come." ( History 10 Reader, pg. 11)

The dual construction of ethnicity is the concept that is most applicable to these 6 cultural groups, because they all had to entwine their traditional culture with the capitalist American culture. The only group that the dual construction of ethnicity could not completely apply to is the Chinese, because they created their own communities to escape the American assimilation, I will further explore this topic later in the essay. The limitations of the other two concepts in regard to these groups is that many of these groups had different experiences during their immigration to America. For example the Irish were uprooted, and the Chinese transplanted. These two concepts (uprootedness and transplantation) apply only to certain groups, which is why the dual construction of ethnicity as the most prevalent concepts in regards to theses 6 groups, because they all experienced it to some degree. The concept that applies to the smallest portion of the groups would have to be transplantation. Only the Germans and Chinese can be fully classified as transplantation because they chose to come to America in order to obtain wealth in the capitalist society. Upootedness is more suitable because the American/English dominant psychology affected many of these groups with physical force; in order to gain control over them. The differences in application of these concepts reveal that ethnic groups were viewed as the minorities by the "white" elites, who mainly originated from England. It also reveals that different groups had different experiences, and the concepts only create a word that describes those experiences.