Ilanna’s Spark–April 15

This week’s readings, particularly the chapters of Sanjek’s work, reiterated how diverse neighborhoods in New York are. People living in New York City today are exposed to people of dozens of different ethnicities and cultures on a daily basis. Personally, I tend to take this for granted. When I’m, say, taking the bus to school, I take it as a given that the people sitting with me will be of any number of ethnicities. However, the readings got me thinking–what affect does the conglomeration of ethnicities, national origin, races, and religions have?

Sanjek lists, in painful detail, various ethnic celebrations and events that took place in Corona during his fieldwork. It seemed strange to me that so many people would take part in the celebrations of an ethnicity and culture that was not actually their own. For example, during the Colombian Independence Day festival, there were a great many people in attendance who weren’t actually Colombian. In fact, many of them were not Latino at all. Do the Colombian immigrants find it strange that people who do not share in Colombian culture are partaking in the celebrations? Personally, I would probably be annoyed that people were using a highly significant cultural event in order to just “experience an ethnic party,” or something along those lines, and they do not actually see any inherent meaning in the celebration. However, this is probably only true if there is inherent meaning in the event for Colombians themselves. If for the Colombians, too, this sort of event is nothing more than a celebration of an ethnicity that has little meaning to them, then there is no reason why it should matter if people of different ethnicities partake in it.

Which leads me to the next point of discussion: “Symbolic Ethnicity.” This is a very interesting, and I would imagine an increasingly common, phenomenon. During the first wave of immigration, while ethnicity was considered very important. In recent years, it has been significantly downplayed. Now, no one really seems to care whether a person if of, say, Italian as opposed to Polish origin. Most third-generation Americans of European descent are more likely to call themselves “American,” not “Polish.” Symbolic Ethnicity is when people sort of acquire an ethnicity for themselves, as a sort of hobby. I thought that the description of an American of Polish descent who tried to acquire an Irish ethnic identity was really interesting. I had never thought of an ethnicity as something that you can pick up from your college roommate, but apparently I was mistaken.

This begs a further question: What does ethnic identity mean? If the Polish man does, as he claims, know more about Irish culture than the average Irishman, does that mean that he has an Irish ethnic identity, even though he did not originate from there? Is ethnicity anything deeper than the types of food you eat and music you listen to? Is it something adoptable? And why does it matter so much to have an ethnic identity?

If white ethnicities continue to lose their significance, will “American” eventually become an ethnicity of its own for families who have been living here for multiple generations? Or will people be compelled to look to other places for a Symbolic Ethnicity? Or will ethnicity cease to matter to such an extent that people will not feel compelled to have one at all?

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