The Pride and Shame of the Hyphen

Written by Olivia Schwartz

Growing up in the majority white city of Scottsdale, Arizona as a young girl that did not look like my fellow classmates, it made me to recognize the hyphen that I would later be forced to use to present myself to the world. Albeit, whenever I am around those with skin tones closer to mine, I still feel a sense of exclusion. I am a quarter Filipino from my father’s side and the remaining 75 percent of me is encompassed by a variety of European countries. A mutt. A smorgasbord. A melting pot. Or as I would like to be called, an American.

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The idea of separating those that identify with as hyphenated-Americans is not a new one. After his presidency and during the start of World War I, former President Theodore Roosevelt shamed those identifying with the hyphen, criticizing them for having a split identity. “But a hyphenated American is not an American at all…” (Roosevelt, 1915). Though, it is important to note that this speech was given during a time unseen by humans before and it could be argued that President Theodore Roosevelt called for this form of patriotism to garner hope and nationalism during the war. However, from the speech that encouraged distaste of immigrants and those of other nations created a lasting effect for years to come.

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Being only a quarter Filipino, my own personal identity and “hyphenedness” has been something that I have struggled with for some time now. To white people, I am not white enough; to people of color, I am not brown enough. Throughout high school, an array of racist remarks and Asian stereotypes from my classmates were made about the color of my skin to my ability to drive. Similarly, whenever surrounded by other Asian students, I was rejected due to my predominately European features. Thus, my need to explain and hyphen myself. Being multiracial made me feel as if I could not belong to any hyphenated group.

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When we read the Michael Walzer essay What Does it Mean to be an “American”? for class, it helped me understand the complexities and beautiful of my identity and “hyphenedness”. Walzer explored the idea of why hyphenated-Americans are essential to the American identity in that it expands on the “manyness” that exists within US’s culture. Walzer starts off his essay with “There is no country called America. We lived in the United Sates of America, and we have appropriated the adjective “American” even though we can claim no exclusive title to it”. (633) The United States is a county of immigrants and Native Americas—a paradoxical name in and of itself—and Walzer puts worth to the necessary need of the hyphen to show a person’s history, culture, and origin to help identify each American from one another. The history of American’s hyphenating themselves as a sense of identity can be seen as a double-edged sword, using it can separate them from others around them, but it can also help them connect back to their heritage and family history. For me, I am proud to be a Filipino-American.

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