So… I’m Non-Existent?

Michael Walzer discusses that usually by the third generation, immigrants see themselves as Americans, but he claims that they will never consider the United States to be their ‘home.’ So if you are a person who is past the fourth generation what exactly is your homeland?

Between reading Stephen Steingberg and Michael Walzer’s essays, I realized that there is no place in their rankings for someone, like me, who is fifth generation American. There are Native Americans, Settlers, and Sons and Daughters of the Revolution. After that, most people are considered to be relatively recent immigrants; neither of the two authors mentions anything past third generation immigrants. But there is a group of people who are missing and since I fall into that category, I take a bit of offense.

Although we have only had two reading assignments for this seminar so far, I have realized that the group of immigrants prior to Ellis Island isn’t even mentioned. It is just assumed that they are of British or some other Western European country, which makes them hardly immigrants. But my family has been here since 1882 and I consider myself American. I am a fifth generation New Yorker so I have extremely little connection to my homeland. I do not even have a homeland since my family’s hometown is on the divide of Poland and the Ukraine and so has been changed constantly since the early 1820’s. But I am just one person and my family is just one family, there must be other families with a similar situation, stuck between the ‘here’ of living in the United States and the ‘there’ of knowing at one point their family came to the United States.

At what point does a person become an American rather than a something-American, such as an Italian-American or Asian-American? I know that the two articles tried to explain why it doesn’t really matter, but it still bothers me that everything we have read to this point seems to ignore the fact that people moved into the United States between the Civil War and World War I. Instead, they seem to assume that you are either ‘pure’ American, meaning that your family came over to the United States before any major waves of immigration, or you are relatively new.

My family has been here before Ellis Island was built. So am I still considered an immigrant?

Note: I hit the ‘publish’ button prior to class yesterday and used eportfolio last semester so I don’t really know why it didn’t actually get published until now.

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