With the Red Wings and the Pistons no longer playing and the Tigers’ starting pitching looking a little shaky, we in Michigan may be more inclined to take note that our own Miss Michigan, Rima Fakih, was crowned Miss America. After her win, her ethnicity quickly became the focus of many articles and columns. It took the Associated Press no more than seven words to mention that Ms. Fakih is an Arab-American. Freep.com even ran an article titled “Arab-Americans across country praise Miss USA.” It would seem to me that now would be a good time to pause and look at the relationship between one’s nation and ethnicity in America.
We are a nation of immigrants. My father is from Quebec, his father is from Turkey. Last summer while visiting family, I had a Lebanese relative tell me I should be proud of where my family comes from. I am proud. But when we say, “we are a nation of immigrants” it’s easy to forget the first part: we are a nation.
Soviet dissident Vadim Borisov, wrote an essay in the ’70s entitled “Personality and National Awareness” which can be found in “From Under the Rubble,” arguing that a nation is far more than a group of people trapped by common geography and who submit to a common collection of laws. For Borisov, a nation was a divinely mandated spiritual reality. He believed we should recognize the existence of national personalities.
Being accurately esoteric, a personality is distinct from an individual in that a personality contains the whole of humanity within it, making all national personalities equivalent.
While we may want to write off such thoughts as too mystical, the notion of something tangible that binds us as a national people still remains. How then do those from all sorts of backgrounds fit into an American personality? A personality is not an ideology. It is not blind assent to popular opinion, but a means of relating to one another and, communally, to the world.
The word “assimilation” may have certain connotations, but it is, in reality, a wholly positive concept. Assimilation doesn’t represent the suppression of one’s heritage, it is the continuation of it. It prevents stagnation brought on by isolation in a foreign land. It is healthy to embrace your country, as it is healthy to embrace your state, city and family.
I should probably get to my point. I do not begrudge anyone for communicating the facts of Miss America’s ethnicity. I do think, however, to overplay its significance detracts from the greater picture–that picture being that Miss Michigan is a Michigander and Miss America is an American. It’s far more important than the fact Miss America is brown. On the “Today Show” she told a group of Ohio State fans “Go Blue!”
In the grand hierarchy of belonging, it is easy to write off identity factors that are derived from geographical proximity as irrelevant. They’re not. On the contrary, we should be proud and acknowledge the importance of the United States, Michigan and Ypsilanti to us as people and citizens.