Half American?

A couple of years ago I saw part of a documentary on PBS called Chasing Churchill, in which Churchill’s grandaughter retraced key moments in his life.  In the documentary, his grandaughter states that Churchill was “half-American on his mother’s side.”  As soon as I heard that I thought, “That’s impossible.  American isn’t an ethnicity.  You can’t be half American or a quarter American.  If you’re an American citizen, you’re American!  If not, you’re not American.”  I asked my brother, and he agreed.

Are we alone on this?  Can American be considered an ethnicity like Italian or German or Chinese?  Can a person be half American?

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4 Responses to Half American?

  1. thycarant says:

    Yes, a person very well can be half American.

    How much German, Italian or Chinese culture do you know?

    Americans are American. The majority have been born and raised here. If an American goes to Germany and says they’re German (but born & raised in America, by parents born and raised in America, and knows no German language or custom) the Germans are going to laugh their arses off at the funny American thinking he’s German.

    My husband is Hungarian, born and raised. He is an American citizen, but we would never call him an American. He will always be a Hungarian. His mother lives in Hungary, a sister lives in Austria, and other sister in Germany…all of them identify as Hungarian, and the Germans probably would never allow them to consider themselves German! Not that they would want to! (hahahaaha)

    Our son, however, being born and raised in America, will always be an American. His father is Hungarian but his mother is American with German ancestry.

    My great-grandmother came over on the boat when she was five but German culture and language was not passed down. My grandmother recalls hearing German but never learned it herself. There is nothing German about my family. But we are definitely American!

    You have a pretty awesome website! :))

    Take care!

    • Hey Thycarant! I’m glad you responded, and I’m glad you responded to this post! I always wanted someone to respond to this. It’s really intriguing that you consider your husband Hungarian, and not American, even though he’s an American citizen. How long has he been in the US?

      Your post is actually quite appropriate to a discussion of Winston Churchill, who never lived in the United States, despite his mother being an American. He might have known some of American culture from his mother, but having grown up in Britain, he certainly could not be considered an American, regardless of what his granddaughter seems to think!

      I guess, while posting this, I was considering my time in South Korea. In Korea, any white person is referred to as a foreigner, or literally, non-Korean person, or wae guk saram. If I moved to Korea and had children born in Korea, and they spoke fluent Korean and never visited the US, the people there would still consider them to be wae guk saram, or non-Korean persons, because they would be white. (My students once told me that all Americans have blonde hair, blue eyes, and white skin, and I responded, “Hello! I have brown hair and brown eyes!”)

      My family history is German as well. I certainly don’t consider myself to be German culturally. I am an American, and never studied German in my life. However, I definitely don’t consider myself to be ethnically (racially) American, because I don’t think that American can be defined as an ethnicity or race. Perhaps in another 500 years or so, but not today.

      I guess this just proves how confusing the whole nationality/culture/race/ethnicity issue can be, and how there are no clear definitions of those words.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by, and thanks for commenting on this post!

      • thycarant says:

        I think it depends on if a person subscribes to the concept of ‘race’. My husband is a white guy, the Germans are generally white people too. I find the concept of ‘race’ generally means “what color is your skin”, it has little to do with heritage.

        French, Korean, German, British…none of these are ‘races’. We Americans like to say, ‘we’re half German, a quarter Irish, and a quarter Italian’ or something similar. Churchill’s mother was American. Just like my son’s mother is American. If my son becomes notable in history, it will never be written or said that I am anything other than American. It would be embarrassing to call me German.

        I think every country has it’s own take on who can claim their nationality (Hungarian, German, Korean, etc) and it is unique to country/state. America is unique, because we are still a young country and very rapid melting pot! Most countries/states do not have the type of national diversity that is found here, in this huge country of ours. Most countries are pretty small when compared to the USA. Hungary is tiny!! And most Hungarians stay in Hungary, although my husband’s generation seems to be the start of the ‘world travelers’ :))

        My husband came to the US at age 24. He has been here 19 or 20 (?!?) years. English is his second language. He would never say he’s American, and it would feel false if he did. Plus, his accent would give him away!!!

        Before meeting him, I used to tell people (as many Americans do) that I was half German and half Italian. When I met my husband, he did laugh his booty off when I told him I was half German! 🙂 (heeheehee). He said, ‘no you’re not’. His brother in law, now HE’S German!

        Ultimately, it’s all relative. And really depend on an individual’s sense of ‘national pride’.

        At least, that’s my take on it!

        Great Question!

      • I think that’s my take on it as well, especially considering that, as my anthropology instructor says, “race is a cultural concept, not a biological concept.” That’s partly what makes this conversation so fascinating is that every different culture and nation has a different take on what it means to be a member of a culture or ethnic group, and trying to pare out those ideas can be quite difficult.

        You’re right, Americans do identify themselves as being part such and such to the amusement of most Europeans, who find such notions laughable. I guess I had the same reaction that they do when I heard that Winston Churchill was “half American!”

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