The New America

Posted on July 6, 2017


I’m in a hotel/motel, the Comfort Inn, in middle America. Well, not quite Kansas, but in Franklin, Tennessee, tucked in right under Nashville, and that will do, both geographically and symbolically. Our room service folks are typically Hispanics. Our maid is short and has long, black, braided hair. We spoke in Spanish this morning. Since I’m a Hispanic myself who grew up in Peru, it comes naturally.

After a few niceties about the weather—it was raining the proverbial cats and dogs—I asked her name.


Concha I thought. She may be Guatemalan, given her very Indian phenotype. George Wills would like that. Phenotype means physical characteristics (dark, maybe tall, maybe short, high cheekbones, etc.) while genotype refers to your genetics, your DNA.

“No, soy Mexicana.” No I’m Mexican.

“De donde?” From where?


Ahaaaa, I put it together in my best cultural anthropologist-style analysis. Oaxaca is very Indian, deep in Southern Mexico. Concha very much looks like what we would have called in the past an Indian. Now we call Indians who live in America, Amerindians, or indigenous, which used to be an adjective but is now a noun.

Like, she’s an indigenous.

Cultural adjectives like “simple,” “underdeveloped,” “complex” are no longer employed since you don’t want to express in any way that one culture is somehow superior, or inferior, to another. The p.c. invasion of academic integrity. Everyone is equal. Everyone isn’t of course, but then you are accused of being a racist. Sigh.

Concha may have been Mixtec or Zapotec, or one of the other fourteen indigenous communities in Oaxaca.

In fact, Concha, and the crew downstairs taking care of the Comfort Inn’s clients with our free breakfast, represent the new America.

Annie the manager trainee is from India. A real Indian, not an American Indian. Credit Christopher Columbus with confusing what he found on his first voyage to America with what he expected to find.

Becky, an American from Michigan, the new server, was a bit nervous since this was her first job in Franklin. She came down to Tennessee to take care of an elderly parent.

A high school freshman from Tuscaloosa in Franklin for a basketball tournament was African-American, what we used to call black. Big, tall kid. Then I met his dad. Bigger and taller!

I thought of stereotypes. The black basketball player moving ahead in sports. The Asian in management. The American from Grand Rapids, Michigan in the working class.

These stereotypes or generalization are, of course, easily challenged. What struck me was the immense diversity of the American experience today.
According to various demographic studies, we are still about 72% white, but the distribution is changing.

Over 16 percent are now Hispanics or Latinos and African Americans are about 12 percent. The breakdown of the population can be done many ways, from religion to race, to ethnicity to economic status, all indicating an immense diversity in our population.

I am, for example, both white and Hispanic since my mother was Chilean. Plus, I may have some ancient Hebrew DNA since my mother’s maternal name was Lema, which was the name taken by members of the Hebrew tribe of Levi when they were persecuted and expelled from Rome hundreds of years ago.

My great grandfather from South Carolina fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War and his grandfather was in the American Revolution. My credentialing is probably typically American, many strains contributing to being American.

My point is we all share a common bond, whether we recently got off a 36-hour jet odyssey from south India like Annie, or our people came off a ship in 1720 in some place like Charleston or Philadelphia, looking for work and freedom, or they were sold into slavery on the West Coast of Africa by African slave traders and transported across the Atlantic into the hell of plantation slavery in the Americas.

However our people got here, the principles of liberty and freedom and democracy eventually triumphed and produced an experiment in living based on Christianity and the rules of law, equality and civility that is still ongoing. And it is the envy of the world. We did some things right.

Let’s toss around those ideas and ideals, those dreams and aspirations, those triumphs and defeats, in a symposium at UA devoted to the American way.

Let’s look back and see what we did right, and sometimes wrong, and how we can perpetuate the dream today and tomorrow.

Published in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday May 7, 2017 as In This New America, We Have Much in Common

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